OPEN UP THE DEBATES
Las Vegas Review-Journal
Democrat John Kerry on Thursday accepted a schedule for three presidential debates and one vice presidential showdown, proposed by a commission controlled entirely by the Republican and Democratic parties.
The first presidential debate, set for Sept. 30 at the University of Miami, will deal with domestic policy. The third, on Oct. 13, on the subject of foreign affairs, is scheduled for Arizona State University.
The second forum, on Oct. 8, will feature a supposed "town hall format" at Washington University in St. Louis, where "undecided voters will question the candidates on any issue."
And if you believe those voters and their questions will be "walk-ins" off the street, unscreened by chaperones of both parties, we have some lovely ranchettes we'd like to sell you near Gila Bend.
"These commission debates have become an important tradition in presidential campaigns and voters depend on them to help inform their choice," Mary Beth Cahill, campaign manager for Sen. Kerry, said in a statement.
How apropos. A canned statement.
It might be more accurate to say voters would like the presidential debates to help inform them, but that the current sanitized format -- designed to minimize the chance either candidate will encounter an unexpected question or otherwise be challenged to abandon his memorized "talking points" -- have become such a snore that they attract a smaller viewership every election cycle.
A legitimate, all-inclusive presidential debate would definitely not have to include "dozens of wacky candidates, including the Nudist Party and the Flat-Earthers," as those who favor maintaining the current stultifying monopoly are wont to insist.
In fact, Richard Winger of San Francisco-based Ballot Access News says a 2004 presidential debate including all candidates who are on the ballot in enough states to have a theoretical chance to win the presidency would include only six men: President Bush; likely Democratic nominee Sen. John Kerry; Independent Ralph Nader, Libertarian Michael Badnarik; Green Party candidate David Cobb, and Michael Peroutka of the Constitution Party.
Since "everyone knows" the winner will be either Mr. Bush or Mr. Kerry, why should the two front-runners -- and the voters -- have to waste time with these minor party candidates, comes the constant refrain?
But the presumed "fact" that no one else can draw a double-digit return and thus be in a position to seriously affect the election's outcome -- perhaps even throwing a close three- or four-way race into the House of Representatives is a self-fulfilling prophesy.
A Catch-22 is created. The press barely covers the other four candidates because they supposedly don't have a chance -- and they don't have much of a chance because the voters never hear from them given they're not allowed in the debates and thus the press doesn't cover them.
Meantime, voters constantly and rightly complain that today's politicking doesn't involve them and doesn't address the most pressing issues of the day.
It wasn't necessary for Burger King to actually overtake McDonald's share of the hamburger market -- to "win" -- to have a serious impact on McDonald's corporate behavior. One hamburger chain introduces a chicken sandwich? Soon the competitors offer grilled chicken, fried chicken, chicken salads and chicken wrapped in pita bread.
The debates have become sterile exercises in candidates ignoring questions and instead segueing into whatever pre-formulated and memorized claptrap their campaign advisers have tested and proved with the "focus groups."
The answer is to stage real debates,
open to all presidential candidates who have a theoretical chance of winning.
And if the two major party candidates won't come, televise them anyway,
with straw dummies in the two empty chairs, properly signifying how much
they really want the voters to know.