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The Baltimore Sun

If becoming an informed voter were easy, everyone would do it.

It's not, of course. When it comes to choosing our next president, there's no shortage of information about the candidates. Some is critical, some interesting, some salacious, some irrelevant.

All we can predict is that you won't learn enough about the major party nominees if we hold to the series of heavily scripted, play-not-to-lose, watch-what-you-say debates.

Despite many good intentions, presidential debates offer little more than bland recitations of carefully calibrated positions and the occasional sound bite from a gaffe or putdown.

You need more. And a smart fellow named Norman Ornstein has a way for you to get it. Mr. Ornstein, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, recalls the 1963 talks between Republican Barry Goldwater and Democratic incumbent John F. Kennedy to change the face of presidential campaigning.

They had agreed to campaign in tandem, flying from city to city together to hold a series of moderator-less debates on issues of the day. Imagine the respect, civility and confidence that must have required. Unfortunately, as we in Dallas know too well, an assassin's bullet halted those plans.

We believe Mr. Ornstein is onto something when he proposes a variation of the Kennedy-Goldwater plan for 2008 - a series of weekly debates from Labor Day to Election Day, at least eight such face-offs.

That opens the door to a variety of formats and topics. Some could have moderators; others not. Some could hinge on questions from journalists or even experts in the fields. In others, the candidates could question each other. Some could be wide-ranging; others could be on a single issue, say, Iraq or health care or immigration.

Preparation, yes. Prepackaged answers, no.

We would add that any network that wanted to televise such a debate would agree to remove time limits. If a debate goes an hour, fine; if it takes all night, we go all night.

We need a better way. Let's see what's inside these candidates. With less scripting, we can learn more about who they are and how they would govern. Doesn't our choice for the nation's highest office deserve that much?

- The Dallas Morning News

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