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Game show debate

By Andy Hallman | Oct 10, 2012

Barack Obama and Mitt Romney debated each other for the first time last week. I was able to catch most of it. I was interested in how the “talking heads” on cable TV would interpret the debate.

The overwhelming response from all corners was that Romney “won.” From what I heard, Romney was declared the winner mostly for his superior poise and body language and less for the substance of his remarks.

Exactly two years ago, when Terry Branstad and Chet Culver debated in the governor’s race, I wrote a column about how I disliked oral debates. I was reminded of why I disliked them last week. I won’t repeat all the reasons I gave two years ago, but in a nutshell, the attributes that make a good orator are not necessarily those that make a good president. At the time, I suggested that the candidates engage in an online forum, where they would have more time to craft their answers.

After having a couple of years to think about it, I’m not sure that many people would read through such a written exchange. I’ve been thinking about other ways that we could judge a candidate’s ability to be president. An economist at George Mason University named Alex Tabarrok has suggested that the debate could be turned into a sort of game show, which would be both fun to watch and indicative of each candidate’s skills.

The ability to negotiate is an important skill for a president. Unfortunately, this ability is never shown in debates because of their confrontational nature. Tabarrok proposes assigning each candidate a couple who wants to get divorced. The candidate’s job is to get the couple to divide their assets in a mutually agreeable manner, or better yet, to decide to stay together.

John F. Kennedy’s favorite game was “Diplomacy,” a board game in which players attempt to conquer each other’s territory on the board by making deals with other players (whom they later stab in the back). Tabarrok suggests this would be a good test of the candidates’ ability to bargain. I agree, although we wouldn’t need to make them play Diplomacy specifically.

Monopoly is another good bargaining game and one that more viewers would be familiar with. To make the contest more modern, the candidates could play “Settlers of Catan,” which requires players to trade with one another in order to build their settlements and cities.

Often overlooked in the campaign is the role that advisors play in a president’s decision-making. What’s important in a president is not necessarily how smart he is but his ability to pick out smart people. This ability could be tested by making the candidates play a game similar to “To Tell the Truth.”

In the game show version, four celebrity panelists are presented with three people, all of whom claim to be the same person with an incredible story. The celebrities ask the three contestants questions about their experience and at the end they vote on who the real person is and who the impostors are.

In our candidate version, somebody who is an expert in a field, such as economics or foreign policy, would be joined by two amateurs who pretended to be experts. After asking the three people a series of questions, the candidates would have to select the bona fide expert. This will tell us whether the candidate can spot genuine intelligence.

What do you say, voters?



Comments (3)
Posted by: David Faden | Dec 11, 2012 00:05

To uphold the dignity of the office, a game of bridge (with vice presidents as partners) seems appropriate.

Although the debates just showcase one narrow part of the skills necessary for the job, they're also just a tiny part of the info available to voters. To maximize the debate's utility in bringing out differences between the candidates, maybe the questions ought to be written by the most hostile parties possible -- the other candidates. It also wouldn't seem to hurt to always throw in at least one third party candidate at least as question writer if not debater.

Posted by: Glen Peiffer | Oct 11, 2012 10:42

Steve Wynn Takes On Washington

Posted by: Glen Peiffer | Oct 11, 2012 10:24

If there has ever been a President with extraordinary marketing skills capable of selling hot air without much substance, it is President Barack Obama. What exactly is hope and change? We can only imagine how many future generations will be paying the price — and not just in money — for the bright ideas and clever rhetoric of our current administration. President Obama's vision is one of an expanded role of the federal government in the economy and a reduced role for the Constitution of the United States. Like Theodore Roosevelt who denounced "the mighty industrial overlords" and "the tyranny of mere wealth.", President Obama is a critic of big business


Just what specifically this "tyranny" consisted of was not spelled out. This was indeed an era of the rise of businesses to unprecedented size in industry after industry — and of prices falling rapidly, as a result of economies of scale that cut production costs and allowed larger profits to be made from lower prices that attracted more customers.

It was easy to stir up hysteria over a rapidly changing economic landscape and the rise of new businessmen like John D. Rockefeller to wealth and prominence. They were called "robber barons," but those who put this label on them failed to specify just who they robbed. Obama's rhetoric of "change" is in fact a restoration of discredited ideas that originated 100 years ago.

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