It may not exactly be the Lincoln-Douglas debates, but a Brown-Kashkari debate would be worth watching. The Kashkari campaign issued a press release last week saying that candidate Kashkari has agreed to five debate invitations yet Governor Brown has not accepted any.
Debates have come a long way since the legendary confrontation between Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas vying for a United States Senate seat in Illinois. It can safely be said that the modern debate would not resemble those debates of the 1850s because as a nation we’ve lost attention span for such debates. The Lincoln-Douglas debates, which were more or less stump speeches, lasted three hours.
In the age of Twitter, modern debates are shorter, sharper, but rarely offer deep policy discussions. However, you can find similarities to those long ago Illinois debates, which contained humor, insults, and verbal dodges.
Observers can learn something about policy direction and the cut of a candidate even in modern debates.
A key question is: Will there be many observers if Brown and Kashkari suit up and get into the ring? Sure there will be the usual suspects—people like you who read this column and people like me who write it. But will the general public tune in?
Those are the people Neel Kashkari wants to reach and the ones Jerry Brown feels he already has. Thus, if the governor chooses not engage in debates such a strategy would come out of the Politicians 101 playbook.
However, Jerry Brown is nothing if not unpredictable. He probably would enjoy the contest.
Former Assembly Speaker and San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown suggested that Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom debate Kashkari. The former speaker called it a “made-for-TV matchup” because both contestants are young, looking for attention and are in “the same intellectual weight class.”
Willie Brown hit on a key when he discussed a made-for-TV event. That’s what the debates have become – TV entertainment. But they can educate. How many remember Alistair Cooke, the English-American journalist known for his Letters from America and Alistair’s Cooke’s America series as well as host of PBS’ Masterpiece Theater. He once opened his series on America with the line that, ‘I know it is entertaining and I hope it is educational.’
That’s the way debates often work, as well. They often are entertaining and can be educational and people will watch.
High ratings were gained when the candidates who desired to replace Gov. Gray Davis in the Recall election got together for the one high profile debate?
There were fireworks in the exchange between Arianna Huffington and Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Huffington to Schwarzenegger: “Let me finish, let me finish. This is the way you treat women, we know that.” … Arnold to Arianna: “I have a perfect part for you in ‘Terminator 4’ “…Moderator to Crowd: “Ladies and gentlemen, this is not Comedy Central. I swear.”
Back in the day when Proposition 13 was on the ballot, KABC-TV in Los Angeles hosted a short debate on its evening news show every night for weeks with the measure’s proponent, Howard Jarvis, taking on all comers, a different opponent each night. Ratings were high.
Sure the debates are part show biz. Debaters and the hosts want to hold an audience.
But debates are also an opportunity for policy discussion, challenges to the status quo and the direction politicians want to take us. For all the faults we can identify with debates or debate formats, they still are a positive part of the civic discussion.
A Brown-Kashkari debate would be welcome. It would be entertaining and hopefully educational.
(UPDATE: This evening it was reported Governor Brown accepted one debate with Neel Kashkari on September 4. Details here.)