title  

THE GREAT DEBATES
by Harvey Wheeler

Harvey Wheeler was a professor of political science at Washington and Lee University.

Everyone sees what you seem to be, few experience what you really are and those few do not dare to set themselves up against the opinion of the majority.Where there is no court of appeal the end is all that counts. for the mass of mankind is always swayed by appearances and by the outcome of an enterprise.
                                         MACHIAVELLI, The Prince

THE Presidential election of 1960 was so close that many commentators, including Robert Kennedy, stated that Senator Kennedy's victory was "determined" by the television debates. But an election as close as that one was can be said to have been "determined" by almost everything that happened. Almost any change-a change in weather, a change in economic conditions, a change in American prestige abroad, a change in Khrushchev's tactics, a change in the reactions of minority groups-any change even though small might have brought different electoral results.

Nonetheless, the debates were important, not only because they did affect the outcome of the election but primarily because they were an innovation that seems certain to have a considerable effect on the future of American politics and perhaps even on the mechanics of American democracy. Already, as President, Mr. Ken-nedy has relied heavily on this medium of communication which seems so ideally suited to him, and he is sure to exploit it further in any future crisis. And even if he as President refuses to engage in television debates when he runs for re-election, other campaigners for lesser offices seem certain to explore the potentialities of the TV debate in mass campaigning. In evaluating the politi-cal significance of the 1960 television debates it is neces-sary first to say something about the implications of this innovation as a technique.

There is no such thing as a "neutral" medium of com-munication or exchange. Every different type of channel or conveyor imparts its own peculiar form to the mate-rial it conveys. The nineteenth century Chautauqua fa-vored the oratorical elder statesman and was especially susceptible to emotional and demagogic exploitation. Radio put a high premium on a pleasing voice and accent and, moreover, could not communicate any non-audible defects. It was the first truly mass, nation-wide medium, and when used as such-rather than locally-it suppressed local and parochial issues and communicated only issues as broad in implication as the composition of the listen-ing audience, but no more complex than the average comprehension of that audience.

Television is even more of a homogenizing mass me-dium. It has created its own symbolic language: certain shorthand stereotypes that carry a maximum audio-visual message at a minimum cost. Television is for this reason most efficient as a medium of communication when the material it is given has been pre-translated into its own peculiar symbolic language. The most deeply etched stereotypes of television are the "good guys" and the "bad guys" -- the Jack Armstrong all-American Boy versus the shady trickster. Television concentrates these -expressions of these stereotypes on the face. What one's face looks like-how one's face corresponds to television's laboriously created stereotypes for good guys and bad guys-becomes crucial.

This first became apparent in the 1960 West Virginia -Presidential primary. For the first great television debate was not between Kennedy and Nixon but between Kennedy and Humphrey in West Virginia. There it was Humphrey who adopted the offensive and Kennedy who said "me too." But somehow Kennedy came through with a stronger impression. Humphrey has the disadvantage of looking like Cassius. He has a lean and hungry ambitious look. But Kennedy happens to look like a composite picture of all the good stereotypes television has created. Apparently it was simply impossible for the citizens of West Virginia to imagine the Pope being able to tell this clean-cut American boy what to do or what to say.

The moment the television viewer takes his place before his set he brings with him a series of invisible visual values which may have a strong political significance regardless of the viewer's conscious desire. There is little doubt that in his debate with Humphrey, and in his debates with Nixon, Kennedy profited from his fortuitous facial correspondence with television's pre-established model of the "good guy." It seems likely that in the future one of the tests of a candidate's "availability" for political nomination will be his correspondence with the then current image of the good guy.

TELEVIS1ON, particularly night-time television, is a full-attention, leisure, relaxation medium. If these conditions are not satisfied, it doesn't reach you. This means that television is intrinsically the medium of affluence and indolence. Even the marginal worker becomes-figuratively-affluent and indolent as he takes his place before his set. This is the primary explanation the widespread conclusion that television is a white-collar mass medium: it converts its viewers into a white-collar audience, regardless of their non-television status. -It is obvious that this feature will become of increasing significance with the future development of television as a medium for political organization.

