Could Fisher / Portman Debates In 2010 Copy Lincoln / Douglas Format From 1858?

In the race to be elected to the U. S. Senate, Democrat Lee Fisher is challenging his Republican opponent, Rob Portman, to debate in seven different locations in Ohio. There were seven Lincoln Douglas debates in the Senate race in Illinois in1858. Fisher’s challenge for seven debates suggests he is seeking to re-make history in the Senate rate in Ohio in 2010 by copying an idea from 152 years ago.

I hope that Portman will agree to Fisher’s challenge — even though, I’m sure, they’ll be plenty of Republican strategists who will tell him not to do so. Portman has a whale lot more money than Fisher — like $6 million more — and so, unless Fisher starts to generate money quickly, this money advantage means that Portman can buy a lot more media time than Fisher. In the limited time I watch TV, I’ve seen a lot of Portman ads, but not one Fisher ad.

So, if Portman has the money to command the media, why should he cooperate in helping to build a free stage that Fisher would share equally?

But I hope that Portman will agree to debate. And maybe public pressure will help encourage him to do so. And, wouldn’t a Lincoln Douglas format be great? I’d feel Ohio would be making a breakthrough if we could use a debate style that was a valuable means of communication152 years ago.

The original Lincoln Douglas debates were each 3 hours — a length of time, probably unreasonable to attempt in today’s culture.  If it followed the original Lincoln Douglas format, a modern day 70 minute debate, would look like this:

Candidate A: 20 minutes
Candidate B: 35 minutes
Candidate A: 15 minutes

In four of the debates, candidate A would go first, as above. And in three of the debates, candidate B would go first. And every debate, the order would alternate. Each debate would focus on the question:  Who should be chosen to hold the office of U. S. Senator, as one of two senators representing Ohio?

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2 Responses to Could Fisher / Portman Debates In 2010 Copy Lincoln / Douglas Format From 1858?

  1. john b says:

    why has there been this fetishization of lincoln-douglas debates in the past couple years? I heard a lot about it in 2008 as well. Were these debates ideal because of their format or their speakers?

    Do we really want to hear what will likely turn out to be three stump speeches in a row seven nights? Because that’s what seems like would happen if this sort of debate happened these days.

    I’m all for more open debate formats that allow for longer form answers to questions when needed. These 1 minute answers don’t really serve anyone’s interests. But a 35 minute answer to a single question? That would just be a pre-written speech.

  2. Mike Bock says:

    john b — Lincoln and Douglas entertained, educated and engaged the crowds of 1858. Are the candidates of today so inferior?

    I think both Fisher and Porter are talented and experienced politicians and are up to the challenge. Porter may refuse because he thinks it would give attention to Fisher, but Porter and Fisher would probably be equal to the task of debating itself. Porter, by far, holds the weaker hand, and so why would he want to see his cards exposed?

    The idea is that they would respond to each other and answer questions posed to each other and have sufficient time to develop their thinking and make their points. There may be other formats that would accomplish this better — but the point would be to create an open ended opportunity and take control of the debate away from the media, and place it with the candidates themselves.

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