Ex-Rockville Mayor Hoffmann: We Are Better Than This

Last week's Democratic presidential debate in Las Vegas. Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images

I think that our debate process has disintegrated to the point where it has become counterproductive reality TV. Certainly, it is no way to select a U.S. president. One and a half minute responses to questions from media outlets, while one’s competitors are shouting over one’s responses, is no way to select a U.S. president.

Media representatives comprise the debate questioners who are responsible for developing their questions. Often the questions focus on a candidate’s proposal on universal health care, or free college for all, or forgiving all student loan debt. Thanks to Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and the spineless and servile Republican followers of Donald Trump, none of these proposals has a snowball’s chance in hell to be implemented in the obstructionist environment of the U.S. Senate.

As we know, with McConnell at the helm, no legislation passed by the U.S. House of Representatives has or will ever see the light of day by coming to the Senate floor. There are nearly 400 bills passed by the Democratic-majority House sitting on McConnell’s desk. Why? Because then his Republican majority never has to take a position on a bill, and their voters will have no reason to oppose their position on any issue…they have no position, except supine (Mitt Romney excepted).

Wouldn’t the media panelists be serving us voters better if the subject matter they were asking the candidates to cover were relevant to what an incoming Democratic president is more likely to accomplish? Knowing his or her positions on foreign policy is significant. Where does this potential Democratic president stand on climate change and what will he/she do once in office?

Beyond the devoutly hoped-for appointments of qualified jurists to our courts, what changes will this new president make to the Department of Homeland Security, Department of Defense, Health & Human Services, Education, EPA, Agriculture, Energy, and so on? We can assume there will be hiring of the competent to undo the damage done to our gutted federal agencies, but I want to hear from them myself…not just assume.

What are their top 10 priorities after taking office? They may have position papers on all of this, but except for us junkies, the debates are often the only opportunity to hear from the candidates’ own lips as to what they want to do.

How could we make the debates more like a debate instead of a food fight? Here’s a thought…what if the candidates for President of the United States were given the questions in advance? Then they could formulate thoughtful responses that were not done on the fly.

U.S. policy is not developed in a “gotcha” environment, so why are we forced to evaluate our next president that way? What are we going to learn about their plans while the format results in having them shout over each other?

Another thought… give each of them five minutes to answer. The media debate hosts could get together in advance to select different topics for the dozen or so debates throughout the campaign season, so there is no duplication unless exigent circumstances so dictate.

We citizens of this great nation, participants in this great experiment, deserve better. I urge DNC Chair Tom Perez and his leadership to take a hard look at the level to which this presidential campaign process has disintegrated and fix it. In the words of the great Elijah Cummings, we are better than this, and so are our candidates…and so are we voters.

— SUSAN HOFFMANN

The writer is the former mayor of Rockville.