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Tonight’s YouTube Debates More Of The Same?

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Call it what you want – I call it "baby steps along the road to a more participatory democracy" – the Republican candidates for President of the United States will be duking it out tonight on CNN, answering questions submitted via YouTube. But don’t expect a game of hardball.

Among the 5,000 citizen questions submitted – 2000 more than were submitted to the Democrat debates back in July – CNN’s selection committee is busy taking out the "gotcha questions" on more sensitive topics like abortion and gay marriage. About 40 will be asked tonight. 

What the questions lack in the gotcha factor, they may not make up for in, well, gravitas, either. Though CNN has called many of the questions "poignant," the clips that have been revealed so far in promos for tonight’s event – submitted from Uncle Sam, Abe Lincoln, our "founding fathers" in period wear, and another one from the snowman – reveal the sideshow drawbacks of an otherwise meaningful populist effort.

So it loses a bit of sobriety in exchange for a chance at real, (filtered) public interaction outside of Iowa and New Hampshire. It’s a start, in some direction, at least, as long as our potential leaders and facilitators know how to behave.

Which is debatable, too.

CNN’s Anderson Cooper, the moderator of tonight’s, well, show, was roundly criticized last time for not holding the candidates’ feet to the fire when they dodged questions or gave their standard not-an-answer answers to some tough questions. But perhaps the criticism that stung the most was the after-the-fact revelation that CNN jellyfished on the real most popular question about impeachment of President Bush.

(They said the most popular question submitted was about whether or not Schwarzenegger was really a cyborg, but that wasn’t really true.)  

So, will CNN allow the people to ask the real burning questions this time? Early indicators say ‘no.’ But maybe this time Cooper grew a set and practiced how to pin somebody down when they don’t have the respect necessary to give a straight answer to an honest question.

Then again, maybe them having to answer unfiltered or hardball questions will just scare them off. This is second scheduled debate after all but two of the GOP candidates bailed on the one slated for September. I guess you could say the people are just lucky they’re showing up.  

Steve Grove, head of News and Politics for YouTube is more assured than I am, so maybe we should end on his more positive note:

"The core concept behind these debates is to let real questions from real people drive the dialogue. The power of YouTube is that it lowers the barrier to entry to engage in the political process, and levels the platform for political discussion. It used to be that a voter had to live in Iowa, New Hampshire, or Florida to engage with the candidates at this stage of the campaign, but YouTube has broken down those barriers, and has brought more transparency and access to the political dialogue than ever before. We think that politics will never be the same (thankfully)."

Tonight’s YouTube Debates More Of The Same?
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