Monday, September 19, 2016


The first presidential debate of the 2016 election cycle will take place next Monday, September 26th at Hofstra University (Hempstead, NY). How many candidates will appear in this debate?

Why is the presidential debate important regardless of the outcome of the vote?

One – the Bernie Sanders campaign clearly showed it is possible to run an issues based presidential campaign, and garner wide support from the electorate. Bernie presented a plain spoken challenge to the establishment that transcended their “vote for the lesser evil” conflict narrative, shifting the dialogue from a restrictive vision of what we don’t want to a dynamic vision of what we do. Clinton paid lip service to this idea at a news conference she held after her recent bout with pneumonia, but it is unlikely she will transcend this fear based narrative in the upcoming debate.

Two – the presidential debates are particularly important to the large segment of the electorate not involved in the primary process, that wait until late in the electoral cycle to decide who they will vote for. 129 million voted in the 2012 general election, while only 28 million voted in the primaries that year. 67 million people watched the first debate of 2012, 10 million more than cast votes in the entire 2016 primary. The debate offers a unique opportunity for the candidates to introduce themselves and outline the policies they wish to enact, provided they are allowed to participate...

Listening to Sanders warn against casting a “protest vote,” I can’t help but think of his critique of superdelegates, repeatedly citing how more than 400 had pledged to back Clinton before his campaign even began. Is this fundamentally different from how the Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD) has preemptively excluded third party candidates from participating in the upcoming debate, before the vast majority of the electorate has even had a chance to hear their positions?

The CPD is a private corporation started by former heads of the Democratic and Republican National Committees. It replaced the League of Women Voters in 1988 and has been sole sponsor of every presidential debate since that time.

The LWV press release from October 3rd, 1988 reads:

“The League of Women Voters is withdrawing its sponsorship of the presidential debate scheduled for mid-October because the demands of the two campaign organizations would perpetrate a fraud on the American voter,” League President Nancy M. Neuman said today.
“It has become clear to us that the candidates’ organizations aim to add debates to their list of campaign-trail charades devoid of substance, spontaneity and honest answers to tough questions,” Neuman said. “The League has no intention of becoming an accessory to the hoodwinking of the American public.”
The CPD decides the format of the debate, what topics will be “debated,” and who gets to debate. Yes, the folks already in the debate decide who gets to debate, and who does not – a conflict of interest? 

Level the Playing Field in conjunction with the Green Party of The United States and Libertarian National Committee filed a lawsuit against the Federal Elections Commission in June of 2015. The following is just one point from the lawsuit – you can read the document in its entirety here.

3. This case concerns violations of federal law by two institutions the Democratic and Republican parties have used to perpetuate their duopoly: the Commission on Presidential Debates (“CPD”), an organization the two parties created for the express purpose of keeping third-party and independent candidates out of debates, and the Federal Election Commission (“FEC”), a “bipartisan” agency run by members of the two major parties, which refuses to carry out its statutory mandate to enforce the federal election laws that the CPD is blatantly violating.

With little fanfare, the lawsuit was dismissed last month by George W. Bush appointed U.S. District Court Judge Rosemary Collyer.

Forth Position Design created the above graphic in order to highlight two points that might become more apparent if we had open debates.

Weapons dealer: Secretary Clinton’s approval of transfers (sales) of weapons from United States based manufacturers to countries/governments that the US State Department has criticized for human rights abuses is disturbing, especially when both the companies and the countries involved in these transactions have donated large sums to the Clinton Foundation. Repeatedly pointing out that donors to the Clinton Foundation did not get highly coveted meetings with the Secretary does not address this issue.

Button Pusher: Trump really has no definable policy positions, his campaign exists solely as a reactionary response. His racist, sexist, xenophobic remarks appeal to an audience conditioned to quell their own feelings of powerlessness by attacking “others.” The entire spectacle is ultimately just another self aggrandizement scheme, tracking back to Trump & the Trump brand. If the contrast between the candidates is essentially policy vs. no policy, does it really qualify as a “debate”?

If we really believe in this democracy thing, then we should make the changes necessary to insure that it is actually possible – open debates, instant runoff voting, automatic voter registration, to name a few. The conflict is a distraction, to limit knowledge that could neutralize their dualistic narrative. It’s easy to keep one person out of the debates, it’s much harder to convince an informed public that you are the one and only “choice.” More voices – more choices – open the debates.

I wrote a piece in 2012 calling for the Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD) to recuse itself for conflict of interest. They didn’t. I guess they don’t read my blog.

Related articles:
Two-Party Tyranny: Ralph Nader on Exclusion of Third-Party Candidates from First Presidential Debate – Democracy Now!
There’s No Debate – Bill Moyers and Michael Winship
Only 9% of America Chose Trump and Clinton as the Nominees – Alicia Parlapiano and Adam Pearce

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