One of the most important social developments in contemporary America is the rise of the white-collar (or bureaucratic) classes. They are superseding the laboring classes as the politicians crucial electoral target. Until 1952 it had been a maxim in American politics that the middle-class white-collar vote was unorganizable. Traditional boss politics was founded on the assumption that "there are no votes in the suburbs." One of the major explanations of the Republican victories in the elections of 1952 and 1956 is that the Democrats failed to do well among the white-collar voters and Eisenhower did superbly well. It was with this group that Nixon scored his great "Checkers" television victory. It seemed as if Eisenhower applied to Nixon a simple TV test. He would only believe Nixon to be "clean as a hound's tooth" if Nixon could "appear" that way on television. From this viewpoint Nixon had every reason to expect that a television debate with Kennedy would be to his advantage; he had television's built-in white-collar bias on his side in the beginning.

The evidence from the polls indicates that the unusually high number of "undecideds" were largely concentrated among the white-collar groups. For all people, and for white-collar people in particular, a conviction about who is going to win has a major influence on the decision on whom to be for. If Nixon had made a clearly superior impression in the first debate, it is likely that would have reaped the advantages of television's white-collar bias. But the fact that he did not-the fact that he came through in the pre-established image of television's "bad guy"-may have tended to randomize the distribution of the white-collar vote between the two candidates.

There is a further political implication of night-time television as a white-collar mass medium. Because television cannot be psychically "tuned out" while still running, as radio can be, the television viewer is typically a quick deserter. If the program doesn't get hold of him early it will lose him early. In the theatre or the movie the situation is reversed. For the theatre or the movie there is a pre-established reputation for each offering through reviews and word-of-mouth commentary, and their audiences are prepared from the start to persist to the end. In television this pre-established commitment must be provided in other ways-through the established reputation of the performer or through a familiarity with the expected content of the program. This does not obtain with "one-shot" programs or with political debates, where a very high premium is placed on the opening message. Here, the typical situation of the theatre is reversed. A foreshadowing of the denouement must be apparent from the start.

This reversal of developmental form is a major revolu-tion of the dramatic form that has held sway since the birth of Greek drama. A political debate on television "ideally" should be "won" at the beginning. Everything that follows the opening revelation should "ideally" exist merely to confirm the initial promise of who is the good guy and who is the bad guy. For this reason the format of the first and the last debates must be judged to be more congruent with the intrinsic nature of the medium than was the format of the second and third debates. Applying this criterion, it is possible to say that from a formal standpoint--considering the "plot outlines" of the first and the fourth debates-Kennedy must be judged to have "won" the first decisively and the fourth ade-quately.

Television also has a built-in situational bias regarding style of delivery. The orator haranguing a partisan rally develops a special technique for that situation. It is one that responds to exaggeration and caricature. Exaggera-tion of dress, of physique, of mannerism, of gesture, of diction, and of content was characteristic of the tradi-tional orator. The major arguments had to be developed with a special cadence of thrust and pause until an organic revivalist response could be elicited from the aroused partisans. In the hands of a master like Alben Barkley it was possible in this way to develop a powerful emotional dialectic between speaker and audience. Par-tisans viewing such an event on television figuratively transport themselves to the scene and become emotion-ally involved with the actual audience. Used in this way, television gives the viewer a ringside seat at an event that has its own intrinsic developmental form.

But when a television debate like that between Kennedy and Nixon is staged, it is television's intrinsic bias that obtains. Both candidates are present together. The audience has neither organic nor political homogeneity. There is no direct or immediate mass response to the speakers to provide the home viewers with vicarious emotional involvement in the proceedings. The viewer is isolated, atomized, and relaxed. He is in intimate con-tact with each speaker by turns. It is the setting of a living-room conversation, not a mass rally. In such a set-ting all of the exaggerations that have a positive effect on a mass rally have a negative effect on the living-room viewer. This is the new setting in which the processes of grass-roots democracy will be worked out, and it carries novel implications for democratic theory.

