Randall Enos, Cagle Cartoons

So-Called Debates

Closed and Sanitized

Sunday, September 30, 2012
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The mainstream media will soon deliver to us a number of televised presidential debates. These “debates” will include only candidates Romney and Obama. No other viable candidates will be allowed to participate.

Why? Because that’s what the American people want? No. Because that’s what those in power want. Sadly, our great country does not have open presidential debates.

Presently, America’s so-called debates are anti-democratic, and really shouldn’t even be called “debates.” I have been using quotation marks around the term because, while there are many debate formats and while we may argue over which of these is best, reasonable persons should agree that a good debate is certainly not a glorified press conference. But that is what it become when many or all of the topics and questions are known and/or sanitized by the debate participants beforehand, with responses rehearsed. Nor should a good debate, a real debate, disallow cross-questions, cross-answers, rebuttals, and follow-up questions. Candidate Bush, who, tellingly, described his debate with Al Gore in 2000 as a “love fest” was right on.

Kevin Till
Click to enlarge photo

Kevin Till

Our presidential debates are effectively closed. They are not open to viable candidates aside from those chosen by the duopoly that is the Democrat and Republican parties. Third parties – lots of luck! This is far from nonpartisan. To qualify to participate in the debates one must be constitutionally eligible to be elected, have a mathematical possibility to be elected (i.e. have ballot access in enough states to potentially reach a majority of the Electoral College), and (and this is the real anti-Democratic barrier to access) must have a 15% support level of the national electorate measured “by five selected national public opinion polling organizations, using the average of those organizations’ most recent publicly-reported results at the time of the determination.”

Proponents for this last participation requirement say that it keeps the number of debate participants manageable, claiming that otherwise there would be hundreds of potential participants. However, if we look back at recent elections, we find that using the first two participation requirements sufficiently limits the number of potential participants to around a half dozen - not even double digits and certainly manageable.

Who makes these rules regarding debate format and participation requirements? The rules of the presidential debate game are, in an anti-Democratic and partisan fashion, secretly hashed out between the Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD) and the Democrat and Republican candidates. The CPD is the organization that has been overseeing, sponsoring, and producing presidential debates since 1988. It claims to be nonpartisan even though it was founded by the Democratic and Republican parties and is headed by past heads of the Democratic and Republican National Committees; so the CPD is not nonpartisan but rather bi-partisan (or, it is effectively partisan, if you take the view that the status quo majority parties are a corporate-owned and –operated duopoly). It is worth noting that the CPD is heavily funded by corporations and co-chaired by corporation lobbyists.

The CPD and the presidential candidates negotiate these secret debate contracts that stipulate all details, big and small, regarding the debates. Both format (including topics and questions), and participants (including debaters, moderators / panelists) are agreed upon in advance, lest there be any surprises and to minimize candidate mistakes. To give you a sense of just how controlled the debates have become, consider the fact that the 2004 debate contract took 32 pages to spell everything out! These secret debate contracts are now, because of recent legal actions against the CPD, public domain and can be found online.

Prior to the CPD, the League of Women Voters oversaw the presidential debates. From 1976 through 1984, the League ran the debates in an open and nonpartisan fashion. Then in 1988, the League ceased sponsoring presidential debates in response to the then Democratic and Republican presidential candidates’ secretly negotiated debate agreement (which was presented to the League as final and not open to negotiation only a few weeks before the first scheduled debate). The League’s corresponding press release communicated that this was “because the demands of the two campaign organizations would perpetrate a fraud on the American voter” and went on to say, “the League has no intention of becoming an accessory to the hoodwinking of the American public.” Strong words indeed.

The CPD has effectively closed and sanitized the debates for six presidential election cycles now. It has also unintentionally succeeded in motivating various individuals and organizations to speak up and take action against these acts in an effort to restore democracy to our presidential debates. Open Debates and Citizens’ Debate Commission are a few organizations worth looking into. There are articles, even books out there now on this very topic. I urge you to do your own research on this topic and educate yourself. Watch the YouTube video titled “Who’s afraid of an open debate? The truth about the Commission on Presidential Debates.” There’s no legitimate reason for anyone to support the status quo on this; everyone should take action on this, and help return the power to the people.

