I didn't watch the first debate and won't watch the remaining two, unless the Libertarian candidate, Gary Johnson is on stage. While the Johnson campaign filed an antitrust suit against the debate commission, it is up in the air as to whether it will be heard by a judge in time for a decision before either of the last two debates. Will Johnson get lucky and have the suit appear before a libertarian-leaning judge who will rule in his favor? The fact that the Johnson campaign had to resort to such a tactic in the first place is a disgrace to the spirit of democracy.
Prior to the legal actions taken by the Johnson campaign, I was aware that the Republicans and Democrats were in control of the Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD), but only recently learned of these details:
It's billed as "nonpartisan" but is co-chaired by persons connected to the two parties, presently: former Republican National Committee head Frank Fahrenkopf, and former Clinton White House spokesman Mike McCurry.
It has the IRS nonprofit designation of 501(c)(3), of which the IRS states: Under the Internal Revenue Code, all 501(c)(3) organizations are absolutely prohibited from directly or indirectly participating in, or intervening in, any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for elective public office.
I'm not a big conspiracy theory type person, but looking back to when Johnson was running as a Republican, and how he was virtually shut out of the Republican Presidential debates, did the party see Johnson as a threat to the corporate candidate Romney? Is it possible that Johnson was viewed as potentially becoming a John Anderson type candidate, and that efforts were made to limit his exposure by keeping him out of as many debates as possible?
It was somewhat amazing how Anderson shook things up in the 1980 presidential race, which resulted in actions being taken to thwart such an attempt from happening again. Anderson was able to run in the Republican primaries prior to a number of "sore loser laws" being enacted, which prevent candidates being on the general election ballot under a different party (or as an independent) if they ran in the primary. He was on the primary ballot for a half-dozen states (almost winning Massachusetts and Vermont), and received crucial media exposure prior to deciding to run as an independent candidate.
While there is criticism of the present 15% polling qualification set by the CPD, the League of Women Voters (which previously controlled the debates) created a qualification threshold of 15% for Anderson to appear in the debates, which Anderson ended up meeting. In an odd reaction to Anderson being invited to the debates, incumbent President,refused to participate in the first debate. Going up against just Reagan, Anderson performed well, but did not deliver a knockout victory and instead of moving up in the polls, his numbers began sliding, and he was not invited to the second debate, which featured Carter vs. Reagan. Anderson ended up with just under 7% of the vote, when at one time he had polled as high as 26%.
Recently, I became aware of a tidbit regarding posted on policymic:and his participation in the 92 presidential debates. Perot hit a high of 39% in the polls early in the summer, but his numbers began to slip, and then in mid-July, he abruptly announced he was ending his presidential bid. After qualifying to be on the ballot in all 50 states, he decided to re-enter the race, but his numbers had dropped drastically. I came across this account of what happened next, as told by Christopher McDaniel,
"Ross Perot was polling at 7% when he was included in the CPD events at the behest of then-President George H.W. Bush. Bush thought that by including Perot, he could split Clinton’s support and thus win the election. For his part, Clinton completely opposed the idea but went along so as to appear democratic.
Unfortunately for them, Perot soared in the polls after being declared in the media as the winner of two out of the three debates. In fact, 70 million Americans watched the third debate, still a record. Perot gained more ground in the polls than any candidate in presidential election history in the last 6 weeks of the campaign.
Where doesstand today? He polls at 6%."
Ralph Nader, one of the most prominent candidates prior to Johnson to put the spotlight on the CPD, has stated:
"To shut out legitimate third-party candidates from these debates is to limit the competitive democratic process on which the American electoral system is supposed to be built."
Last year Nader suggested:
"We need twenty-one debate sites all over the country, ending this blue state-red state divide where over half of the voters never see a major Presidential campaign in their states."
Trying to squeeze twenty-one debates into a two-month period would be rather difficult; perhaps aiming for six, with three for both September and October, would be a reasonable number to shoot for. Another reasonable option would be to drop the polling qualification down to 5% (at least for the September debates), which has been suggested by others.
Perhaps making the CPD a truly nonpartisan entity and putting it in control of respected political science professors rather than party stooges might help to ensure maximum fairness to legitimate candidates, either independent or from third parties.
Jesse Ventura posted a video on YouTube endorsing Johnson and criticizing the CPD, and this was part of what he had to say:
"Isn’t it time that we allowed a credible third party candidate into our presidential debates to tell Obama and Romney when they’re wrong? Call the Commission on Presidential Debates today, and tell them you want to see Gary Johnson in the presidential debates, because if this is still a country based on freedom, we shouldn’t limit our freedom of choice."
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