Barack Obama and Mitt Romney had the first of three scheduled debates on Wednesday, Oct. 3. Most viewers came away with their own opinion about who won the debate and why. Some say Obama was more composed, others say Romney made better arguments. As I watched the debate, I could not help but notice that one person was having the worst night of them all.
It was not Romney, and it was not Obama. The victim was Jim Lehrer.
Jim Lehrer, the moderator of the debate, was constantly ignored and rebuffed. Lehrer, known for being the host of the PBS NewsHour for more than 30 years, is an esteemed name in the field of journalism. Lehrer has also moderated 11 other presidential debates, but none came close to the level of discord that occurred on Wednesday.
Republican commentator Laura Ingraham said on Twitter that Lehrer seemed “a bit overwhelmed.” Today Show weatherman Al Roker said that Lehrer was “run over by a truck.”
Lehrer was less critical of his performance than others.
“I’m not going to say I’ve done a poor job,” he said to the two candidates near the end of the debate.
Unfortunately for him, the two candidates disagreed, and most of those watching did too.
“I get the last word of this segment,” Romney said at one point.
“I had five seconds left before you interrupted me,” Obama added at the end of one of his statements.
Now, Lehrer has a Twitter account dedicated to the debacle named “SilentJimLehrer.” The account features phrases ranging from “uh, excuse me” to “so, uh, guys,” all quotations from him during the debate as he helplessly tried to interject.
But can you really blame Lehrer? Candidates suffer no repercussions from frequently overshooting their allotted time frame, and there seems to be no backlash directed toward them when they scold Lehrer for simply trying to do his job.
A new system has to be used in future debates. One solution is to actually enforce the time limits. If candidates are told from the start of a discussion that they have two minutes to talk, then hold them to that. Anyone who has had experience on a debate team in high school or college has likely come across ways to keep candidates accountable. After the allotted time limit has passed, simply turn the microphone off. Candidates who expect the time limit to fluctuate tend to ramble on, making point after redundant point. If they knew that the time limit was set in stone, chances are they would only include their most important points and would get to them quicker.
Another solution is to simply give the candidates more time. In some circumstances, two minutes is not enough to describe your economic policies and intricate plans for our country’s wellbeing. With so little time to delve into such complicated topics and issues, candidates eventually end up in a conversational seesaw, arguing back and forth against the unelaborated claims of the opposing candidate.
Until these changes are enacted, the moderators are merely the political version of an overwhelmed substitute teacher. They know how the action is supposed to go, but they just do not have the authority to direct it.
“Thank you, Mr. Woolfolk, your time is up.”
Better cut off the microphone.