Kevin Till is a family man who lives in Carpinteria and works as a mechanical engineer in Goleta.


Independent Discussion Guidelines

"No other viable candidates will be allowed"

Which other viable candidates are you referring to?

ramey (anonymous profile)
September 30, 2012 at 9:42 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Roseanne Barr and Cindy Sheehan, Gary Johnston and his running mate are just two examples of what the writer is referring to.

Ken_Volok (anonymous profile)
September 30, 2012 at 10:44 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Presidential debates in their current form are pretty useless, at least to me. I think they're intended for low information voters who don't pay attention to issues the year round.

Consider that the "debates" aren't even really debates! I tend to agree with journalism teacher Kathy Gill here:

EastBeach (anonymous profile)
September 30, 2012 at 11:45 a.m. (Suggest removal)

There are lots of articles in today's Washington Post about flaws in the Presidential debate process that reflect Till's observations.

It's amazing that candidates routinely ignore moderators' questions. During CNN's Republican primary debate, all the candidates (except for Ron Paul) side-stepped answering a tricky question. When moderator John King called Romney on it, Romney famously replied ...

“You get to ask the questions you want, I get to give the answers I want.”

Totally lame.

EastBeach (anonymous profile)
September 30, 2012 at 12:27 p.m. (Suggest removal)

There is a great routine by George Carlin about how the game is rigged and how the power-that-be don't want informed people, but rather people who are just smart enough to take orders. I'd post the bit but it probably contains profanity so I'll give it a pass but Carlin was spot on in his assessment.

Mitt Romney, Barack Obama, and the other temporal deities of the two party system do not want to discuss the real issues. Any hardball questions about NAFTA, the war on drugs, U.S. foreign aid, bailouts, the National Defense Authorization Act, or the inefficiency of the education system are vetted and deflected. Rosanne Barr may have the image of a goofy comedienne but when she was on David Letterman a few weeks ago she absolutely made Obama look foolish on the drug war by presenting basic facts. Can you imagine him having to debate her (or Gary Johnson) on this issue? On the other hand, when Letterman had Obama on his show, it was a love fest where Letterman threw softball questions at the President.

For my part, I do not intend to vote for Obama nor Romney, so I'm walking the walk.

billclausen (anonymous profile)
September 30, 2012 at 2:56 p.m. (Suggest removal)

BC: thanks for reminding me of George Carlin's voting bit. Rhetorical question: "by walking the walk" do you mean you plan to not vote as Carlin advocates (at least comically)? While I share your basic sentiment of dissapointment with the choices we have, I think there are differences that have real effects: what wars we enter and how our supreme court is staffed are examples. Perhaps the best approach involves parallel activities: work with the system we have, work to improve that system, and live thoughtfully thereby setting an example (your posts indicate you do the latter). As Carlin reminds us (George Carlin doesn't vote): the politicians are us. If we (the people) are selfish and ignorant then our politicians will be also.

hodgmo (anonymous profile)
October 1, 2012 at 5:53 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Much of the debates will likely be real garbage. I remember one debate 4 years ago was all about Reverend Wright, Bill Ayres, the 3 AM phone call. The moderators allowed virtually no time for the issues that really matter.

This time around they'll probably ask about Romney's tax returns, the 47% and that government is responsible for everyone's success. The real issues and problems of this country will fade into the background.

Botany (anonymous profile)
October 1, 2012 at 6:13 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Ross Perot was a 3rd party candidate & debate participant. It's not like it never happens.

I think Ramey possibly meant that we haven't seen a 3rd party candidate in recent memory gain the kind of traction necessary to qualify as a third party Candidate with traction being synonymous with viability.

