April 26, 2008
David Plouffe, Campaign Manager
Obama for America
P.O. Box 8102
Chicago, IL 60680
The attention, excitement and energy around this presidential election is unprecedented. The stakes could not be higher for our country and the American people. The economy is sliding into recession, our men and woman in the Armed Forces are fighting two wars abroad, and our country is reeling from the harsh legacy of the Bush-Cheney Administration. The American people are choosing a direction for their children and families. They have a right to hear from those who want to be their leaders. Our Democratic primaries reflect the keen interest of the American citizenry in this election. Our primaries have brought millions of new people into the political process and invigorated a national conversation about the best solutions to meet our challenges.
Senator Clinton believes deeply that political debates are a vital part of our democratic process. It is the American way to place our would-be leaders side by side to hear them articulate and defend their ideas; to challenge each other on their visions for the future; to answer the tough questions about their plans, their records and their judgments; and to celebrate their achievements.
Senator Obama has declined the invitation from CBS and the North Carolina Democratic Party to appear for a debate at North Carolina State University tomorrow evening. Senator Obama has apparently declined the invitation of the Indiana Debate Commission to appear for a debate in Indiana next week. Senator Obama has not responded to Senator Clinton’s challenge to debate in Oregon. Will there be no debates in other upcoming states? The American people, of course, deserve more. They deserve debates before casting their votes. They deserve debates just like the states who have participated in this invigorating process before them.
I understand that Senator Obama has raised the point that there have already been more than 20 debates this election cycle. However, only four of those have been between Senator Obama and Senator Clinton. We can all agree that many important issues have received scant attention during previous debates, including such important topics as education and the energy crisis.
This year marks the 150th anniversary of the famous Lincoln-Douglas debates, a series of public debates across Illinois where two candidates put their ideas, their visions, and their values before the American people. I have no doubt that Senator Obama, who hails from that great state, understands how valuable and vital these national conversations were to the heart of America. We can surely meet the standard our forbearers did. Our final two primary candidates to date have had three fewer debates than Lincoln and Douglas held in single state over 60 days in 1858.
And if we debate, Americans will come. Recent debates have attracted record numbers of viewers – more than 10 million for the last one. And a great number of voters in recent primaries have said that the debates in their states were important to their decision.
Senator Obama himself suggested the last debate in Philadelphia did not provide enough opportunity to talk about issues that “matter to the American people.” A Lincoln-Douglas style debate would certainly provide that opportunity. There would be no questions from the media. There would be equal time and equal opportunity to grapple with the important policy questions we are facing today. As Douglas put it, the two candidates would meet “for the purpose of discussing the leading political topics which now agitate the public mind.”
In the spirit of the Lincoln-Douglas debates, we make this proposal:
Senator Clinton and Senator Obama will participate in a 90-minute debate in an open public forum. Just the two of them — no questioners, no panelists, no video clips. One candidate would speak for two minutes, then the other, alternating back and forth all the way through the debate. Their discussion – not any pre-set rules – would determine how long they spend on one subject before moving on to another. Such a debate would range across all of the challenges, large and small, we face as a nation or it could focus on the most significant issue we face today, — the economy.
We can readily agree on a host, a place, a date, and a broadcaster or series of broadcasters.
Both of our candidates are making history. Let us continue to do so. Let’s debate.
A fine idea, and not the first time it’s been proposed this election season. Golly, I’ll bet the left is ecstatic at her proposal, having been so rudely deprived by ABC of the chance to hear all those substantive exchanges about policy they’ve been aching for, huh? Doubtless we can count on tremendous nutroots pressure being brought to bear on Obama to ignore his sliding favorability ratings, accept her invitation, and ladle out wonk-sized servings of Hope and Change in a forum where George Stephanopoulos can’t interrupt. Brace yourself for the blogburst.
Update: What’s the most efficient way to communicate with voters? Surely not at a massively promoted, televised, highly watched debate. Much better to hold a few town halls and meet and greets.
Fox News aired a portion of Obama’s Fox News Sunday interview, in which he flatly ruled out debating Clinton before Indiana and North Carolina vote on May 6.
“We’re not going to have debates between now and Indiana,” he said…
“I am not ducking one, we’ve had 21 — and so, now, what we’ve said, we’re two weeks, two big states, we want to make sure that we’re talking to as many folks as possible on the ground taking questions from voters,” Obama said.