WHEN the founders of democratic theory-Locke, Jefferson, Paine, and Mill-wrote about popular government, they assumed that the people would exist in a state of immediate and direct communication with each other and with their leaders. Under such conditions it was possible to visualize organic political communities in which the people had an intimate and personal knowl-edge of their leaders, of their fellow-citizens, and of the problems that confronted them all. It was possible for an informed public opinion to exist, and it was possible for the leader to know the "mind" of his people. The body of democratic theory we have inherited depends for its validity on the existence of this condition. But it is one that has long since disappeared. Its disappearance and the changed political environment of our times are made dramatically clear to us by the television debates. The people are separated from their leaders and from each other. The issues presented to them are complex and universal rather than simple and local. Every element in the new environment seems to be the opposite of that necessary to make democracy work. The new bureaucratic masses are like the people in Plato's cave. They do not perceive political reality directly, they perceive appearances.

In a television campaign the candidates and their advisers concentrate not on the projection of reality but on the projection of images. What one perceives on televi-sion is not real persons, but audio-visual "myths" of persons. The issues presented are so watered down and so cleansed of vote-endangering elements that they also tend to become the "myths" of the real issues they refer to. And the "people" is not a real people. The electorate becomes an apparent public, the "myth" of a public.

Indeed, communication has lost its traditional meaning, and what now takes place is the "myth" of communication. For there to be genuine communication there must be a mutual process of intercourse. A tele-vised campaign is unilateral pseudo-communication. The leader appears on television and acts as if he is in communication with the people. The people sit in their living-rooms and act as if they are a part of a decision-making process. And then the leader, being as isolated as his followers, sends out his corps of opinion pollsters to find out what was the image, the appearance of poli-tics, that he projected. Public-opinion polls are techno-logical substitutes for the mutuality required in theory for democratic communication to take place. But of course public-opinion polls are not the real thing either. They are "myths" of mutuality.

Television, in being large enough and extensive enough to cover the mass of people, must necessarily be distant from every person. The viewer consumes infor-mation only from "images," which have questionable status as "persons." What is seen and heard is "con-structed images." In addition, the projected image is in contact with "mass images" rather than "people," for the only way to know about the effect on the masses of a projected image is to construct an "image" of the audi-ence. The result is that political communication, in the reciprocal sense, has been lost. An entirely new relation-ship of image-to-image has been created.

According to early democratic theory, decision-mak-ing was supposed to produce rational policies in much the same way that the free market was supposed to pro-duce rational prices. Individuals were to make judgments on the basis of intrinsic merits. Many years ago Lord Keynes called attention to the fact that economic be-havior in stock markets was no longer of this sort. Indi-viduals made judgments on the basis of their guesses about what investors in general would do rather than on the basis of their conviction about the intrinsic merits of the offerings. Something similar has occurred in mass politics, and it has been accelerated by the television debates. For the popular concern over who was winning the debates was not so much a concern over who was right as over who was presenting the better image. As individuals discussed the images of the two candidates, the implication was that one should be for the candidate with the better image. Judgments about whom to be for were directly influenced by judgments about who was going to win. Although this has always been true to some degree in politics, it has become a much more prominent feature of mass politics and surely will be magnified as television debates become more widely used in elections.

ANOTHER factor directly related to the television de-bates is the extensive campaign waged to increase the participation of voters. At first thought it would seem that the greater the degree of participation the more ef-fective the processes of democracy, but this does not necessarily follow when the condition of "myth-like" image-to-image politics obtains. Under this condition the functioning of democratic procedure actually may be inhibited. For what happens in the public-relations drive to increase popular participation is that voting is made to appear to be the proper thing to do. It is asso-ciated with status symbols. It becomes an approved form of behavior similar to attending the "right" church. Voting is sold to people the same way a style of dress is sold to them. To convert voting into an approved "style" can have some very unfortunate consequences. For one thing it induces large numbers of people to vote who would not otherwise do so, and this means an increase in voting by people who have given little or no considera-tion to the issues. This is likely to increase the non-rational element in electoral behavior and can hardly be viewed as an unmitigated good.

