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It's Our Party Too: Why Conservative Youth Deserve to Moderate Our Own Debate

This Wednesday, in what has practically become a weekly ritual this election season, the four remaining Republican Presidential contenders will gather in Arizona for their 26th debate together. While political junkies like myself will probably tune in anyway to comment on any slight differences we can detect in the candidates’ strategies or performance, the vast majority of Americans are beginning to view all these debates as too standard, too similar, and too unproductive.

Therefore, if these debates are to have any lasting relevance during this primary season, the networks must strive to use new techniques to reach a new audience. There is one particular demographic which is impacted most directly by many of the issues discussed by the candidates but whose participation in previous debates has been minimal if not nonexistent: the American youth. Despite this trend, it makes perfect sense that those young citizens who have the most at stake in this next election be able to help vet the candidates that will determine their future prosperity. In order to accomplish this, we hope to build support for a “Youth Debate” that will give all Republican Presidential hopefuls the platform necessary to address young voters directly.


If anything, the creation of a “Youth Debate” with student moderators and audience members would generate needed variation from the status quo of previous such engagements. Why must we let every Republican debate be moderated by old, uncharismatic news anchors who enjoy watching conservatives fight amongst themselves more than actually resolving key issues? Are we to believe thatGeorge Stephanopoulos, a former contributor to the campaigns of Michael Dukakis and Bill Clinton, is actually more qualified to lead a conservative debate than the young leaders of this movement? Networks, always in search of higher ratings, would benefit immensely from changing their debate format to this model. Not only would they gain many more younger viewers, glad to have their concerns finally highlighted, but also such changes would increase curiosity among viewers of other ages, anxious to see how the candidates would react to the different setup.

George Stephanopoulos on the cover of Time Magazine while serving as an aide to President Bill Clinton

In addition to providing increased marketing revenue for network producers and publicity for the candidates, this new debate format would give our prospective nominee the opportunity to hone his message to younger voters, a critical demographic in this next election whose futures have been badly jeopardized by the current administration. President Obama’s approval numbers among younger voters have dropped below 50% from an earlier high of over 70%. If we are to regain the White House in 2012, the conservative movement needs its eventual nominee to be able to capitalize on this discontent among young voters. Why not give each of the candidates the opportunity to practice?

Since this election will have such a significant impact on the nation inherited by today’s youth, younger moderators have an increased incentive to focus on the candidates’ positions on various issues rather than petty personal politics. Instead of asking about decade-old affairshypothetical bans of contraception by states, or advertisements sponsored by anonymous super PACs, young conservative moderators would concentrate on how to fix America’s real problems, especially as they relate to today’s youth. Unfortunately many of the current debates have not yielded substantive conversations about the issues.

For instance, although our 15 trillion dollar federal debt is probably the most blatant assault on the futures of today’s young citizens, the topic has barely even been mentioned in the most recent debates. Meanwhile moderators allow (and, in most cases, encourage) candidates to waste numerous minutes in heated, back-and-forth exchanges over their rivals’ records and prior jobs that advance no serious policy discussions at all.

To further eliminate incessant squabbles among the candidates, the 30 second “response period” given to any contender whose name is mentioned should be phased out. The only thing candidates can truly control or know with certainty in any race is their own history and policy positions. Therefore, their only job in a Presidential debate should be educating the public about those two things and allow the other candidates do the same regarding their background. In order to standardize that practice, a penalty should be enforced for any contender who mentions another candidate in one of their responses. Instead, numerous third-party researchers and callers from around the country can check the validity of a candidate’s statements rather than their bias challengers. While some may view these methods somewhat draconian, they actually create a far more equal and fair debate environment. By cutting down on the consistent “he said, she said” between two determined rivals, the moderators would ensure that half of the candidates not use up all the time allotted to a particular topic for all contenders.

Republican candidates, Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich, engage each other in a fiery back-and-forth

Also, since this race is still so fluid and volatile, each candidate deserves to deliver a response to each topic. Therefore, on a given issue, all contenders should answer the same question, enabling audience members and at-home viewers to more easily determine the differences between candidates’ policies.

The conservative movement benefits from the existence of many vibrant, knowledgeable student groups that promote its ideology, such as Students for Liberty, the Young Republican FederationYoung America’s Foundation, the College Republicans, and theCoalition for a Conservative Future. Together all these organizations could successfully produce an issues-oriented debate centered on addressing the problems that most directly affect youth.

After the February 26th debate in Arizona, the next debate will be held on March 19th in Portland, Oregon (as another sign of the current debates’ decreasing popularity, the candidates recently pulled out of two other debates scheduled between those two dates).NPRPBSOregon Public BroadcastingThe Washington Times, and the Oregon Republican Party are all listed as cosponsors for the event. In order to establish a “Youth Debate,” those institutions would simply select officers from young conservative organizations as moderators and encourage other students to attend and ask questions as members of the audience. Their broadcasting rights and status as sponsors would be respected and upheld.

Since all previous Republican Presidential debates have been hosted and staffed by adults, they have failed to adequately present any youth perspective or address the immense consequences this upcoming election will have on today’s younger citizens. We believe that the students across this country, who will be most affected by the burdensome deficits, uncompetitive tax rates, higher energy prices, and risky foreign policy currently afflicting this nation today, should have a forum to ask the Republican candidates directly about how they would address those issues. If you agree with our crusade to increase the power and voice of youth in this pivotal election, contact one of the cosponsors of the next Presidential debate or your local Republican chapter and advise them to support this proposal!

Written by Evan Draim

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