Editor's Note: Take zingers out of debates

Nolan Finley
The Detroit News

This campaign season we put in place a new rule for our endorsement interviews with political candidates: Talk only about yourselves, and not about your opponents.

What we want to know from those seeking our support is how they stand on the major issues facing their constituents, and how they plan to make things better.

We don't need them to define their opponents for us; we'll be interviewing them ourselves.

Republican Bill Schuette and Democrat Gretchen Whitmer sparred from the onset Friday of their first televised debate

So as soon as we hear the words "my opponent," we interrupt the candidate and steer the conversation back to his or her ideas and positions.

They're so programmed in attack mode that it's tough for them to stay on track. But we get a lot more useful information out of them.

We should try this approach with debates. I'm weary of listening to candidates answer a policy question with a few words about their own position, and then spending the rest of their time attacking their interpretation of their opponent's views. 

Force them to answer the question. Make them listen to their opponent's answer. And in the rebuttals allow them to explain why their idea is better.

But don't let them sit there for an hour distorting each other's records.

In the current format, we can only judge the winner of a debate by who delivered the best zingers, who got off the most devastating jab. Winning has little to do with offering superior ideas.

The ability to deliver a clever sound bite says nothing about how well a candidate will govern. 

The point of debates should be giving voters a deeper view of the candidates than can be gleaned from campaign ads. 

This year's debates haven't done that. A debate with rules that greatly restrict the ability of candidates to go low might not be as fun to watch, but it would better serve it's intended purpose.

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