Furthermore, the persons who are most likely to be influenced by public-relations appeals to participate in politics will be those persons who are most sensitive to style changes. If they go to the voting booths largely for this reason, they are likely to apply similar criteria in their selection of candidates and issues. They are likely to vote on the basis of whom and what it is proper to be for. Status-conscious voters impelled to vote for style-centered reasons are likely to make status-centered choices. To the extent this is true, the Democratic Party's belief that its candidates will profit from a large turn-out can no longer be true.

This belief has been inherited from the depression days of the Roosevelt coalition; today, it seems inapplic-able to the special conditions facing the members of an affluent bureaucratic culture. In such a culture it seems likely that the larger the turn-out on Election Day the more non-rational, the more status-centered, the more style-conscious, and the more conservative will be the result. A similar occurrence has been taking place in British elections. Voters who "should," according to the patterns of the Thirties, vote Labour are voting Con-servative. British analysts refer to this as the "deference vote." Deference, status-oriented voting, stands to be magnified by the innovation of television debates.

There is another implication of the myth-like political situation confronting the organization man sitting before his living-room television set. For such a man is in a novel situation. He is no longer the traditional member of the large urban political machine. He does not fit well into the traditional methods of organizing voters. He is not like the man who once attended mass political rallies. This lonely living-room voter multiplied by 100,000,000-impelled to the polls by a huge public-relations cam-paign-is terrifying to the political organizer. New ele-ments of chance are thrown into a game that was once simple and relatively easy to control. How can a similar degree of control and predictability be assured for these people? A new opinion-formation process will have to be developed, and it is not hard to imagine what it will be.

It seems probable that the lessons of group dynamics will be quickly employed by the new, more scientific practical politicians, for they provide methods of "skew-ing" and controlling the opinion-formation process in small groups. This would mean that for future television debates "viewing parties" would be organized by party workers. The politically active host would be of slightly higher prestige than the group of "undecideds" he asks to his home. Then, as the "plot" of the debate develops, the host, together with one or two allies, would apply the principles of group dynamics to the molding of a definite attitude toward the debate as it takes place. This is the way Paul Lazarsfeld's discovery of the process of voter decision-making will adapt itself to the television cam-paign.

The debates had only begun when it became apparent that the styles of delivery of the two candidates were not equally well adapted to the exploitation of television's built-in situational bias. Vice-President Nixon had long ago developed an effective oratorical technique for ad-dressing mass partisan raffles. It held close to the tradi-tional model and aimed at the emphasis and exaggeration of a few themes with large emotional potential. Mr. Nixon was fond of saying that he had studiously pat-terned his style after that of Harry Truman. Nixon's great success with the "Checkers" speech probably deceived him into assuming that the same style was well adapted to a television debate. But the "Checkers" speech was over a moral issue, not policy questions. And in that speech he was by himself on television-unchallenged by opponent or reporters. His audience was pre-structured on the basis of individual reactions to him as a person. As a result, in the first debate the Vice-President's style of delivery conspired to give him the appearance of ineptness. The gestures necessary in a mass rally ap-peared stagey and artificial in the conversational atmos-phere of the living-room. Emotional issues which can be drummed into an organic audience of partisans seemed thin in an empty studio face to face with a pleasant Ivy-Leaguer with a hair-trigger mind. This un-expected failure of previously invincible methods prob-ably accounts for the bewilderment and shock that Nixon and his supporters displayed after the first round. In the three following rounds, Nixon progressively adjusted his style to the specific situational bias created by the de-bates. But even at the end he was far from master of the situation.

