Debating the Moderator

In the days leading up to tonight’s debate, moderator Candy Crowley has provoked a debate of her own about her role. Over at Time, Mark Halperin writes:

In a rare example of political unity, both the Romney and Obama campaigns have expressed concern to the Commission on Presidential Debates about how the moderator of this Tuesday’s town hall has publicly described her role, TIME has learned.

While an early-October memorandum of understanding between the Obama and Romney campaigns suggests that CNN’s Candy Crowley would play a limited role in the Tuesday-night session, Crowley, who is not a party to that agreement, has done a series of interviews on her network in which she has suggested that she will assume a broader set of responsibilities. As Crowley put it last week, “Once the table is kind of set by the town-hall questioner, there is then time for me to say, ‘Hey, wait a second, what about X, Y, Z?’”

In the view of the two campaigns and the commission, those and other recent comments by Crowley conflict with the language the campaigns agreed to, which delineates a more limited role for the debate moderator.

Not surprisingly, many reporters have urged Crowley to seize a more expansive role tonight. If she doesn’t force the candidates off their talking points, the reporters argue, who will?

Well, here’s a revolutionary approach: The candidates could force each other off their talking points by having an actual debate — the kind that Jim Lehrer so gracefully moderated two weeks ago when he gave Governor Romney and President Obama the space and freedom needed to respond to arguments. Let’s hope Crowley follows Lehrer’s example tonight.