Brian Lamb, founder of the C-Span cable network–commercial- and comment-free–broadcasts Congress and Senate sessions and keeps the public informed on Washington happenings.

I always learn more from C-Span than all the spin that comes from the networks or cable news outlets. Until this week I did not know that the presidential debates were rigged–in a nice, legal way. The details and rules of the debates take up 32 single-spaced pages. Bush and Kerry handlers must sign off on all these details for there to be a “debate.”

Any public school teacher or head of a debate society must cringe when they hear these sound-bite stand-up-comedy-like sessions between presidential contenders called “debates.”

The two men cannot speak directly to each other or ask the other a question. The moderator asks the questions, which must be answered within a minute or two. Any further word on the subject or question is given in 30-60 second replies.

The size of notepaper, type of pencil, height of the podium, where the wives sit, camera angles and distance from each other are among the many demands set forth in the 32-page directions.

The first debate is scheduled tonight. My guess is that victory will be claimed by both sides. “Victory” will probably depend on the candidates’ body language, off-hand remarks or a slip of the lip.

Miscues make the headlines, not specifics. While specifics are dangerous for a politician, they are vital for the voting public. The silly sound-bite commercials give no answers. America is a very special place and it is time to ask questions of our politicians. It is time to demand sensible answers from them.

There should be real debates between the presidential candidates. There should be open discussion of the haunting situation into which America finds itself. But until the public awakes and demands real debates these shows will continue every four years. The number of TV viewers of presidential debates has gone down each year since they began.

The debates began over 20 years ago with the League of Women Voters in charge. It did not take long for the candidates’ handlers to change it from an open and helpful debate into this Democratic and Republican controlled séance. The League of Women Voters got out when everything had to be agreed on by the “debaters.”

Finding an exit in Iraq in keeping with America’s values is no simple matter. There is a way, if we really want to stop the slaughter. Seeing the importance of re-gaining the respect this nation once had, and still deserves, is of paramount importance.

For all those who wish the press would quit reporting all the bad things I can only say, when things get better, better things will be reported. Paying more attention to the growth of terrorists groups might help get rid of them.

Rhetoric is a sad substitute for specifics: neither Bush nor Kerry gives specifics on how they would bolster and keep Social Security or a workable healthcare plan.

They proclaim they have one. Until it is written in plain English and addressed to the voters themselves, there is no way to know what either of these men will do if elected.

President Bush has been saying good things for four years and no specifics. Senator Kerry counters Bush with rhetoric instead of specifics.

Both men need to face up to the fact that specifics trumps rhetoric every time. Then put the specifics into laws, bills and things that will help America.

Britt Towery is former Southern Baptist liaison to the China Christian Council. He now directs the Tao Foundation. He is a member of First Baptist Church in San Angelo, Texas. His column appears weekly in the Brownwood Bulletin. A book of his past columns is available on Towery’s Web site.

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