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Posted by on Jun 15, 2008 in Politics | 0 comments

Town Hall Debates: Dancing in the Dark, Indeed

At the Politico, Jonathan Martin notes an excellent example of the type of audience participation coming out of John McCain’s “unscripted” town hall meetings.

The questioner noted that he had been educated at Princeton and Harvard and made more than $300,000 a year.

How can I be proud of my country?” he asked.

Get it — he was mocking Michelle Obama and her statement earlier this year that her husband had for the first time in her life made her proud of her country.

Well, McCain either missed the joke or decided to ignore it and answer the question literally.

Whether McCain simply failed to “get the joke” or chose to ignore it, I hope that is his default position and it speaks well of the candidate. If only more people chose to take the high road and not get bogged down in the mountian of minutia and nastiness surrounding the candidates. This, however, is not the real story here.

My friend Ed Morrissey, over at Hot Air, provides a good example of one of the typical memes running around the GOP supporting web sites this week. In a column with the Nudge, Nudge, Wink, Wink subtitle of “Dancing in the dark?” we see the portrayal of Barack Obama as a candidate who is too frightened of John McCain’s awesome speaking abilities to take him up on his “generous” offer of ten Town Hall format debates.

…the response from the Obama camp hardly seems courageous. They only want their candidate to participate in a free-form debate on July 4th, when most people will be more interested in emptying their childrens’ college funds to pay for the gas for their vacation? It seems that hope and change do not bring testicular fortitude. Why not just do it at 2 am and have it televised on C-SPAN 3, or ESPN 2?

As I previously pointed out in this space, this was likely a no-brainer for the McCain campaign. You toss out this “generous” offer to Obama in a very public way. If he turns you down, you claim that he is running scared – dodging the issues and robbing the voters of a fair chance to evaluate the candidates. Should he be foolish enough to accept, you stack the event to the rafters with high fiving, back slapping McCain acolytes who provide us with scintillating political discourse such as this:

MODERATOR: The first question will be for Senator McCain.

QUESTIONER: Yes, thankyou. Senator McCain, what can we do personally to help you defeat this double secret Muslim and prevent the imminent destruction of America?

MODERATOR: Ummm.. yes… thankyou. The next question will be for Senator Obama.

QUESTIONER: Yeah, thanks. Senator, why do you keep denying that you’re a Muslim? And while we’re on the subject, why are you and your harpy, Muslim wife so bent on enslaving the white man and destroying America?

Team McCain, of course, must be similarly wary of any such Trojan Horse gift offers from the Obama camp. In the end, we definitely need to demand that an independent 3rd party – not aligned with either candidate -be responsible for organizing the debates. Most importantly, that requirement absolutely requires that neither side have complete control of who is invited to attend and/or screen the questions.

To be perfectly clear, I am still 100% in favor of finding a way to have more debates through this campaign in better formats than the three alphabet network dog and pony shows we are promised this fall. But we also need to ensure that we make the best use of the time available. Rather than a series of one sided, phony town hall events, the campaigns may want to consider taking on a new round of YouTube debates. These were derided by many Republicans the first time it was done, but at least we could get some actual questions from real voters while maintaining the ability to weed out the truly odius ignorance such as the material pointed out by Jonathan Martin. And if we must be subjected to the inevitable gotcha questions, at the very least we could balance out how many get thrown at each candidate.

There may be even better formats to consider, but I’ll leave it up to the readers to suggest how we manage it.

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