CNN produced two made-for-television carnival shows mistakenly called Democratic presidential debates. While not always presidential in conduct, almost certainly one of the 20 carnival contestants will be the next Democratic nominee. And perhaps one will be picked for the second slot.
Nor, if Mr. Webster's dictionary counts, could this carnival be declared a debate at least with a straight face. The two programs -- I hesitate calling both debates -- more resembled TV reality shows with contestants scrambling to respond within tightly controlled time limits all the while raising hands to catch attention as if to ask, "Mother, may I?" Donald Trump must have convulsed with laughter watching this spectacle.
Sadly, this is how American politics has disintegrated. And not only are the Democrats at fault. The stage full of Republican hopefuls in 2016 in which Trump bullied and pestered his opposition into non-relevance were just as bad. Although then there were a number of serious potential candidates, even though each lost to a much lesser man.
In these so-called debates, contestants might have been asked to explain in 2 minutes plans for saving the world with a 15-second rebuttal. Albert Einstein could have easily yielded the lion's share of his time by declaring the simple formula: "E=MC2." But alas, Einstein is long gone. And so is allowing enough time to explain difficult issues.
It is ludicrous and destructive, for example, to ask candidates to take on the most complex issues on healthcare, immigration, the economy and foreign policy with a stop watch clicking and then cut for advertisements. Where is Dr. Strangelove or other cinema farce when it is most needed to satirize these types of proceedings.
Worse, for the public, because these campaign promises cannot or perhaps ever be explained in simple terms, confusion is a result. Even worse, while some of these plans for healthcare, immigration and the environment are alleged to be science-based, arithmetic appears missing in action. While aspirations are important, the New Green Deal is fiscally unaffordable and impossible to implement. Anyone who disagrees should be immediately disqualified from any serious office on both sides of the aisle.
Republicans are no better off having abandoned prior principles of fiscal responsibility, good governance, and an engaged foreign policy. In more literary terms, aside from die-hards on both sides, most Americans have the unpalatable task of voting for Scylla or Charybdis as their political preference. And do not expect the campaigns to improve even when Democrats finally pick their persons to run against the Trump-Pence (maybe, maybe not) ticket in November 2020. This can be guaranteed only to get worse. Just remember the famous Kennedy-Nixon debates of 1960 where civility, logic and fact were the gold standard. What happened since?
What must CNN do to change the carnival atmosphere into something approaching the gravitas of a real presidential debate? The answer is twofold. During the greatest televised golf championships such as the Masters and the U.S. Open, commercials are held to a minimum. Why can't CNN do that with these debates?
Second, ask relevant questions. Senator, Governor, Mr. Vice President: What do you believe are the personal characteristics you have that best suit the presidency? How much do judgment, experience and character count and are there other qualities of equal importance?
Why are you really determined to become president? Why are you better qualified than your peers? And why and how could you defeat Trump, who has an assured 40 percent of the electorate on his side?
What do you see as the most difficult challenges and crises facing America today and why? How would you resolve each? Given that both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue are in gridlock and most people believe government is broken, how will you govern when checks and balances are not working?
Who are the types of advisers, cabinet members, ambassadors, Supreme Court justices, and agency heads you would pick and why?
Regarding the economy, what is your view of fiscal and monetary policy? Please tell us how the arithmetic of your tax schemes actually works.
As commander-in-chief, how would you prepare yourself for possible crises, including war?
How would you deal with Russian "active measures" that attempt to subvert Western democracies and unravel our alliances and Chinese "gray area" tactics in the China Seas and elsewhere?
And finally, how would you convince the American people you deserve their vote and will be a president worthy of trust?
Here is a bet. Do not expect CNN to embrace any of these ideas or questions. After all, who wants to ruin the carnival?
Harlan Ullman is a senior adviser at the Atlantic Council. His latest book is "Anatomy of Failure: Why America Has Lost Every War It Starts." Follow him @harlankullman.