Sen. Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaObama praises marathon runners Eliud Kipchoge and Brigid Kosgei for 'remarkable examples of humanity's ability' Each of us has a role in preventing veteran suicide Why calls for impeachment have become commonplace MORE (D-Ill.) has said that he will not participate in any further primary debates beyond those that he has already accepted. Good for him. We can get too much of a good thing, and I am coming to believe that these multiple encounters, as structured, have long since ceased to provide valuable and timely information about the candidates to primary voters. 

My operating assumption has always been that debates are good for the political process. You could see all of the candidates up close, reacting to each other, and occasionally answering a question where their cue cards were insufficient. But it appears that debates are having a harmful effect on this presidential campaign season.

First, they are repetitive. What more can the candidates say? They’re answering the same questions, even if one comes from a snowman. If the candidates want to remain fresh and keep the voters interested, these frequent forums are having the opposite effect.

Second, they reinforce the idea of “identity politics” and encourage the candidates to speak to segments of the electorate, rather than fashioning a national message. These forums usually feature passionate questioners who lecture the candidates on why their particular cause should trump all else; these emotional encounters are then chronicled endlessly by the national media. Democrats have already debated in front of unions, minorities, women and gays. Pandering to specific constituencies makes governing in the national interest even more difficult.

Third, because candidates have so little speaking time, one-liners and “memorable moments” trump thoughtful answers. Indeed, because of time limitations, longer, more nuanced answers to questions can make a candidate look ponderous and unfocused even when he or she is trying to provide a more even-handed response. This in turn leads to a preference for “lowest common denominator” answers that appeal to the base rather than a broader segment of the electorate.

Fourth, they take valuable time away from other campaign functions. Candidates have to spend large amounts of time prepping for these encounters in addition to participating in the debates themselves. I would rather have candidates giving more thought to larger policy addresses than polishing one-liners to one-up their opponents.

Fifth, the structure of the debates gives exaggerated exposure to fringe candidates. Indeed, it has been the case in the past that some candidates run just to be part of the debates. Don’t you think that this year we’ve heard enough from Mike Gravel, Dennis Kucinich and Ron Paul? If they want to run, fine, but wouldn’t we rather hear more from candidates who have a real chance of being president?

Too long an election season. Too short a primary season. Too many debates. It makes me long for the time when we picked presidential candidates at conventions by uncommitted delegates with more duties than just serving as a studio audience for podium speeches.