The revolution will not be televised

Tonight, Republican President George W. Bush will face off against Democratic challenger John Kerry in a debate at Coral Gables, Fla.

What should happen is an unbiased moderator firing off a series of rapid questions to the candidates. What will happen is a debate structured so that the candidates know what questions are coming and how to answer them, minimizing the risk for any major damage to their campaigns.

The Bush camp was instrumental in arranging each debate to have a specific topic and making the “fair and unbiased” moderator for each debate sign an agreement accepting rules of the debate, which no doubt made some topics off limits.

Debates, by design, are supposed to assess accountability and find real answers. During his term Bush has been able to tap-dance around major issues such as his shady military service record and the lack of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

The presidential debate should be the great neutralizer, where a fair moderator will literally hold his feet to the fire and demand answers. But because of these agreements the debate will be little more then a showcase of ideas rather than a challenge of facts.

This is nothing new to Bush, because far too often in his first four years he has misrepresented facts to make himself look better.

I remember when Vice President Dick Cheney visited Richmond’s Jefferson Hotel a few months ago. While supporters of Bush were put in front of the hotel – front and center for the media to see and photograph – protesters were hidden around the block because of the “threat” they posed to his safety.

The crux of democracy in this country is that you have the right to tell others what you think of them – and to demand answers. During his campaign four years ago Bush was less than forthcoming about his prior drunken driving conviction and only talked about it after the media had released it to the public.

In his first four years, every time Bush has been confronted with less-than-flattering facts about his failed mission in Iraq, he gets a pout face, stomps his feet and waves the flag using patriotism to hide the fact that he has no real answers. This is why it is so important to have free and open debates to get real answers.

In a political climate such as the one we live in right now, we need to press the president and demand answers from him about every topic. I would like to see a debate – not at plush university campuses – but at real, American, middle-class high schools, where residents – not just political supporters who get tickets – can form a line and ask a candidate any question they want.

Don’t be fooled by the “town hall” debate format Oct. 8 in St. Louis. It is going to appear that the public can ask questions to the candidates, but the questions have all been carefully pre-selected, and the moderator is contractually bound to cut off those who deviate from those questions.

Americans need to demand real answers from our sitting president. Specifics need to be addressed, and plans need to be detailed. I am sick of hearing Bush say he is going to do something and the media forgetting to ask just how he is going to do it.

The media should live up to its obligation to push the presidential candidates and demand answers. But the only pushing we are likely to see in these debates is from Bush, as he once again uses the media to get away with not answering the questions we all want to know.

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