Kennedy, on the other hand, was the fortuitous bene-ficiary of his oratorical defects. He is not an orator. He seems temperamentally unable to develop an emotional theme. He addresses a rally gestureless, inflectionless, and at a rate of speech so rapid as to render his arguments almost unintelligible. A Kennedy speech, especially at the beginning of the campaign, was the auditory counter-part of a page from the Appendix of the Congressional Record. Reporters who followed him were unanimous in their opinion that the masses who gathered to hear him were at their highest pitch of enthusiasm before he started to speak, with enthusiasm ebbing steadily to the end. Though he improved, Kennedy remained a woefully inept orator. However, the very characteristics that told against him on the hustings worked to his advantage in his debates with Nixon. His unadorned style of deliv-ery fitted well into the viewer's living-room. And al-though his rapid rate of speech prevented much of his content from being assimilated, what did come through was the picture of a bright, knowledgeable young man of great earnestness, energy, and integrity.

ONE of the gravest disappointments of the debates was their effect on substantive issues. The chief issues of the campaign were America's defense posture, her rate of economic growth, her prestige in relation to Russia, and the accidental intrusion of the significance of Quemoy and Matsu. All of these issues were Democratic issues. That is, the campaign was waged on Democratic terms. In politics, as in other areas, the advantage accrues to the side able to maintain the offensive. In politics this is compounded by the fact that the average voter votes against rather than for a person or issue. The Democrats were able to exploit these two advantages largely because of the television debates. For without them it would have been almost impossible to publicize the issues fully and almost impossible to force the Republicans on the defen-sive. As long as the Republicans were not directly chal-lenged, they could ignore the Democratic issues and refuse to engage in elaborate defensive tactics. But once the debates were under way the Republicans had no other choice. In general, the continuation of such debates will tend to favor the party out of power. There can be little question but that this is a good thing from the standpoint of democratic theory. For the party in power now has a tremendous mass media advantage in simply being able to command headlines and mass media attention. To be able to counterbalance this and at the same time to force the party in power to defend its actions and policies can only be a net gain in a democracy.

On another score, however, the effect of the debates on substantive issues is of doubtful benefit. The two most instructive examples concern Cuba on the one hand and Quemoy and Matsu on the other. Cuba was a new issue in American politics; Quemoy and Matsu, an old one. Concerning Cuba, we now know that Kennedy had been given prior briefing about some general prepara-tions for the overthrow of the Castro regime. We also now know exactly what these preparations were and that the precise form of American participation had not yet been decided. In the television debates, Kennedy com-mitted himself to an attempt to do in Cuba what had been achieved by the C.I.A. before in Guatemala. He outlined in advance the precise mode of operations that was later followed in the Cuban invasion. He is the man who really "planned" the venture. It is not surprising, therefore, that when President Kennedy asked for advice on Cuba he got back mirror-versions of his own position. A gratuitous television reference to a serious policy mat-ter seems to have played a crucial role in shaping one of the most grievous diplomatic blunders in American history.

But it is important to recognize that the Cuban issue was a novel one. Today, now that it has produced an opinion stereotype of its own, any future television debates about it by candidates for President are unlikely to produce such novel or forthright proposals as were offered by Kennedy in the 1960 debates. For old issues with firm stereotypes it is the Quemoy-Matsu pattern that seems most likely to be followed.

On established political issues such as this one the competitive process tends to force the two candidates into essential agreement, similar to that which forces the competing producers of automobiles to offer virtually identical products to consumers. When the Quemoy--Matsu issue first arose in the debates, there was a sharp difference between the two candidates, and it could have been magnified in the later development. Kennedy could have developed a rational and diplomatically responsible policy for withdrawing from the two islands; Nixon could have developed a consistent policy for the defense of the islands at all costs. However, for either man to have done so would have required developing an explicit policy for relations with Communist China or for the use of nuclear weapons in the event of a Chinese inva-sion. These are real issues. Neither man was willing to broach them. As a result, both retreated from their initial divergence until they ended merely supporting the status quo. It seems likely that this tendency to suppress major substantive conflicts will be aggravated by television debates. The candidates will dispute small quantitative distinctions, not large qualitative differences.

