A first condition is that the debates be focused on specific points of major disagreement. Not, “How can we improve our economy?” but “Will tax cuts for the wealthy or stimulus spending on infrastructure do more to improve our economy?” This will prevent vague statements of principle that don’t address the real issues at stake.

Another issue is the medium of the debate. Written discussions, in print or online could be easily arranged, but personal encounters are more vivid and will better engage public attention. They should not, however, be merely extemporaneous events, where too much will depend on quick-thinking and an engaging manner. We want remarks to be carefully prepared and open to considered responses.

Here’s one suggestion for an effective exchange. The debate would consist of a series of four half-hour televised sessions, carried out on successive days. In the first session, the Republican, say, presents a pre-written case for a particular position (say that tax-cuts are better for the economy than stimulus spending). The Democrat, who will have read the Republican’s presentation beforehand, presents a 15-minute point-by-point response. In the second session, the Republican asks the Democrat a series of questions (no more than one minute per question and three minutes per response) on the debate topic. In the third session, the Democrat questions the Republican. In the fourth session, each side has 15 minutes to present a final argument. This, of course, is just one idea. I welcome readers’ suggestions for refinements or alternatives.