“It ain’t gonna happen.” Probably not. Maybe America is willing to keep settling for a marathon of snooze-fests as riveting as an endless round of spelling bees. But just for fun, suppose we had real presidential debates with real substance and real interactions between unscripted candidates.

Don’t start laughing yet. We haven’t gotten to the funny part. Imagine this scenario, which admittedly sounds like surreal political comedy.

The candidates all meet in a studio with no one else present except camera crews and technicians. There is no live studio audience. There are no prepared questions, no notes, no podiums, and no chairs. There is no moderator. There are no rules. In such a forum, anyone could address anyone at any time.

For more than half a century our presidents and presidential wannabes have been cowpersons in a gunfight, hiding behind the rocks, slowly poking out their heads to incrementally increase their exposure to the voters. Their usual objective? Not to get their hats shot off–or worse.The fluency-challenged Eisenhower (inventor of the now popular “nuke-u-ler”) allowed televised news conferences, taped. Kennedy and Nixon braved nationally televised debates, live. Nixon’s zombie makeup scared off the voters. He may have won the “scariest face” award that fall, but eight days after Halloween he lost the election to the more telegenic JFK. President Kennedy then dared to conduct his press conferences live on this friendly new medium.This was all risky stuff. Live, nationally televised debates? Too risky. Ain’t gonna happen. But it did.

Then came more.The 1992 campaign brought us screened audiences directing face to face questions to the candidates. Congenial Bill Clinton stopped just short of kissing his questioners on the mouth. Perot? He was the famous battery bunny with the ears–and the mouth that kept going and going, as the relentless beat of his drum scared Washington insiders to the brink of putting on their best cinderblock loafers and jumping into the Potomac.

Bush 41 got caught staring impatiently at his watch, convincing the electorate that he was paying more attention to the clock than the economy. It’s those little, unpredictable glitches that make innovation so much fun!

The YouTube debate, while delivering more novelty than substance, at least made the attempt to give every U.S. citizen the chance to sound off in unlaundered language to America’s best and

brightest, who were all lined up like pop-up targets at a pizza arcade. No one got their hat shot off.

What’s next? Come, let us dream together.

The radical new format suggested in paragraph three would help the simian political process evolve one more step toward walking erect.

It would give us a pack of unscripted, terrified candidates who would have to live by their own rules, be themselves, and moderate themselves. They would have nothing to guide them but their wits, their personalities, and the knowledge that millions of bloodthirsty voters were tuning in for the first time to watch the ultimate reality show.

Sure, it could get chaotic. If it did, so what? The masks would come off during the melee, revealing our candidates far more starkly than their canned answers do now.

But think about it. Both political parties would have a strong vested interest in keeping this from becoming a graceless brawl. The candidates would be coached (read: threatened) to walk the delicate line between forcefulness and hostile aggressiveness. Nobody would want to look like a chicken in a cockfight.

This would be Reality TV come to politics, an intriguing display of group dynamics where we could actually see the candidates as they are and how they behave under pressure with other leaders.

Here is what America would finally be able to evaluate as candidates interact with each other.Who shows authentic leadership in the group? Who becomes the de facto moderator? Who sets the agendas? Who is contentious? Who makes peace or brings order when things gets too rowdy? Who talks too much? Who knows how to listen? Who is too passive? Manipulative? Arrogant? Insecure? Inarticulate? Who cracks under pressure? Are they in touch or out of touch with the issues that interest us?

And the biggest question of all: Who would be able to shut up Mike Gravel without looking like a gangster slapping around an angry Wal-Mart greeter? (Oh, sorry, it now appears that Mike has said enough already and will be nodding off at home during the next debate like the rest of us.)

No longer could the process be used to repair image problems. It would expose substance problems. The klieg lights of real verbal combat would burn away the image to reveal the reality.

The entertainment potential would be enormous! Here are the types of spectacles we might get to see.

McCain and Biden firing off their mouths like pistols they didn’t know were loaded. Romney and Huckabee melting like a plastic Jesus sitting on the dashboard of a hot car. Hillary’s sweet smile giving way to that ice pick voice. Obama, Mr. One-Lucky-Guess, fumbling his bold ideas like a novice magician turning his hat inside out looking for the rabbit.

No more talking points. No cardboard lineups of dark-suited males (blue or red ties) looking like aging FBI agents matching wits with one woman in a pantsuit. No more silly zingers and clever one line sound bites headlining tomorrow’s news. We’ve been soundbitten to death.

You can laugh now. But while you’re laughing, entertain yourself further with a picture of the status quo.

The current process is almost indistinguishable from the Miss America pageant except for the absence of swimsuit and evening gown competitions. A forum where moderators say things like, “Governor Goombah, how would you bring peace to the Middle East–without ruffling any feathers? You have 30 seconds for a response.”

The 1968 chants of “The whole world is watching!” have been replaced with “The whole world is yawning!” Aren’t we all hungry for reality instead of facade?

Would the candidates or their handlers want this? Of course not. But when approached with the idea, a young Generation X-er, normally unexcitable and cool, responded: “I don’t even like politics, but I’d sure want to see that!” Sponsors, take note.

Is this suggestion a joke? Yeah, probably. But is it a bigger joke than the ones we have witnessed and accepted for the last 50 years?

So laugh and go on to the next article. It’s too late to try anything new this year anyway. But to plow the ground for next time, you might send emails or make YouTube videos addressed to the candidates telling them we want some kind of process where the candidates have to truly interact with us and with each other so we can see who they really are.

Ask them if anyone but Hillary is man enough to try it.

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