America, thank you.




Thanks for advancing the critical issues facing our nation beyond Iraq, immigration and abortion.




Important? Yes. Absolutely the only issues we care about? No.




In the wake of Monday's CNN-YouTube debate, many of my mainstream media colleagues are throwing cold water on the debate, suggesting that it wasn't that big of a deal.




Julie Mason, Houston Chronicle: "Only a guilty sense of obligation forced the blog to watch that CNN/YouTube Democratic debate tonight." But she did admit the idea of voters asking questions was good, although it was "gimmicky."




David Hinckley, New York Daily News: "At evening's end, even the most hard-wired new-media enthusiast would have had a hard time selling this evening as the night the old system crashed."




Tim Cuprisin, Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, "The Internet makes everybody a critic &

social critic, political critic or entertainment critic. But it doesn't necessarily make those questioners good interrogators." A good number of people found the debate refreshing, although it's easy to find small quirks with things here and there.




What we must come to accept is that there is often a disconnect between what the pundits find to be important, as opposed to the general public.




My research team here at CNN determined that based on a lot of the submissions, the top questions sent in focused on education (16 percent); health care/insurance/obesity (9 percent); energy/environment (5 percent); Iraq (4 percent); immigration (3 percent); gay rights (2 percent); religion (2 percent); Darfur, Sudan (2 percent); drug trade/war (1 percent).




Of course, this isn't a technical breakdown of where Americans stand, but it sure is a good barometer.




The fundamental problems with debates in the past is that they have been the sole province of the media and political elite (meaning boring and drab), serving as a forum for them (OK, us) to decide what you need to be focused on. For instance, foreign policy is made to be a big issue in these forums, and the issue of experience, but it has been 47 years since we sent someone from the U.S.




Senate &

John F. Kennedy &

to the White House. The only foreign policy trips then-Texas Gov. George W. Bush had under his belt were trips to Mexico (no, not spring break jaunts to Cancun).




Not only that, the smug media elite somehow believe they have a birthright to address candidates. We look down on the common man and woman, believing they don't have the requisite skills to ask the tough questions the candidates should answer.




Go to barbershops, salons, bars, community centers, churches and schools, and you will hear people going back and forth on the various candidates and where they stand.




Don't think for a second that I'm dismissing what we do as a craft. We have a certain skill set that others don't have, and that is vital. Holding a candidate accountable to the facts is critical. I slammed bloggers a couple of years ago when I said that they weren't going to supplant journalists. A guy sitting on his computer and banging out his opinion &

without any basis of fact &

with a blog is nothing but a glorified diarist. But when you actually put perspective behind it, along with interviews with those involved, then it's a different story.




When I interviewed Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., for an hour on TV One Cable Network &

you can see clips at &

most of the questions came from viewers. Oftentimes subjects come on my radio show on WVON-AM in Chicago and don't want to take questions. I usually say no; the people should be able to talk to a CEO or a politician directly.




Life is much different when you have to answer directly to the voter. Looking at that father who has lost a son in the war on Iraq or a woman with breast cancer taking off her wig to show her balding head makes a big difference.




Not only that, CNN reported that the network drew 407,000 people in the hard-to-reach 18-34 demo out of a total of 2.55 million. That's the sector that needs to be more engaged in politics, and the fact that so many watched a debate is vital to the next generation stepping up in the political arena.




As the people with the bullhorn, we owe it to the public to try as many innovative methods to get them excited and focused on the election.




If not us, then who?




Roland S. Martin is a CNN contributor and a talk-show host for WVON-AM in Chicago. Please visit his Web site at . To find out more about Roland Martin and read his past columns, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at .