Are Crowded Debates Useless?

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Just about, I’d say. I’m all for underdog would-be presidents getting exposure, but there are simply too many candidates right now – in both parties – for the debates and forums that include all of them to yield much of anything of value to voters. So I’m sympathetic to the whispered co-conspiring between Senators Edwards and Clinton picked up by microphones at an NAACP forum in Detroit. The problem with the second-tier candidates in the Democratic Party (Biden, Dodd, Richardson) is that they’re all running the kind of cautious campaigns you’d expect from a front-runner or real contender. No one’s throwing bombs or stirring up the debates the way, say, Al Sharpton used to. Perhaps this is because they’re all angling for VP or Secretary of State consideration and therefore don’t dare antagonize any of the frontrunners. On the GOP side, Ron Paul has been good value. But Tancredo, Tommy Thompson, Duncan Hunter — not so much.

Given how early the primary season begins and ends, is it crazy to want to see some debates, beginning in September if not before, featuring just the top tier candidates? Or at least, in the Democrats’ case, limiting it to the first and second tier (i.e., minus Kucinich and Gravel)? And with the Republicans, dropping Gilmore, T. Thompson, Tancredo and Hunter? Or is that too undemocratic, however sensible?

UPDATE: In addition to some gratuitous name calling, Andy from Maine asks, “Who the heck are you to determine if the debates are useful or useless?” To which I say: I’m not determining anything. If you actually read my post, all I do is offer my opinion — that the debates have been too crowded to be of much value, and that therefore voters might benefit if the fields were trimmed. And then I ask for others’ opinions. What’s arrogant about that? I’m not sure I’m right, and I want to know what readers think. My concern is simply that once September comes, we’re going to be in a sprint to Iowa, NH and the Feb. 5 national primary. The more that voters get to see and hear some sustained debate between serious contenders, the better.

SECOND UPDATE: I like this idea from Jim: “Instead of eliminating candidates, why not have mini-debates with three randomly selected candidates in each round?” If candidates could be persuaded to agree, it’d be a vast improvement.