In 1858, incumbent Illinois senator Stephen A. Douglas and challenger Abraham Lincoln debated seven times between Aug. 21 and Oct. 15 across the state in their contest to determine which would be selected by the state legislature to be the next senator. The format they agreed to involved rotating the one-hour opening statements, followed by an hour-and-a-half reply and a half-hour rejoinder. Large crowds and national press attended the debates. Lincoln lost, perhaps making it more likely that he would run for president two years later.
The Lincoln-Douglas model might be difficult in this date of short attention spans and competing electronics, but there must be a middle ground between talking for a total of an hour and half and having 60 seconds to explain positions on complicated issues. This is extraordinarily important in this year when the incumbent’s communication style is to use conclusory accusations that are without factual basis.
David Cosson, Washington Grove
I agree with Greta Van Susteren on the advantages of trying different approaches to the presidential debates. The idea of a “real life forum” that gives debate questions to candidates a few days before the televised events could lead to more thoughtful and less tweet-like responses. I would not object to the candidates consulting with each other or, as suggested by Ms. Van Susteren, outside experts. This would give us some understanding of their thinking and ability to work with others.
I have also been hoping for the debate questions to include the following: How and when might you use executive orders? What are your ideas about working with the very diverse viewpoints in this country to build a more functional democracy?
Margaret Human, Bethesda