Ours is a nation in which 18.7 million people tune in to American Idol, which gets three hours of network air every week. 13.3 million watch the average Monday Night Football game. Millions of people listen to Rush Limbaugh and Rachel Maddow discuss the issues of the day. At the same time, our politicians, including Obama and Romney, spend many of their nights raising funds from rich guys in New York. In a campaign that will be marked by billions spent on attack ads, focus groups and lobbying, the actual direct interaction between the nominees will be limited to something like 3 debates of about 90 minutes each.
Why not have weekly debates between the candidates during the entire campaign? With all the time they spend fundraising and glad-handing the rich, couldn't they find an hour or two a week to talk to the American people? By actually interacting with each other, it will be much more difficult for each side to villify their opponent. Forcing Fox News and MSNBC viewers to regularly hear viewpoints from the other side, with their most articulate representatives sharing their views, would be healthy for our democracy.
It's not like you'd have to muddy the process with corporate sponsors. A couple microphones, a camera, a moderator and a set don't cost very much, and C-SPAN already exists as a commercial-free, widely-available platform to carry the program, or they could be broadcast on a rotating basis by the over-the-air broadcasters as a condition of getting their FCC licenses.
These debates would greatly decrease the effectiveness of political advertisements and, therefore, political money. With millions of viewers watching, candidates could respond to smears and force their opponent to stand behind them or refute them. Buying hundreds of hours' worth of 30-second ads when there are only 4-5 hours of direct interaction makes those ads very important to the outcome. They are reduced to a sideshow if voters get an hour a week to hear the candidates directly discuss the issues.