One-on-One Presidential Debates

A lot of people think that Presidential debates don’t really mean a lot. They see them as a bunch of people making meaningless, empty, rhetorical statements.

I think that is sentiment is true for the most part. I do think that there is a solution: One-on-one debates. The reason is simple. It is much harder to get away with B.S. statements when you are giving them to one person than it is when giving it to a group.

Dennis Kucinich wants one-on-one debates with Hillary Clinton and John Edwards. Kucinich is a guy that I mostly like, well, except for this.

I think that this is a great idea. Round-robin one-on-one debates would not only be good for TV, it would be good for the electorate, giving us a chance to see straight up how these people compare with one another on individual issues. They would be able to really challenge specific details of one another’s positions better than a moderator can.

Do you agree?

One Love. One II.


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About Garlin Gilchrist II

I am the City of Detroit's first ever Deputy Technology Director for Civic Community Engagement. My job is to open up the city's public data and information for the consumption and benefit of all Detroiters. I currently live in Detroit, my hometown, with my beautiful wife Ellen and our twins Garlin III and Emily Grace. I'm from Detroit. I created Detroit Diaspora, and was formerly the National Campaign Director at I also co-hosted The #WinReport on "The Good Fight," a an award winning, nationally syndicated radio show that was one of Apple's Best of 2013. After graduating with degrees in Computer Engineering and Computer Science from the University of Michigan, I became a Software Engineer at Microsoft. By day, I helped build SharePoint into the fastest growth product in the company's history. On my personal time, I sought out opportunities to connect my technical skills with community building efforts across the country. This led to my co-founding The SuperSpade: Black Thought at the Highest Level, a leading Black political blog. I served as Social Media Manager for the 2008 Obama campaign in Washington, and then became Director of New Media at the Center for Community Change. I spent two years creating and implementing a strategy for the Center to take it's 40 years of community organizing experience into the digital age. I speak before diverse audiences on effective & responsive government, empowerment in revolutionary new organizing spaces, increasing civic engagement & participation through emerging technologies and protecting civil rights in the age of the Internet. Full bio here.

7 responses to “One-on-One Presidential Debates”

  1. Daniel K says :


    The bar is too low for the Presidency at this time. Anybody can get into the race to make a few political points or discuss a single issue. Mike Gravel and Dennis Kucinich don’t stand a chance in hell of winning and should not be allowed to engage in a one on one debate with front runners.

    However, when the field has been narrowed to two candidates, then sure, have one on one debates, but not the way we’ve done them in the past. Let the candidates talk about the issues without silly time limit rules on answers, and do as the French did with the Sarko – Royal debate, and keep a total time talked tally and have the moderator ensure that it stays even. If one candidate takes 5 minutes to answer a question or make a point, then the other candidate has 5 minutes for a rebuttal.

  2. Garlin II says :

    Daniel K,

    The suggestion of having a format similar to that used in Sarko-Royal is an interesting one. Anything that ensures equal time is a good thing.

    I agree that it is “easy” to come into a Presidential (or any political race) and discuss a single issue. I think that that is a good thing. People who meaningfully add to discourse often do so by starting with a single issue.

    Take Howard Dean for example from 2004. At this time during the last Presidential election cycle didn’t “stand a chance in hell.” His number one issue was bringing the troops home. He forced people to think and talk about this issue, and it was this effort that began the broad galvanization of anti-Iraq-occupation sentiment that we see among people today. To take another example from Dean, he was one of the first candidates to actually use the Internet in a meaningful way as an organizing tool instead of just a billboard. Now pretty much everyone’s site includes interactive features. All this was done by a man who had “no chance” of winning, and ultimately did lose the nomination. His contributions, however, are very much present in today’s political system and discourse (and not because he’s running the DNC).

    You don’t have to win the election to change people’s minds, to change people’s actions & approaches, to change politics. It is often those “long shots” that are the vanguards for meaningful change. Shirley Chisholm comes to mind.

    I wonder though what you think that the bar should be for allowing people to participate in races or debates? National polls? Not meaningful during primaries (ask Paul Tsongas, who was beating Clinton early in the 1992 election cycle). Polls that measure “electability?” That is about as vague as a measure can get (ask John Kerry, who was thought to be more electable than Dean in 2004). The pseudo-openness of the election is actually already pretty closed (you pretty much have to be a millionaire).

    I just don’t want us to get to a point where we pick winners before the competition even begins. I talk with people on the daily who believe that there is no “chance in hell” for a Black man or a white woman to bePresident ever, let alone next year. However, I’d like to think that this is indeed a possibility, just like candidates who are right on big issues having the chance of actually winning something.

    Let’s not box ourselves in to old ways of thinking. Nothing changes unless something changes.

    One Love. One II.

  3. Daniel K says :


    Let me be clear: anyone can run. I’m not suggesting otherwise. But Mike The Mover debating Hillary Clinton just because he is running isn’t what we want to get to.

    That’s why I simply suggest we skip the “debate” style and seek something more meaty when the nominees have been chosen, or if each party had a system that resulted in a top two for the nomination.

    And next year I fully expect one of those candidates to be black or a woman.

    BTW – I voted for Tsongas back in the day.

  4. Garlin II says :

    Thanks Daniel K, this is great discourse.

    I guess my main point of concern is how we determine who the “front-runners” will be. This can only happen by measuring candidates on three things:

    1. Past actions
    2. Present positions
    3. Differences between the candidates

    Point 1 requires research. Points 2 and 3 can be achieved through researh and can easily be observed through one-on-one debate. This gives candidates not only the opportunity to give their stances, but also to directly compare/contrast/pick apart/analyze their position relative to their opponent, which is infinitely beneficial to the voter. I don’t think any candidate should be disqualified to participate in such an exercise.

    I’ll use a sports analogy: Take the NBA. Every team plays every other team, regardless of how much the team sucks. The Pistons are better than the Knicks. [All bias aside,] they beat them two out of three games last season, so that’s a fair, objective statement. The Pistons had to face the Knicks directly in order to prove this, in order to answer the question of “who’s better” definitively.

    I see political competition as no different. If a “front-runner” is truly that, they should be able to demonstrate this by being superior on all three of the above points.

    One Love. One II.

  5. Daniel K says :

    Not sure I buy the sports analogy. Sports is entertainment, politics shouldn’t be.

    Determining the front runners that would participate in a one on one would be done as it is now. I’m suggesting that one on one just doesn’t happen until late in the game.

    Back to the French comparison, the election cycle lasts only a few months. The one on one debate happened only after the first round left Sarkozy and Royal as the candidates. Their 2h30min television debate took place only a few days before the election. We need shorter campaigns and that type of focused final few days. 18 months is just ridiculously long, and these 10 person debates allows for next to no substance.

    Even is we had each candidate one on one debate the other, when there are so many still in the race, it would only turn off voters more than they are now about electoral politics.

  6. Garlin II says :

    I’m with you on the shorter election cycles. This cycle is literally the longest one ever. The ridiculous duration leads to more and expensive elections with more and more private, corporate money determining who wins and who loses. The other problem with this is that people will get campaign fatigue as a by-product of an extra year’s worth of meaningless debate.

    The sports analogy was not one that equated the importance and weight of political issues with sports. It’s purpose was to illustrate that direct competition leads to clear differentiation and objectively determines who the leaders are.

    One Love. One II.

  7. Daniel K says :

    How about two types of one on ones: gladiator combat, and mastemind challenges?

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