Moreover, the sobering experience over Cuba and the fact that Kennedy was led accidentally into the Quemoy--Matsu issue are likely to have a moderating effect on the future expression of horseback opinions. A retreat into double-edged diplomatic language seems indicated when such controversial issues arise in the future. There are some excellent reasons for this. No sitting President need ever be put in such a position. He need never announce American policy on an important issue without benefit of extensive staff consultation and departmental re-search. The Presidential candidate of the future will have to turn aside questions about explosive issues with plausible but non-committal diplomatic language unless he is prepared to move on to a full-scale attack with thorough documentation. This makes it seem likely that television debates will accelerate the recent trend toward eliminating the substantive differences between the parties.

The spread of homologous bipartisanship to all issues is rendered especially serious by another factor asso-ciated with the debates. In order to hold them at all it was necessary to qualify the equal-time provision so that only the two major parties would have access to tele-vision audiences. For reasons of cost and discriminatory state legislation it had already become almost impossible to start a nation-wide third party. The precedent of the debates has now institutionalized America's functional bias against all but the two major parties. When this is coupled with the muting of substantive disputes pro-duced by the debates there is serious cause for concern. For from the standpoint of democratic theory not only should there be differences between the contending parties, those differences should be real. There should be more than the appearance of politics. Today the gravest issues facing America and the world is the issue of peace. But peace, disarmament, and coexistence are precisely the issues that were left out of the campaign.

ONE topic remains, and this is whether television debates can or should be held when one of the candidates is a sitting President seeking re-election. Until President Kennedy said he would do so in 1964, every commentator had stated that it would be unwise. But what would have to be proved is that the debates are not an improvement over previous methods of informing and organizing masses of voters. This is a case that is difficult, if not impossible, to prove. For all of their defects the television debates drew a remarkably large audience and were unusually successful at holding them. And although in one sense they accentuate the "lonely crowd," "organization man" aspects of our bureaucratic culture, it is not true that these aspects of our culture could be given reduced political effects in other ways. Given the fact of our bureaucratic culture it is true that traditional campaigning and electoral practices are ill-suited to the conditions of our times.

This discussion has attempted to foreclose a conclu-sion that through this electronic miracle the difficulties besetting mass participational democracy will be re-solved and the rational decision-making individual can finally achieve the political role envisioned for him in Jacksonian democratic theory. This certainly is not true. Furthermore, it is apparent that if campaigns do come to be organized around debates, they will bring char-acteristic evils against which we will all have to be on guard. Campaigning through televised debates will not resolve the difficulties besetting democracy today, but it does offer many improvements over campaign practices of the past.

Perhaps the most significant of these improvements are as follows:

        1) Debates will prevent any candidate from waging a campaign that is blatantly organized on the basis of a series of special-interest appeals. It will be harder than ever before to say one thing when addressing labor, an-other when addressing business, another when speaking in the South, and so on.
        
2) They will tend to force the contestants to develop, present, and explain an over-all rationalized program in which the chief political difficulties facing the nation are included and are related to each other in a systematic way. It will be increasingly difficult to present a public welfare program that is inconsistent with the program for finances and taxation.
         3) Debates will tend to make election issues out of problems for which there is no organized special-interest group. The most dramatic example is foreign policy. Political scientists have long pointed out that in many recent Presidential campaigns the most serious problem facing the country has been foreign policy. Yet it was previously impossible to make this policy into a potent election issue. The "practical" politician (old-style) always answered that there were no votes in foreign policy. Political scientists have worried over how to organize "general-interest" groups with sufficient elec-toral power to force candidates to campaign on such broad issues. Although this still seems impossible to achieve on the organizational level, it was achieved in the recent campaign primarily through the television debates. This is a tremendous benefit, and its significance should not be lost sight of as we count up the demerits.

