Editorial Note: This piece was originally published on my Huffington Post blog.
Last night President Barack Obama and Governor Mitt Romney squared off in the first of three presidential debates. While the Presidential debates still offer voters valuable insight into the character and demeanor of the candidates, their impact is seriously diminished by their limited number and timing and by current campaign practices that elevate attack ads funded by special interest money over face-to-face contact with voters.
Voters should be the central focus of campaigns. Instead, floods of big money, especially outside secret money, obscure the candidates through expensive television ads making dubious claims or stating outright lies. Candidates spend too much time courting donors and raising money rather than reaching out to personally introduce themselves to voters.
Voters need more time and more opportunities to really get to know the candidates. Voters deserve many more occasions and better formats to see the candidates demonstrate their mastery of important subjects by talking and responding to questions on their own without a poll-tested script from their handlers.
Three Presidential and one Vice Presidential debates, stacked nearly on top of each other in the final weeks of the campaign, are simply inadequate. By the time the debates roll around, voters’ introduction to the candidates has been from a months-long and sustained wave of attack ads, charges, counter charges, outrageous claims and statements of general partisanship. What’s more, early voting and absentee voting start in some states before the first presidential debate is even held.
Historically, candidate debates have been essential to providing all voters with the information they need to make up their minds and feel confident in their decisions. Presidential debates were initially designed to provide the candidates with a platform to speak in their own voices, rather than through ads and negative campaigning by outside groups. The goal of debates should remain true to their origins: To provide voters with the information they need and desire on the candidates and their visions for America’s future.
To counteract these trends and put the voters back in charge, we need a few changes.
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