Democratic debates? How about something completely different this time

The 2020 Democratic pre-primary debates are about to begin, and I think they are a terrible idea. Democrats have an amazing, deep bench of highly qualified, intelligent candidates for President. We should celebrate them—all of them, and their ideas—not turn them against one another in a prime-time circular firing squad.

Debates are designed to be confrontational. There’s score keeping. There’s grandstanding. There are winners and losers. With a field this qualified—this early in the game—that’s not a smart approach. Rather than rushing to winnow down the crowd, the Democratic party should be showcasing the range of smart, progressive, practical, and beneficial policies and programs that these candidates stand behind.

So, here’s an idea. Instead of a dozen or more candidates standing stiffly behind podiums, trying to think up snappy comebacks or memorable bumper-sticker lines in the 30-seconds they have to speak, let’s do something completely different. Let’s ditch the network correspondents and their gotcha questions, the timers, the flashing lights, the podiums, the audience woo-woo, and the win/lose format. Instead, sit them down at a roundtable and let them brainstorm—collaboratively—the big issues facing this country. Give everyone at the table a chance to offer constructive input. Show the country that discussion—rather than debate—and mutual respect—rather than competition—can create the solutions that we desperately need. Maybe offer a series of these roundtable brainstorming sessions, each focused on one or two issues. I’d like to hear what each of these candidates would say, especially if the idea is to be collaborative, not self-promoting.  What a way to underscore the differences between the Republican Party’s obstructive, confrontational and downright nasty way of “governing,” and a Democratic [capital and small d], cooperative, good-of-the-country attitude. Publicly brainstorming the big issues could show the country–dare I say inspire us?–to see what could be done when people think big, think smart and think together.

We are at a dangerous moment in the run-up to the 2020 Presidential election. We’ve hardly even met some of the Democratic contenders, and the party “leadership” is already trying to narrow the field to a few favorites. Sure, culling the field could focus the almighty fundraising efforts and possibly create the non-diluted groundswell for a single candidate that would make things go more smoothly for the Democratic party apparatus. But in my opinion, that’s a mistake.

We know who the conventional “front runners” are (based on the destructive fundraising race and on far-too-early-to-be-credible polling). But things can change, and the lesser-known candidates have barely had a chance to introduce themselves. Let’s slow this thing down, and think beyond the way it’s always been done. The person currently occupying the White House has built his presidency on breaking all the rules. Maybe the Democrats could think about shaking things up a bit, too. But in a good way.