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Holding national congressional debates

By Bruce Walker
web posted April 24, 2006

Conventional punditry maintains that midterm elections are a referendum on the party controlling the White House, but Democrats gains in the 1998 midterm elections and Republican gains in the 2002 midterm elections have demonstrated that the nationalization of congressional elections, begun by Newt Gingrich twelve years ago, changed traditions forever. Why not treat the nationalization of congressional elections by holding national congressional debates?

There was a long period of American political history during which presidential candidates did not debate, and the regular process of presidential debates began in 1976. Before that there were no presidential elections since 1960 and none before that. Few people question the value of presidential debates now.

The most logical format for congressional debates would be to hold two debates – one between the Senate Majority Leader and Senate Minority Leader and the other between the House Majority Leader and House Minority Leader. Republicans should propose that these debates be held without reporter or audiences other than the America people on television.

Each congressional leader would give a five minute presentation on the philosophy of his party on pre-selected key issues, followed by a five minute presentation by his party counterpart, then each could have two or three minutes for rebuttal. The Senate leaders in their debate could handle half a dozen key issues, and the House leaders could handle half a dozen key issues. The debates would be civil, informative and brief, because any leader who was rude or ran over allotted time would turn off voters.

Would the networks agree to this debate? It would be a major news story and it would be able for parties to talk to the American people without billions of campaign dollars, both of which would make the congressional debates very attractive. But consider also this: Fox News and many state public television stations would cover these debates. Could CNN and MSNBC afford to cover obviously lesser stories? No...

What if Democrats declined to participate? Fine! Then that should be one of the campaign issues nationally: the Democrat Party congressional leadership is afraid to face in civil, informative nationally televised debates the Republican Party congressional leadership. Fox might even broadcast the debate anyway, using the verbatim quotes from Reid and Pelosi in the Congressional Record as their response.

Before this debate, however, Senator Frist, who is running for president and leaving the Senate, should step down as Majority Leader and ask the Republican Senatorial Caucus to designate for the remaining Congress as Majority Leader Rick Santorum. This would remove Senator Frist from the two roles of candidate and leader. It would also give Senator Santorum a much better chance of holding his Senate seat both by the high office he would hold and the publicity of the national debates. Santorum is only forty-eight years, while Harry Reid is sixty-six years old. Santorum is a telegenic and a great campaigner. The whole Pennsylvania Republican ticket would be helped if Santorum outdebated Reid, which he almost certainly would.

The new House Republican Majority Leader John Boehner is ten years younger than Nancy Pelosi. He is articulate, attractive and reformer from Middle America. House Democrat Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi comes from one of the nuttiest congressional districts in America and stumbles and bumbles when she speaks. The House congressional leadership debate between Boehner and Pelosi help Republican House candidates across the nation, but also this prominent Ohio Republican could do much to help inspire Republicans in Ohio, while an embarrassing performance by Pelosi, almost a certainty, would demoralize California Democrats.

Most importantly, however, the absence of any actual plan by congressional Democrats would be readily apparent. Because the focus would not be how either party would act toward the president, but instead would focus on what each party would positively do with their congressional majority. What do both congressional parties in both houses actually stand for? This is not a presidential election, but a congressional election. Why do Democrats, specifically, want power in 2006?

Let America see the tired faces of old the Democrat leadership, devoid of ideas or dreams beyond the reacquisition of power, make their best case against young, handsome, specific, principled, articulate Republican congressional leaders. The threat of the debate, alone, would put Democrats permanently on the defensive; the refusal of Democrats to debate would be even worse for them; actually debating would be a pure calamity. If Republican want to show the true dangers of Democrat control of the House and of the Senate, then proposing congressional debates publicly and putting Democrats on the defensive from now until November is the way to do it.

Bruce Walker has been a published author in print and in electronic media since 1990.  He is a contributing editor to Enter Stage Right and a regular contributor to Conservative Truth, American Daily, Intellectual Conservative, Web Commentary, NewsByUs and Men's News Daily. His first book, Sinisterism: Secular Religion of the Lie by Outskirts Press was published in January 2006.

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