Stumbling_Distance (anonymous profile)
October 1, 2012 at 4:39 p.m. (Suggest removal)

@Hodgmo: At this point, I'm leaning toward Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson.

billclausen (anonymous profile)
October 2, 2012 at 12:19 a.m. (Suggest removal)

@BC: Gary Johnson's "you are a libertarian" is clear and succinct. Too bad he isn't more widely known, and wouldn't it be interesting if he were included in the upcoming "debate."

hodgmo (anonymous profile)
October 2, 2012 at 9:45 a.m. (Suggest removal)

"Roseanne Barr and Cindy Sheehan, Gary Johnston and his running mate are just two examples of what the writer is referring to."

Hmmm - I don't think he referred to anyone specifically. I'm not sure you can speak for him - but maybe you're him - I don't know. But it was a rhetorical question in any case.

"I think Ramey possibly meant that we haven't seen a 3rd party candidate"

OK - here is what I meant.

We have a huge diversity of opinion in this country. There is no way that we're going to really agree. The best anyone can hope for is to muddle through and get to some sort of compromise that pleases no one and a majority can only barely stand. The process of picking our government strongly reflects this.

This is the same process which has given a number of participants their say and exposed them to voters and shown them to be grossly unprepared, representing the thinnest slice public opinion, or unsuited to this role. Think Al Sharpeton, Ron Paul, or anyone you like or don't like.

Now the process has narrowed it down to two individuals who are, at best, everyone's second choice. And the carping begins: we don't like the candidates, they don't represent our views, they don't tell us the truth, etc., etc., etc. - Get over it. If you don't like this, consider all the well intended alternatives suggested here - Rosanne Barr, George Carlin, etc. etc. How many of you would be happy with any of those? Actually, considering all the sacrifices that one has to make to be a politician, I think we get a lot better than we deserve - and I don't even like these people.

Robert Ramey

ramey (anonymous profile)
October 2, 2012 at 10:03 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Roseanne Barr is a serious candidate with a serious platform. Love the bias against "show folk", not.

Ken_Volok (anonymous profile)
October 2, 2012 at 11:40 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Roseanne Barr is known primarily as a comic, who can be buffoonish, but when she was on David Letterman talking about the hypocrisy of the drug war, she was dead serious and %100 logical. This is just one example of what Obama and Romney and the status quo of Capps, McCain, Feinstein, and all the other mainstream career politicians don't want to have to discuss.

Could you imagine a Libertarian getting into it with Obramny over the national debt? The mainstream duopoly would look ridiculous. No, they want vetted questions and to avoid and serious discussions of these touchy issues.

billclausen (anonymous profile)
October 3, 2012 at 1:01 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Great article Kevin, and timely too. Just in the past couple days three debate sponsors, including Philips and the YWCA, pulled out their funding because of concerns of the CPD being too partisan and not allowing third party candidates to debate. I applaud them for their decisions. This is the first time debate sponsors have pulled out of a national presidential debate since the CPD has been running them.

The third criteria of pulling 15% nation wide is ridiculous. Even if they were to lower it to 5%, you'd only get three candidates: Obama, Romney, and Johnson. Eliminating the third requirement or dropping it down to a lower threshold of 2-3% (like in the primary debates when Johnson was able to participate a couple times), would make more sense. As the two parties are becoming increasingly similar these days and voters are having a tougher time distinguishing them, third parties offer a fresh perspective. A third party candidate at these national debates would hold the other two party's feet to the fire, and force them to answer tough questions like on the War on Drugs, the NDAA, Federal Reserve, foreign policy, ect.

Just recently, the Free and Equal Elections Foundation announced that four candidates have confirmed their participation in the 2012 Presidential Debate at the University Club of Chicago on October 23: Libertarian Party candidate Gary Johnson, Green Party candidate Jill Stein, Constitution Party candidate Virgil Goode, and Justice Party candidate Rocky Anderson. If you want a real debate, I encourage you to tune in to this one as real issues will be discussed, and candidates will actually give you straight forward answers.

bandito (anonymous profile)
October 3, 2012 at 10:32 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Anyone watch last night's Presidential debate? I found it to be informative, professional, respectful, generally fact-based, and helpful in clearly delineating the candidates. Exactly what a debate should be.

