Many perspectives, 1 simple etiquette

Commission on Presidential Debates: Another Cog in the Two-Party Machine

Created: 23 September, 2016
Updated: 17 October, 2022
6 min read

The election year phenomena known as presidential debates are almost here. These events showcase candidates to the electorate. The candidates appear at the same time and discuss their positions on different issues affecting the populace.

What better place to have them speak than on television, a medium that reaches most of the population? A medium that can both educate and inform, but that's not what the duopoly and the media barons have in mind

The United States has a so-called two-party system of government, one that concentrates political power in the hand of two parties. This is surprising, since the Constitution says nothing about parties. The fact that people somehow rationalize this is amazing.

What really boggles the mind is the acceptance of the Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD) as a nonpartisan benefit to democracy, instead of what it really is: a two-party duopoly using the media to consolidate their power.

The CPD has repeatedly shown the value of form over substance. The important thing is not what candidates say, but how they present themselves. The events are carefully scripted, with little spontaneity, even less meaningful content and no other viewpoints. Duopoly members are usually the only ones included. The exceptions have been the single appearance in 1980 of John Anderson and the 1992 debates that included Ross Perot and his running mate James Stockdale.

The first televised debates occurred in 1960 and were sponsored by the League of Women Voters. Congress had to suspend The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) equal time provision to have the debates between the Democratic and Republican candidates or else all candidates had to be represented.

What was so special about the 1960 debates that needed the equal time provision to be suspended? Was this some important stepping stone in the history of humankind or just a political duopoly flexing its muscles?

In 1964, 1968 and 1972, no debates occurred, both because of FCC regulations and because one of the candidates felt no need to debate. The League of Women Voters again sponsored the debates in 1976, 1980 and 1984. (Jimmy Carter didn't show up for one debate in 1980, because John Anderson, an independent candidate, was also invited. Carter showed up to the next debate when Anderson wasn't invited.)

Not only did the FCC suspend the equal time ruling, but in 1983, it made the somewhat amazing ruling that presidential debates are 'news events'. Carefully scripted and managed spectacles are news events? The FCC made these rulings in the 'public interest'.

Any suggestion that politics influenced the commission's rule making process is labelled a conspiracy theory, except that the chief beneficiaries from such a ruling are politicians that oversee the FCC. The same FCC that oversees broadcasting stations, who also benefit from this ruling.

The debates always did highlight duopoly candidates at the expense of other candidates, but after the League withdrew its sponsorship before the 1988 election, the duopoly filled the void with the Commission on Presidential Debates.

The reason behind the withdrawal of the League of Women Voters was because of the demands the two parties placed upon them (demands arrived at in secret meetings). When the League withdrew from its debate sponsorship they said they refused to: “help perpetrate a fraud”.

However, the CPD has no problem with perpetrating this fraud. They've done it seven times in the past and this year they will be doing it again. The duopoly believes the best way to have debates is for them to control the debate apparatus.

The Democrats and Republicans insist they are different from one another and the media likes to play this up. Nothing could be further from the truth! The CPD claims to be independent of the two major parties, but their past and present leadership is made up of Democratic and Republican politicians (with an occasional media maven). Because none of the politicians currently hold office, the CPD claims impartiality.

Allegedly, the parties are always at odds with one another and gridlock in Washington prevents anything from getting done. But there's no problem with the debates. They had no problem with secret meetings to agree on demands that forced the League of Women Voters from their debate sponsorship. The two parties have big problems on agreeing on legislation, but no problems on how, when or where, the presidential candidates appear to debate. They agree on everything, from the locations, dates and times to how the stage will look, where the candidates will be positioned, the moderators, and even the size of the podiums. This micromanagement of the debate details is all done in the public interest, of course. I mean, who could ever accuse the CPD of any impropriety of even the appearance of any impropriety?

Ralph Nader was threatened with arrest unless he didn't leave the grounds the debate was held on. He had a ticket and he wasn't even trying to get into the auditorium where the debate was being held. He was trying to access a remote site on the same campus where the debate was being televised.

Ralph wasn't alone. There have been multiple arrests of third-party candidates who have appeared at the debates to protest the exclusionary aspect of them. Arrests of people who weren't even trying to crash the debate stage, just attend the event.

There have been multiple lawsuits against the Commission, but all have been unsuccessful. The last was by Gary Johnson, the Libertarian Party candidate and Jill Stein the Green Party candidate. After the latest loss in the courts, Solifico, a SuperPAC that supports the Libertarian Party wrote an open letter to the Commission. The letter threatened to have the IRS investigate and revoke the tax exempt status of the Commission.

This year, both duopoly candidates have historically high disapproval ratings in the polls, yet they will be in the debates. There are many third-party candidates, but many wouldn't affect the election even if they were included in the debates.

However, at least two, Gary Johnson and Jill Stein, can affect the election outcome - especially if they are in the debates. Because they don't meet arbitrary and capricious poll numbers weeks before the election is held doesn't seem to be a good reason for excluding them from the debates.

The duopoly is loath to even admit they have any competition and demonize those who meet with any success in the polls. Along with ballot access, inclusion in the debates is a criterion by which people judge a candidate. In the eyes of many people, unless a candidate appears on the ballot in all 50 states and is included in the debates, they're not a realistic choice for president.

I think both Gary Johnson and Jill Stein are viable candidates and should be included in the televised debates. However, I think Jill Stein is the candidate most deserving of your vote. Duopoly members and their apologists will tell you she's just a spoiler, but no candidate is ever a spoiler.

Besides the duopoly uses the same argument EVERY election, no matter who the candidates are. Don't listen to bogus duopoly arguments, think for yourself! Like Jill Stein has said: “Forget the lesser evil, stand up and fight for the greater good like our lives depend on it - because they do.”