You walk into an election booth in November to vote for a well-known, respected candidate who's vigorously campaigning for president, but the candidate's name has been excluded from the ballot. Is the election rigged?
You'd probably ask the same question if you tuned into the presidential debates on TV and the candidate you planned to vote for wasn't allowed on the stage. Unless loud voices are raised in protest, this kind of rigged debate is exactly what will be offered.
Thanks to the exclusionary policy of the corporate-funded Commission on Presidential Debates, the first presidential debate -- scheduled for October 3 at the University of Massachusetts-Boston -- is expected to lock out Green Party nominee Ralph Nader and all other third-party candidates.
YOU FOUGHT FOR DEMOCRACY IN SEATTLE, D.C. AND ELSEWHERE -- WILL YOU COME TO BOSTON?
When activists went to Seattle to protest the World Trade Organization, they stood up for human rights and an open, democratic process against corporate interests acting in private. Now, a similar battle is brewing: the fight against the undemocratic Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD). Established by the two major parties in 1987 to enforce a closed two-party cartel, the CPD is underwritten by the same corporations that bankroll the Republicans and Democrats. (Anheuser-Busch donated $550,000 to become sole sponsor of the CPD's St. Louis debate scheduled for mid-October.)
The CPD has vowed to exclude third-party candidates from the nationally televised debates if they lack 15 percent support in polls. Such an unreasonable barrier would have closed off the 1998 Minnesota debates to Jesse Ventura, the third-party candidate who was elected governor because local media and civic groups invited him to all of the televised debates -- ignoring claims that Ventura was an unelectable spoiler.
Elections and debates should engage citizens in a wide discussion of issues -- not narrow the discussion to squabbles between the two major-party candidates. In 1992, when third-party candidate Ross Perot was included in the debates, they were watched on average by 90 million TV viewers, with viewership growing in each successive debate. The 1996 debates, limited to Bill Clinton and Bob Dole, had shrinking viewership that averaged 41 million viewers. Third-party candidates bring fresh issues, more viewers and new voters to the debates.
OPEN THE DEBATES NOW!
If we want to revitalize the democratic process, we need to make our voices heard NOW. Without the intervention of an informed public, there is no chance of opening up the 2000 debates beyond the two major parties. The CPD's arbitrary barriers would lock out a candidate like Ralph Nader, who, despite undercoverage in mainstream media, has received 6 to 8 percent support in national polls. A debate limited to Bush/Gore means there will be no serious discussion of issues where the major-party candidates basically agree, like trade, globalization, corporate welfare, military spending, capital punishment and the drug war. Can democracy survive on Tweedledum--Tweedledee debates sponsored by beer companies?
An independent, nonpartisan group -- the Citizens' Task Force on Fair Debates, convened by American University law professor Jamin Raskin -- has challenged the CPD by recommending more reasonable and fair criteria: presidential candidates on a suffiecient number of state ballots would be invited to all the debates if they have at least 5 percent support in national opinion polls OR if polls found that a majority of the public supports the candidate's inclusion (www.fair.org/articles/appleseed.html). The 5 percent threshold derives from federal election law -- it's the level of support required to get federal campaign funding. Recent polls show that most Americans want Nader and right-wing candidate Pat Buchanan in the debates.
- Write letters/emails and make phone calls challenging mainstream media (and pollsters) to stop ignoring or marginalizing third-party candidates in campaign coverage
- Encourage TV networks to reject the exclusionary debates of the CPD and set up their own debates, with more inclusive criteria for participation -- leaving empty seats for any major-party candidate who fails to appear. See FAIR's Media Contact List for more information.
- Demand that the Commission on Presidential Debates broaden its criteria to end the lockout of third-party candidates. firstname.lastname@example.org
- If all of the above fails to open up the debates, take to the streets. Gather in Boston on October 3 and -- while the whole world is watching -- protest the farce of an undemocratic, corporate-sponsored non-debate: 9 pm, University of Massachusetts-Boston