I praised John McCain for suggesting that series of town-hall meetings between him and Obama, which I hope we’ll get to see, but now I’m feeling queasy as more commentators want to up the ante with “Lincoln-Douglas-style debates.” Surely they jest if they believe that modern politicians can explore and defend any topic at Lincoln-Douglas length; from what I’ve read about those historic debates, the first man spoke for 90 minutes, the second for an hour, and then the first returned for a half-hour rebuttal.
I’m not trying to demean Obama or McCain, both of whom are quite bright, when I say that I doubt either man, or any other member of the House or Senate, could hold forth on any subject of import to the American or world situation for an hour without padding and excessive repetition. Pure substance for 90 minutes? My guess is that the needle would point to Empty at about 25 minutes max. To use a horserace analogy, asking today’s pols to cogitate on a subject for 90 minutes would be like asking two top thoroughbreds to run 15 miles at full gallop. They just don’t know these subjects in that kind of depth, they’re too reliant on staff and experts, they’re too used to buzzwords and cliches, etc.
Don’t get me wrong. I’d like to hear more depth and detail from both men, especially, especially, when it comes to financing some of their grand plans and spelling out sacrifices they’re willing to ask of Americans as we confront the environmental and energy crises of the next few years. But “more depth” could be achieved in about 20 minutes, an eternity by today’s low standards of discourse.
Anyway, I doubt the Lincoln-Douglas model will fly with either man, because given that much time, the inevitable evasions and shadings of the truth used by all candidates for high office would be comically obvious.