BUT what of the situation when one of the candi-dates is a sitting President?

The real difficulty here is over the manner in which the political responsibility of the President is to be enforced under the novel conditions of the television debate. It is not that we want the President to be able to avoid partisan confrontation, but that we are hesitant to see him committed to a "debate" that might take irre-sponsible turns. The chief trouble is that we all insisted on calling the joint appearances on television by Ken-nedy and Nixon "debates" at the same time that we realized they were not "true" debates and proceeded to criticize them for not being what we have always under-stood debates to be. The joint appearances were not true debates, and they should not have been. They can be improved, but the direction of improvement should not be toward making them more like true debates, but less so.

What we are after is not the spectacle of candidates for our highest office wrangling with each other. What we require is a mode of electoral competition through which the opposing candidates are induced to develop competing over-all programs for dealing with the prob-lems of our nation. Then each candidate may point out what he believes are the fallacies in the programs of his opponent and at the same time be subjected to interroga-tion by knowledgeable experts about his own programs. It is not really necessary to this process that the compet-ing candidates ever actually interrogate each other per-sonally or directly. What must be emphasized is not the competition between personalities but the competition between programs and policies. From this standpoint the format that was developed by the networks-though it was not a "debate" and though it was not perfect-offers a sound basis on which to proceed in the future.

The format requires only slight modification to fit the changed situation that would exist if one of the candi-dates were a sitting President. Assume that there were to be four programs in the Presidential election of 1964. During the first and the fourth programs the President and his challenger could be situated in different studios with the same split-screen arrangement that was em-ployed for the third confrontation in 1960. On the first night each man could be allotted half of the time and could use it to lay down the general outlines of the program and the policies on which he was prepared to stand. There would be no need to go through the rebuttal form of the traditional debate. The second and third nights could be devoted to interrogation as in 1960, but a few changes modeled on a "press con-ference" rather than a debate might be helpful. Each man in turn would submit to interrogations similar to those at a press conference. However, greater usefulness could be provided if, in addition to reporters, an econo-mist and a political scientist were added. Our leading political scientists and economists are at least as respon-sible as our leading reporters. They would not ask "unfair" questions of Presidential candidates. And the voters should have the chance to find out the degree of mastery of political and economic issues that the candi-dates possess. In any case, the questions asked by both reporters and professional interrogators would be re-stricted in scope to the problems raised in the opening statements of both candidates.

Each of the two interrogation sessions would be con-ducted separately in separate studios. There might be ten interrogators-five for each candidate and on the second interrogation night the questioners could ex-change candidates. Not only would this help insure fair-ness of treatment, it would also permit the interrogators to explore similar problems with each candidate.

For the final program the format could be the same as on the first night. Each candidate in turn would give closing statements devoted to a summary of his position and answers to the criticisms that might have been made previously.

There is nothing in this modified format that might diminish the dignity of the office of President. No re-sponsible reporter, economist, or political scientist would ask questions designed to embarrass the United States internationally. The President would have to be more guarded in such matters than his opponent, but this is merely putting him once more in the same position that he is in at each press conference. There is no reason to suspect that suddenly, merely because he is campaign-ing, the President of the United States will lose his head and engage in rash statements harmful to the interests of the nation.

It is possible, however, that a future sitting President might wish to draw on the full dignity of his office and attempt to avoid a direct confrontation with his chal-lenger. This is what gives force to the recommendations contained in the paper by Malcolm Moos. For a series of television confrontations on the model of those out-lined here would, by concentrating everything on the competition between programs and issues rather than on appearances and images, greatly facilitate the expla-nation of political realities to the mass voter.

July 1962

From An Occasional Paper on the Role of the Political Process in a Free Society published by The Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions, 1962; pp. 14-21.