Here’s one vote against the town hall format from Tuesday’s
debate.

It’s not the questions from the audience or the public at large that trouble me; I think they were good questions and reflected people’s serious concerns. But there was no chance to follow up, no give-and-take as we
saw in the first debate.

And there were times we needed it.

I think John McCain made big news early in the debate when
he said, “As president of the United States, I would order the secretary of the
treasury to immediately buy up the bad home loan mortgages in America and
renegotiate at the new value of those homes, at the diminished value of those
homes and let people make those, be able to make those payments and stay in
their homes. Is it expensive? Yes.”

That may have been the single most significant statement of the
debate – and we heard no more. I suspect we will in the next few days. That’s a
dramatically different approach than the one taken last week to target banks and
other financial institutions. There were some advocates of targeting homeowners
instead. Let’s see where that goes.

I also wanted to hear more about health care as right or responsibility.

An obvious follow-up for McCain would have been, “Whose responsibility?”

And for Obama, “Is this an unchecked right to all the most advanced
(and expensive) treatments? Without responsibility for any of the cost?”

One point in favor of Tuesday’s format: Having an audience present
discouraged either candidate from sinking into a playground session of “His neighbor
is a terrorist” and “His patron bankrupted a lot of old people in the savings and
loan scandal.”

I look forward to the last debate. I wish there were more of
them. But we need a format that breaks away from sound bites from stump speeches
and digs for details. That’s the strength of the moderator model.

What do you think?

— Jim Sweeney