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Rick Tyler and Renewing Poltical Debates

October 19, 2007

Rick Tyler is the Director of Media Relations for Gingrich Communications and serves as the spokesman for former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich . He is also a senior partner at Chesapeake Associates, a full service professional campaign consulting firm based in Washington, DC. Today, Tyler came into Professor Walker’s class at American University to talk about campaign and debate reform ideas. Here is the gist of what he had to say:

While reminiscing about the Kennedy-Douglas debates, Tyler made it clear that the television is the dominate medium today. Whether it be through video on the internet or the actual t.v., a candidate’s presentation is vital in any campaign. In asking the class what was wrong with today’s political debate, people in the crowd all shared the same opinion that candidates seem rehearsed; they don’t have any personal insight and don’t come off as personable, therefore projecting a rather stale image.

The subject of Tyler’s presentation soon turned to reformed debate. He echoed Newt Gingrich’s plan to renew political debate in America. Through bi-partisan debate with less limitations Tyler believes American politics would greatly change. If candidates debated in a bi-partisan manner they no longer would have to pledge to follow every value of their party. Candidates would be forced to try and appeal to America as a whole, therefore opening up the door to connecting to the many voters who are in the middle. Tyler discussed Gingrich’s plan and outline for the Cooper Union Debates. Gingrich invited all of the presidential candidates to participate. So far only Mike Gravel and Mike Huckabee have responded. The debate would be 90 minutes long and only feature a time keeper. “It would be an adult discussion,” said Tyler, when referring to the renewed political debate. Both Gingrich and Tyler believe this form of debate would change the face of politics and campaigning in America.

The outline of the debate would be as follows: Tyler would like to see the 2 presidential candidates once they are selected by their party partake in 9, 90 minute debates. There would be one a week in the time span after the party conventions and before the November election. The press would no longer set the agenda, and this way candidates could now get to the issues with thought out, thorough positions.

Tyler isn’t quite sure if this next presidential election has any hope, but he is optimistic that people will catch on and that things will change. “We are in a period of consultant driven campaigns,” said Tyler when describing today’s political process. Campaigns start so early because of this. Candidates focus all their attention on raising money and gaining support. “The most valuable asset a candidate has is their thinking and planning time for the future,” remarked Tyler. Candidates become utterly exhausted after months and month of begging for money and lose this time. How can it then be expected that they have articulated thoughtful positions?

Tyler turned the floor over to questions from the class to end his presentation. Here are some of the major insights.
1) The media does have an obligation to the public to bring up issues that many people may not know about or care about. But the media is driven by profits, which are driven by ratings, so many of these issues have no relevance to thoughtful political discussion.

2)In terms of campaign finance reform, Tyler would like to see no limits, period. Candidates should be able to receive as much money as possible from a donor as long as it is immediately made public on the internet.

3)Blind issue polls would be a great way to bring attention to positions rather than candidates. This way people necessarily wouldn’t be blinded by party affiliation or a person’s name. If blind issue polls were taken each week and the media followed them then candidates would undoubtedly be more vocal about their stances on certain issues.

All in all, it was rather interesting to hear Tyler’s take on debate and campaign reform ideas. He echoed many of his bosses ideas. Time will only tell if these ideas can be placed into action.

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