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Are They Debates or Press Conferences?

June 16, 2004

Re "Take the Gloves Off," editorial, June 12: I take issue with your applying the dignifying label "presidential debates" to what in essence are glorified press conferences. President Eisenhower had serious doubts about the value of debates in a presidential election. He opined that they tended to be a test of reaction time rather than a genuine exposition of the participants' philosophies and programs.

To prevent these joint appearances from being boring, there should be a format similar to the Lincoln-Douglas debates of 1858. No more questions from third parties, such as reporters or from the audience. Let's just have the candidates state their respective positions and then question each other. Each debate would be limited to a particular subject; e.g., foreign affairs, economy, etc. There should be at least three debates between President Bush and Sen. John Kerry, plus a debate between the vice presidential candidates and, finally, at least two debates in which Bush and Dick Cheney would face off against Kerry and his running mate.

Norman G. Axe

Santa Monica

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I was so glad to see your editorial on presidential debates. Yes, they could be more interesting and relevant. I got confused, though, while reading it: You called Ralph Nader a "spoiler." Well, he is exactly what we need to raise the level of the debates. Maybe he won't win the election, but his ideas should be heard. Think of him not as a spoiler but as an improver.

Dorothy Walker

Calabasas

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