First I didn't watch it all the way through. I had some things needing to be done and got through some of the first half-hour and then the last half-hour and have done a bit of reviewing of the 'talking points' put up at other sites.
It wasn't pretty, that's for sure.
My basic complaint about the 'debates' is that they are not helping to educate voters but get out talking points by candidates. Some of that does help to illuminate what a candidate believes, but there is often a stark contrast between their record, their prior works and what they are now running on so as to leave the viewer a bit at sea about exactly what a candidate stands for. This TV format is dated, decrepit and essentially worthless in the modern age as no single question can illuminate a candidate while a single one can sink them. That is not fair to the audience, the electorate and the body politic as a whole. A single bad utterance, a single 'gotchya' and that could be the doom of a candidate who has worthy ideas in other realms but is out on a far limb on one or two topics. Without a more in-depth discussions (not a debate, but a discussion) the electorate is ill-served and the media is well served to become power brokers. That is how they see their function up until 2010: being that decisive 5 point swing for or against a candidate.
At the early stages a different form of discussion would provide a lot more interest, some illumination of individuals and offer a setting whereby the candidates are not about talking points but explaining their points of view.
The best format for this sort of thing I have ever seen on media are the Fred W. Friendly seminars or programs, hosted by the late Mr. Friendly. He was able to bring a diverse group of people in on a subject (be it on the economy, foreign affairs, or social programs) and lead an actual discussion amongst a group of individuals that ranged from politicians and policy wonks to industry analysts and corporate heads, plus a smattering of 'experts' to help keep things going. The questioning by Mr. Friendly was challenging, at times, but served as a basis to help examine differences between perceived political policy and actual effects and outcome. Even on those topics that were non-political, he always served as the intermediary for a discussion so that the audience was served by having a wide array of ideas and idea-makers present to create an understanding of what it was they were saying.
There are very few trusted figures with as good a staff and knowledge as Mr. Friendly today, and fewer still that are trusted as being open and transparent about what they believe and yet to challenge themselves and their own beliefs in front of the public. No hollywood star or even most of the modern news presenters can do that, today. Perhaps Chris Wallace, Britt Hume or Juan Williams (I've seen him put bias aside to be fair on programs, so think he could do this and well) from FNC, but he would need a lot of help getting trusted individuals into a Presidential mix to help move discussions along. Most of the weekend shows and roundtables are too media oriented to do much of any good, and the idea is to find someone who is unbiased and doesn't care about THEIR media image but in leading a discussion.
A major point of such discussions, say in a 2 hour format, would be to have the candidates interact with policy and industry specialists on a topic or set of topics, and keep track of what the candidates can come to agreement upon. The last half-hour would be to let the candidates work out a party platform plank that they can ALL agree to run on. It would be made in PUBLIC, not behind closed doors, and while an audience may be present as observers, they are not participants unless the experts would like to bin some questions on topics so that a few might serve as discussion points.
What this would do is two-fold:
1) It would identify and illuminate commonalities of what needs to be done not just by the President of the US but by political parties. Having a party committee or set of small voting blocks run the platform process is incestuous in nature and needs to be out in the open. Also it would REMOVE those areas from any future 'debates' and winnow things down to the major DIFFERENCES between the candidates. It creates 'common ground' based on the best ideas that every candidate can agree to.
Last night the only good thing to come out of the 'debates' was the essential feeling that there needs to be a major reduction in the size, scope and power of the federal government starting with the EPA, Dept. of Education, and then Dept. of Energy and those parts of Interior dealing with energy. Can we get that as a common platform plank for all the candidates so that the only differences are those candidates who JUST want to do that and those who want to get rid of MORE government?
2) You may or may not like a candidate in all areas, and this would help to show why you agree/disagree with a candidate as they would have time on an essential topic to outline their ideas. What it also does, however, is let those candidates with some very good ideas present them and talk about them which may preserve their good ideas even if they drop out as a candidate. Frankly I like a few things Ron Paul says and agrees with, as I do Rick Santorum and even John Huntsman who I generally disagree with, has some valid ideas on taxation and the economy that need to be explored. You can't do that in a 'debate' setting and, frankly, even the so-called 'top tier' candidates are not shining in areas that are making them lose votes and possibly voters.
I disagree with Rick Perry's stance on illegals, and the general good feelings Mitt Romney has towards just tinkering with a fundamentally broken system of government (where is Chainsaw Al Dunlap when you need him?), as well as Herman Cain's idea of a 'National Sales Tax' which is something that if it could have been done it WOULD have been done by Progressives decades ago as they love new ways to tax people which means it is constitutionally suspect to PROGRESSIVES. That says a lot, right there. Those are just ready examples, mind you, but they are indicative of the entire field in which a candidate can bring some valid ideas to the table and then, as they are forced to get a whole array of answers down pat, are put on a spotlight and expected to answer any question on anything. Yet where there is common ground, there should be no more questions: the answers are known and when they are common to ALL the candidates, then they become something KNOWN to the population as a whole.
As a citizen I am ill-served by the current 'debate' format and venue as it places too much emphasis on the media, gotchya questions, and some cat fighting verbal by-play that raises vitriol and distrust of any candidate taking part in such and the media asking such questions. In these long months long before a Primary, the candidates could serve themselves, each other and the general public by driving out their major points and coming to agreement about major policy needs that they will all agree to go forward with no matter WHO wins the election. Indeed they are expected to help, advise and move these points forward even if one or ALL of them lose. That would help the Congressional delegates to also understand that if they don't run on THIS platform, then they really don't belong in the party and that when they take office they are not only expected to push the platform forward but they can ask for HELP in doing that.
Yes some 'popular' politicians might be forced to leave by having their party credentials pulled, and flee to 'the other party': but do you really want a spineless blob Upon the Hill as YOUR Representative or Senator? Because your vote for a candidate from a party should MEAN something beyond the individuals involved. Even if you generally didn't LIKE a candidate but they AGREE to push these major items forward, you might just reconsider voting on one or two issues and see if the entire platform is a better fit for you even if it DOESN'T contain your one or two issues you care about.
The 'debate'? Some up, some down, lots of smoke, little illumination and no real help for the Nation or its citizens to understand the future that we will build together as citizens. And, strangely, if we can't find candidates individuals who can begin to understand their role as our representatives in government, now, then we will be ill-served in that future and even lose out on a major portion of it because political parties with campaigns and their drift towards being glib and not offering insights into our future well being are an awful way to run a Nation or express the will of the people.
This 20th century format and set of ideas must go in the 21st as the new century is presenting us with the tools to empower the individual to build a future unlike any dreamt of even 30 years ago. It is not the government that is of the horse and buggy era, but our political parties and their foundations, and it is showing badly in this modern age. And if they don't start to adapt NOW then in 50 years they will not be here as the people will find a better way to do things that makes the idea of 'gatekeepers', 'debates' and even 'campaigns' meaningless. And as my predictions on the out years seem to come true much, much, much faster than I ever expect them to, I am having to prepare to see that future within my life time and not too far down the road. That 50 years is a PESSEMISTIC OUTLOOK but the roads all lead away from our current media and party system and nothing they do will hold it together much longer.