JohnLocke (anonymous profile)
October 4, 2012 at 8:33 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Agreed John, the questions were pertinent to what our country is experiencing as a whole and what can be done to make things better, not questions based on gaffs or personal factors of the candidates.

Botany (anonymous profile)
October 4, 2012 at 9:37 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Agreed. Almost zero sound bites and clear differentiation between the candidates.

italiansurg (anonymous profile)
October 4, 2012 at 2:09 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Thank you for the link Bandito--I just read and posted it on my Facebook page.

billclausen (anonymous profile)
October 8, 2012 at 10:53 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Bandito forgot Roseanne Barr and Cindy Sheehan, the Peace & Freedom noms. Not a lot of people know about this candidacy and there may be some surprises come election day. I'm not saying victory, but possibly a blip on the radar. I'd say that ticket has far more name recognition than any of the other "third party" tickets.

Ken_Volok (anonymous profile)
October 8, 2012 at 11:43 p.m. (Suggest removal)

While I agree KV that our system is broken and finding a way to bring in 3rd party candidates may be essential to a healthy democracy, Cindy Sheehan went from grieving mother to opportunistic nutjob and she now is an example of what is wrong with alternative/fringe points of view.

italiansurg (anonymous profile)
October 13, 2012 at 6:53 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Ken: Rosanne is running on the Green ticket, isn't she?

billclausen (anonymous profile)
October 13, 2012 at 3:20 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Peace and Freedom; and Sheehan has withdrawn.

Ken_Volok (anonymous profile)
October 13, 2012 at 8:16 p.m. (Suggest removal) broadcast Amy Goodman's "Expanding the Debate" with video of the Obama/Romney debates paused to provide time for responses from 3rd party candidates. This debate video is posted on Democracy Now.
Democracy Now also also has a posted video interview with Jill Stine and Cheri Honkala, Green Party candidates who were arrested trying to enter last night's debate at Hofstra University and were held by police for 8 hours, handcuffed to chairs.
I'm a Libertarian Gary Johnson/Jim Gray supporter, Gary Johnson filed suit against the Committee for Presidential debates based on exclusion, but unfortunately passed on Democracy Now's creative process to include all candidates.
Judge Jim Gray, VP candidate, is a former federal prosecutor, Orange County Superior Court judge, and Law Enforcement Against Prohibition activist, former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson is a former medical cannabis patient - used mmj for recovery from a serious injury.

14noscams (anonymous profile)
October 17, 2012 at 2:50 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Great article, Kevin! These aren't debates by presidential candidates, they're scripted TV performances produced by former party PR reps.
Not only are candidates excluded, but issues discussed are chosen by CPD, excluding topics of major importance to the public (medical cannabis, for example) and including only those that provide positive PR for candidates.

14noscams (anonymous profile)
October 17, 2012 at 3:42 p.m. (Suggest removal)

14noscams: I too am a Libertarian.

billclausen (anonymous profile)
October 17, 2012 at 11:35 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Obama cheated this last debate by having his "questions" given out on cards. That way his handlers could tell him what to say,otherwise he knows too little about Americans to debate live. The head of Occidental College said to me that Obama was expelled at mid-term in his first year due to his low grades. She went on to say to me that he did not understand basic American ways because of his attending a live-in muslim school for 6 years. Harvard computer records do not have any record of him. Maybe he was off-campus someplace but not a student or employee.

bobbydias (anonymous profile)
October 21, 2012 at 3:54 p.m. (Suggest removal)

I didn't think there was anybody less credible than Romney until I read the above comment from bobbydias.

Ken_Volok (anonymous profile)
October 21, 2012 at 4:02 p.m. (Suggest removal)

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