I f a fourth-grade teacher was moderating the final presidential debate:
First of all, everybody say good evening to Gov. Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama. We’re very glad they came to South Florida for their last debate before the big election.
My name is Mrs. Krupkin, and I’ll be your moderator. As all my students at Red Tide Elementary can tell you, I run a pretty tight ship. Therefore, the rules for this debate will be a bit stricter than for the others.
Smirking or eye-rolling by either candidate won’t be permitted while the other is speaking. If I catch you doing it, I’ll stop the debate immediately and embarrass you in front of the whole country.
Is that clear? Excellent.
Second: The only person in this auditorium allowed to interrupt the candidates is me. If either Gov. Romney or President Obama cuts in while the other one is talking, the interrupter will lose his next turn and go into time-out for four minutes.
If you think I’m kidding, just try me. Annie Krupkin is not Jim Lehrer.
In my right hand is a list of questions from students in my class — good questions, too — and we’re going to get them answered one way or another tonight.
If a tough issue comes up, and either Gov. Romney or President Obama tries to change the subject, I will clap sharply and instruct him to start over.
Although past moderators didn’t seem to mind, changing the subject isn’t allowed here. Neither is stalling, or repeating one’s self.
When a detailed question is put forward, please don’t go off on a story about some hard-working American you supposedly met who can’t pay off a college loan, or get medical insurance, or find a job, and then tell us how things are going to be better if people vote for you instead of your opponent.
With all due respect to Gov. Romney and President Obama, everybody watching on TV knows why you guys like these heart-touching anecdotes. They chew up a lot of time, and save you from actually addressing the question.
But not tonight.
One word about that struggling single mother you met in Cleveland or the unemployed vet you saw at a donut shop in Biloxi, and I’m turning off your microphone. I even have a special switch — see?
The focus of this last debate is foreign policy. Among the subjects we’ll be discussing are the rebellion in Syria, the Iranian nuclear program, trade policy with China and the American withdrawal from Afghanistan.
These are complex situations, and voters deserve frank and thoughtful explanations of each candidate’s position. A responsive answer does not include looking into the camera and saying, “That’s a very good question. I’m so glad you asked.”
Everybody in the audience already knows it’s a good question, and they also know you’re not really glad it got asked.
Under my rules, each candidate won’t be allowed to say anything except his answer. Every time he wanders off point, I will clap sharply and we’ll start over again.
This might take a while, but that’s all right. Unlike the moderators of the previous debates, I’m not setting an arbitrary time limit that lets the candidates off the hook. In fact, I’m not even wearing my Seiko.
So, if I were to ask Gov. Romney if he favors sending American jets to bomb Tehran, I would hope for a straight answer presented in a simple declarative sentence.
And we’ll all sit here until we get one.
Likewise, if President Obama can’t find exactly the right words to elucidate how his administration is dealing with the Assad regime in Syria, the question will be carefully repeated until his thoughts come together.
That’s how we do things in the classroom — and it’s amazing how a few awkward silences can motivate a person to get to the point.
I understand that this new debate format will be an adjustment for the two candidates, accustomed as they are to avoiding candor and specificity. We will be patient, though firm.
The audience here has been reminded to remain quiet and respectful while it waits for questions to be fully answered. Texting will be allowed, and I’ve brought along some papers to grade.
Now, gentlemen, let’s get started.