After sitting through a couple of recent candidate endorsement sessions at The Bee and parts of two televised presidential debates, I've come to the conclusion that these political soirees at every level need some tweaking.
So I came up with some suggestions. In the spirit of the upcoming election, we'll call it campaign debate reform.
The problem is that over the decades, politicians have infiltrated, fogged and infected my thinking. I actually found myself trial-ballooning a couple of these thoughts before writing this column. I used my Facebook friends as a test audience. If they liked them, I'd run with it. If they trashed them or defriended me, I'd go for Plan B: writing about the Modesto downtown arch renovation and rehashing for the zillionth time how the city's motto nearly became, "Nobody Gets Modesto's Goat."
Begin every debate or editorial board session, League of Women Voters forum whatever with a swearing-in ceremony. I don't care if it's a presidential election, a mayoral or city council campaign, sheriff's race or for a school board seat.
Demand that the participants tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, under the penalty of perjury. Of course, this would shorten the length of a scheduled 90- or 60-minute debate to about 30 seconds. But at least we might have some actual information to go on instead of the usual array of lies, spin and invective.
Give the moderator a high-powered squirt gun filled with bright-red liquid, say, Hawaiian Punch. The National Rifle Association might not really prefer either candidate, but it would endorse the referee.
There would be three circumstances under which the moderator could blast away. First, when one of them exceeds his-her time limit by more than five seconds. When time's up, wrap it up.
Or, when they turn so rude, snarky and slime each other so badly that their behavior goes totally grade-school playground, and all dignity and decorum are lost.
Or, when they trample the moderator like a worn-out rug. During the first presidential debate, Jim Lehrer could not maintain order. Republican nominee Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama treated him with equal disdain. But if Lehrer packs weaponry, would the candidates risk their $1,000 suits or $400 haircuts in the face of a sticky Red Dye No. 2 threat?
About 98 percent of Facebook friends responding to my unscientific survey (plus-minus zero margin of error) seemed to agree. A bunch of them clicked on "Like," which means the world to me. Several others commented. I appreciate their support.
"Wow just think of it, squirt gun or electric shock would boost the number of viewers and then maybe we would only need one debate kind of like the Super Bowl, they don't get the best of 2 out of 3!" friend Lesa wrote.
"I'd opt for a shock buzzer instead, like some kind of Japanese game show." Thanks, friend Ben.
"Maybe one of those super soakers?" friend Rich wrote, playing on the squirt gun theme. "Although a pit of alligators would be much more effective."
Sorry, that's where I have to draw the line. PETA would accuse us of trying to poison the animals.
Still, why stop there? Because the moderator is armed with stainable energy hey, a paintball gun would be every bit as effective as a super soaker limit candidates to 10 seconds to directly address a question or topic.
No prefacing, no skirting the issue, no redirecting into a tirade about whether Matt Holliday maliciously tried to maim Giants second baseman Marco Scutaro in Monday's playoff game when the topic involved hijacking delta water and sending it to Los Angeles.
Answer the darned question now or else. Towel, please.
And while it might be difficult to prosecute politicians for lying during these debates, why wait until after the event to sic a panel of fact checkers on them? Have the truth squads on site.
When the pols get caught in a fib or a complete distortion, a buzzer goes off loudly. Or a mechanical Pinocchio's face turns beet red and his nose grows.
This, Facebook and other friends, represents real campaign debate reform. It would eliminate the spin and bring the facts to the forefront. No one should get elected or rejected on a lie or two or three or nothing but.
We'd be doing the candidates but mostly ourselves a favor.
Like? Comment? Poke?
Jeff Jardine's column appears Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays in Local News. He can be reached at email@example.com, @jeffjardine57 on Twitter or at (209) 578-2383.