THE COMMISSION ON PRESIDENTIAL DEBATES EXCLUDES NADER AND THIRD PARTIES
T. Ballard Lesemann
Charleston City Paper
September 26 , 2008
Tonight’s presidential debate — the first of three scheduled events — may or may not feature the Republican and Democratic party nominees (we hear today than Sen. John McCain is likely to show up after all, who know?). But they will exclude all so-called third party candidates — from the Greens to the Libertarians.
Independent presidential candidate Ralph Nader has conducted his own low-budget but persistent presidential campaign all year (he announced his intentions to seek the presidency as an independent candidate on Meet the Press in Feb.), deflecting criticism and indifference along the way. Nader previously ran on the Green Party ticket in 2000 and as an independent in 2004.
While he probably doesn’t have a Slurpee’s chance in hell in earning enough votes in the general election to put him on the board with more than a few percentage points, it seems one of his main goals this year is to take aim at the two-party system’s anti-democratic control on the election process — from ballot access to the televised debates. He has promoted his progressive agenda with the hopes of encouraging citizens to organize, vote, and take part in the democratic process. He has supported and applauded all “third party” candidates in their efforts.
On the McCain/Obama events of this week, Nader stated in a Thursday press release: “The fact that a candidate can call for changing the date of the debate only two days before it is scheduled indicates how easy it would be for the candidates to also call for the inclusion of the leading third party and independent candidates, which would bring fresh ideas to the table on how our country can most effectively tackle this heavy economic challenge, starting with curbing our imperialist foreign policy.”
Nader’s recent memoir Crashing the Party: Taking on the Corporate Government in an Age of Surrender told his side of the controversial 2000 presidential campaign and took aim at the two-party system and its tightly-gripped control of presidential debates.
For years, the presidential debates were run independently by the League of Women Voters, who held a threshold of five percent in a number of polls. Participating in the general election debates, third party candidates John Anderson (in 1980) and Ross Perot (in 1992 and 1996) both increased their poll numbers after appearing with the two major party candidates. The current “criteria” virtually assures the exclusion of any third party candidate.
Formed in 1987, the Commission on Presidential Debates describes itself as a “nonprofit, nonpartisan, corporation.” The Commission’s 2008 “candidate selection criteria” determines who is invited to participate in the general election debates. In addition to being constitutionally eligible, candidates must appear on “a sufficient number of state ballots to have a mathematical chance of winning a majority vote of the electoral college, and have 15 percent support in national polls before the debates.”
“We believe in opening up the presidential debates,” Nader said at press conference in Columbia in July. “We believe in the sovereignty of the people over the sovereignty of the corporations. That means, corporations as a legal entity should not have the same rights as real human beings like you and me. The corporate as an entity don’t vote, it doesn’t have children, and it doesn’t die in Iraq.”
Nader’s campaign official got on the general election ballot in S.C. in July. To qualify to appear on South Carolina’s ballot, state law requires submission of the signatures of 10,000 registered voters.
“Ballot access obstruction for third party candidates is a tragic scandal in the United States,” Nader said at the same press conference. “No other country in the Western world obstructs candidates, as well as voters, in so many ways than do the various state laws — from voting or being on the ballot giving voters a bigger choice of candidates — than does our country.”
“I’ve always subscribed to the proposition that you have to keep fighting,” he added. “If you keep losing … in the process of losing, you’re building for the future a greater public awareness of the need for political, economic reform in our country. We are attracting a lot of young people who are going to be the leaders of the future with political skills for putting an aggressive agenda for the choice of voters on ballot after ballot. My father taught me a long time ago that when you’re up against heavy odds — if you don’t resist the challenge, the situation gets worse. The alternative is surrender, and that’s not an unacceptable alternative. We’re putting our agenda in front of the American people. If they go for the least worst between the two parties, that’s their choice. They’ll grumble and rumble for the next four years. But if they want to send a message to the two parties — and they can certainly do that here in South Carolina — we would welcome their help and support.”
Nader will make an appearance tonight (Fri. Sept. 26 at 11 p.m. EST, with reruns on Sat. and Sun. nights) on HBO’s Real Time with Bill Maher, alongside actor Tim Daly, commentator Lisa Schiffren, comedian Chris Rock, and reporter Ron Suskind.