Tonight marks a milestone in presidential politics as the Democratic contenders gather in Charleston, S.C. to spar over the issues in a debate sponsored by YouTube and CNN. Some, if not all, of the questions during the debate will be culled from the 2,000 videos posted to YouTube. Candidates will be able to see the homemade videos on big screens in the theater and on monitors next to their lecterns. The Republican candidates will get their chance on September 17.
Some pundits are upset that CNN is picking from the questions and not using a more democratic method such as most popular or highest rated video to choose what makes it into the debate. Jeff Jarvis of BuzzMachine tells the New York Times:
"It's our democracy, not yours, CNN," he said. "There is a need for order, but not control." He said that although random questions from ordinary people might show "some real turkeys," it would also show that "people really care, and democracy is in good hands."
I disagree. No one wants to waste two hours of a debate on "turkey" questions. Most "ordinary citizen" questions in a debate seem staged and the candidates probably prefer it that way. They don't want to be thrown a curve ball on national TV. Imagine if the most popular video for tonight's debate asked a question like, "Why do Democrats want to surrender in Iraq?" That wouldn't go over well with the Democratic Party. Worse, the top video could ask candidates if the prefer Jackass videos where people electrocute themselves or set themselves on fire.
With CNN doing the picking, we're more likely to get well articulated questions across a broader spectrum of issues. In the end though, will YouTube really change the debate process? Doubtful.