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.
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.