I’ve got a bit of state-level election exhaustion and it has nothing to do with over-coverage of what’s going on in Nebraska. It’s just the opposite, as a matter of fact. In the last month we’ve heard all about the candidates and storylines in Delaware, California and elsewhere, but somehow the election of our own home state’s chief executive position has flown under the radar. I realize part of that has to do with the fact that Governor Heineman appears poised to win the election in a runaway based upon his past election success and the realities of the political makeup of the state, but somehow I don’t think that should result in a lack of direct discussion between candidates who have been ripping away behind each others’ backs for the better part of two months.
I’ve always been a fan of election season not only because of the obvious lead-up to the unique phenomenon that is the peaceful, democratic selection of our leaders, but also because the level of actual meaningful dialogue about policy is significantly heightened. If you’ve listened to me talk politics on the show, I’ve said many times that this country’s political culture continues to suffer from a decreasing presence of actual debate. Point/counterpoint discussion has been replaced by dueling cable or talk-radio interviews and one-line catch phrases that have been constructed by party marketers. Candidate A’s criticism of Candidate B is rarely rebutted in a direct fashion, but instead, the discussion is redirected by Candidate B into a perceived area of strength in her favor.
That’s why I still get excited for debates. While candidates can still use the opportunity to blurt out the meaningless platitudes they’ve been using behind the podium at rallies, it’s significantly harder to get away with it when there is an opponent standing next to you who’s ready to call your bluff. When debates are done right, they are still the best tool the voting citizen has to evaluate candidates and form an educated decision. This country should have 10 times the direct debate it has now, and those debates should be formatted in a way that assures that candidates can’t dance around difficult questions.
It is my understanding that Nebraska’s gubernatorial candidates, Mike Meister and Dave Heineman, will not be debating. I’ve got calls into both campaigns to find out exactly why that is the case. Regardless of the polling numbers for this race or the reality that most Nebraska voters have already made up their minds, I can’t believe there would be any civically-minded Nebraskan who wouldn’t strongly support the idea of not only hearing from two people who have very different ideas how to lead the state through a very important, perhaps volatile, four-year period, but also allowing those candidates the chance to directly rebut their opponents’ talking points, which have been beaten to death over the last several weeks. Further, believe it or not, there is a generally-ignored voting bloc of Nebraskans who aren’t straight party line voters and may not be sure which way they’re voting in the coming election. What ever happened to winning undecided voters? Now it’s all about constantly firing up your loyal base.
I also can’t particularly see any reason either candidate would have an opposition to such an event. Obviously Meister has nothing to lose, and Heineman has said Meister is so desperate to reverse the poll numbers that he’s grasping at straws with his criticism of the Governor. If that’s true, the Governor will have the opportunity to hit a home run. Plus, he’s probably invincible in this race. But frankly, even if there are risks to either side, what kind of potential state leader shies away from a discussion on state policy because there’s a risk he’ll screw up and lose a few votes? Is this race really that much of a wuss-fest? I’d hope both of these guys are confident enough in their positions and rationales behind them that they’d be itching to go head to head, regardless of the political ramifications (which would likely be fairly minimal).
In the coming days I will be contacting both candidates and offering to facilitate a debate in the next month that will be available to voters statewide both live and on-demand via KLIN radio and KLIN.com. My co-host and I have made some calls and we believe we’ll be able to pull this off in a way that will be both logistically feasible and accessible and useful to Nebraska voters. Details will certainly be negotiable if the campaigns have some concerns.
If you’re familiar with our show, you already know that unlike the rest of our syndicated lineup on KLIN, we’re equal opportunity critics. If a public figure does or says something we deem idiotic or praiseworthy, we bestow the appropriate criticism or praise, regardless of the “D” or “R” behind that persons’ name. I’ve had my criticisms of both Meister and Heineman, but I don’t look at this as an opportunity to sabotage either candidate. Instead, I see it as a chance to finally get some questions answered with a built-in B.S. radar on stage in the form of the opposing candidate. If you’d like to see this too, make sure and let the candidates know.