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Watching the debate, I cringed at Jim Lehrer's lack of control. I am a member of the League of Women Voters and I've moderated my fair share of debates. After a while, you build up a repertoire of effective tactics to keep some semblance of control, because, as evidenced last night, the politicians will steamroll right over you.
In my opening remarks as a moderator, I usually explain for the audience's benefit that the candidates have agreed to the format, and signed a contract saying that they've agreed to the ground rules (whatever they may be). I always make a point of saying that at the end of their allotted answer time, the candidate may finish his phrase. If they continue speaking, I will cut them off, "and that will not reflect well on anyone." Translation: I don't want to be the bitch, but, if necessary, it is my job to be one. Also, it reinforces for everyone that the candidates have agreed to follow the rules.
Some may think that Lehrer's loss of control was fine, that it made for a more dynamic, lively debate. The reason for timekeeping rules is to create an arena of fairness. Typically, a politician is going to talk for as long as you will let her, and she will dominate any discussion. Most often that will favor the incumbent, who has grown accustomed to the many privileges afforded to those in public office.
Many agreed that Romney was more agressive about ignoring the time-keeping. When he spoke over Lehrer last night, Lehrer should have been equally as agressive back. What I was waiting to hear: "Mr. Romney, you agreed to the rules, would you please abide by them."
Because Romney doesn't play by the rules that 99%, the 47%--pick your percentage--most of us play by. Now that would have been an optic that was good for our side!