Fixing the Debate Time Issue

If you watched the presidential debate last night, then you know that the most uncomfortable moments – other than McCain calling Obama “that one” – was Tom Brokaw’s increasing annoyance over the blatant disregard for time. Both camps had agreed to the 2-minute and 1-minute limits on responses and rebuttals, and both candidates blew through them on every answer like a tired motorist blowing through a stop sign at 2am.

Let’s face it, it’s ridiculous to expect politicians to be short winded. (1-minute rebuttals?? really??) It’s also ridiculous to expect them to play by the rules. That’s why I think the rules need to change. Forget the green-yellow-red traffic light on the floor. We need a better system of keeping time and enforcing clock abuse.

Here’s a few ideas:

The Mic Drop: As soon as their time is up, cut off power to their mic. I can guarantee that after being cut off mid-thought once or twice, they will learn to wrap up their thoughts before losing their voice.

The Orchestra: You know how award shows will cut off long-winded acceptance speeches with music that gets louder and louder every second? Let’s do the same thing at debates. Let’s hire an orchestra to sit next to the stage and start playing in ever-increasing volume as the candidates blow through their time limits. Or maybe an orchestra wouldn’t be brash enough? Perhaps we could do the same thing, only we could have Nickelback or Lil Wayne start performing. That might get them to wrap things up on time.

The Dueling Mics: How about this? As soon as a candidate’s time limit is reached, his opponent is allowed to talk into his mic at the same time. The possibilities are endless. The opponent could chime in with little quips and insults ever few seconds (“not true”…”he’s lying”…”you suck”…) or he could just pull a Jim Carrey in Dumb and Dumber and make the most annoying noise in the world until his opponent shut up.

The Mini Life-Sucking Machine: Remember the Dreaded Life-Sucking Machine in the Pit of Despair from The Princess Bride? We need to attach a mini version of that to each candidate. We can make a belt out of it. Then as soon as their time allotment has expired, they start to feel the pain from the machine as it inflicts damage to the small of their backs. The longer the candidate wants to exceed his time, the more pain he feels as life is sucked out of him. Then we’ll find out just how important it is to these guys to finish their thoughts.

The Strip Tease: This one is simple, for every question asked each candidate gives their answer. Whoever goes longer has to remove one article of clothing. Want to keep those pants on? Then you better stick to answering the question and not ramble on for 2 minutes rebutting the comment the other guy made 10 minutes ago. For the sake of all of our eyes, I pray this idea is never put into practice. No one is interested in seeing McCain answering the boxers or briefs question by dropping trou.

The Chess Clock:
The great thing about this idea is we assure each candidate gets equal time. Let’s say we give each candidate 30 minutes of speaking time for the entire debate. In the middle of the debate floor each candidate has a button (think Deal or No Deal) they press to start their clock and turn on their microphone. As soon as the first candidate is asked a question, his/her clock starts counting down from 30 minutes. The longer he spends on each question, the less time he will have to answer subsequent ones. When the first candidate is done talking, he slams his button,and the clock starts for his opponent, who follows the same protocol. If one candidate was markedly more succinct in his answers than his opponent, he might find himself at the end of the debate with 10 more minutes than his rival, allowing him to talk for a while without interruption.

The Donation Obligation: Here’s the idea: for every second over the allotted time that the candidate speaks, he has to give $500 out of his own pocket to the party of his opponent. Last night it seemed that on every question these guys were asked, they blabbed beyond the legal limit for an extra 30 seconds (at least). Under this plan, those 30 seconds Barack went over his allotted time would mean a $15,000 donation to the Republican National Committee. And every time John McCain demanded he got a chance to rebut as well would cost him the same. You have to admit, it would certainly make things interesting. What would be more important to a candidate, spending an extra minute to clarify a position he feels is crucial to the election, or keeping the $30,000 it would cost to clarify that position out of the coffers of his opponent?

What do you think? Would any of these work? Got an idea of your own? I’d love to hear it.