CNN announced its rules for the next two-night Democratic presidential debate, which is scheduled for July 30-31. On the positive side, “There will be no show of hands or one-word, down-the-line questions.” Let’s hope that rule applies in all the debates; it is an unhelpful and undignified way to figure out candidates’ positions on complex issues. CNN also should get a thumbs-up for putting the question “on the bottom of the screen for television viewers.” Viewers can more easily spot when candidates aren’t answering the questions. And, finally, I’m very pleased to see a start time of 8 p.m. EDT (instead of 9 p.m., as it was in the earlier debate), for all of us journalists who have to file after the debate. (And, of course, those viewers with early wake-up times appreciate it as well.)

I’m far less excited about the inclusion of both opening and closing statements, largely because they give fringe candidates time and diminish time for actual questions. And, instead of dinging candidates who interrupt by taking away time, I’d like to see everyone’s microphone turned off until the speaker is finished. It’s simple courtesy and, in any event, the crosstalk makes it impossible to hear what any of them is saying.

The debate topics are a dilemma, given that the candidates have only 60 seconds to answer and you want to avoid candidates’ filibustering. I tend to think that making candidates tell us what they know and why they hold positions are the most informative, so here are some to get them started:

  • Why do you favor (or oppose) doing away with all private health insurance?
  • Explain how you’d readjust relations with Saudi Arabia.
  • Tell us why the United States should or should not explore anything short of North Korea’s complete denuclearization.
  • How do you end the war in Afghanistan without subjecting women to renewed oppression, and without allowing terrorists to reoccupy that country?
  • Senator Harris, how does your health-care position differ from Senator Sanders?
  • Mr. Biden, what’s wrong with Sen. Warren’s wealth tax?
  • Mayor Buttigieg, if you force Congress to include a sunset for an authorization for use of military force, how do you avoid putting our troops and national security at risk?
  • Senator Warren, your college plan has an income cut-off so we don’t pay for rich kids’ college education. Why then should we pay for rich people’s health care in a Medicare-for-all system?
  • Why should Americans think you are serious about border control if you favor decriminalizing illegal crossings and give those here illegally full access to healthcare coverage under whatever healthcare plan you favor?
  • What’s the way to reduce or eliminate police shootings of unarmed black men?
  • Since the early 1990s, violent crime has dropped dramatically. Why has it, and how do you make certain criminal justice reforms don’t reverse that trend?
  • In 2018, Stacey Abrams might have been elected governor in Georgia if not for voter suppression. If you were in charge of the Justice Department at the time, what would you have done?
  • If you subsidize or pay the whole cost of college tuition, won’t colleges just charge more and more?
  • Why is (or is not) a carbon tax part of your green-energy plan?
  • Tell us some ways to reduce hyperpolarization in our politics.
  • What do you intend to do about the national debt?

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