Saturday, October 04, 2008

What Stood Out This Week - 9/28-10/4

Uncomfortable interviews, uncomfortable bailouts, and uncomfortable debates. Let's see, uncomfortably, What Stood Out This Week.

Vice Presidents

Sarah Palin Stood Out This Week, because her interview with Katie Couric that began with her convoluted explanation as to why Alaska's proximity to Russia made her a foreign policy expert was spread out over the week, and seemingly every day, there was a new awkward moment. What newspapers does she read? "Oh, you know, most of 'em." Other than Roe v. Wade, what Supreme Court decision does she disagree with? "...?"

Suddenly the VP debates took on new meaning and anticipation. People wanted to watch the train wreck. On one hand, you've got Joe Biden, who very often sticks his foot deeply in his mouth. On the other, Sarah Palin, who might know absolutely nothing beyond her talking points.

Democrat, Republican, Third/Fourth/Fifth Party

Right, so the debate. Yeah, I didn't watch it. My blood pressure can't take it, and fortunately, it was on TV opposite the baseball playoffs.

Apparently, both candidates did fine. Perhaps Biden "won," but Palin did well enough to restore some confidence in her. No "game-changers."

Of course there were no game-changers. The debates aren't serious discussions. They're not even really debates. They're a chance for both sides to recite sound bites.

And ultimately, of course, people don't vote for vice president anyway.

But here's the real problem... It's the debates themselves. (I got a crash course from Democracy Now! with Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzales.)

The debates are currently sponsored by the Commission on Presidential Debates, a bipartisan group that works with the candidates and party leaders to structure the format, the total number, and everything else related to the presidential debates (as their name would imply).

Sounds alright, doesn't it? Except the Commission is bipartisan, i.e. two parties. The debates should be organized by a nonpartisan group, i.e. no parties.

For years, the debates were organized by the League of Women Voters. They set the rules, and the candidates could participate under their rules or not. It was up to them. But they were televised events, which meant millions of viewers, and very few candidates didn't participate.

In 1980, Democratic candidate Jimmy Carter refused to debate third-party candidate John Anderson. The League of Women Voters said, "Well, we've invited him, and Ronald Reagan's coming. We'd love to have you, too." Jimmy didn't show, and Reagan debated Anderson. You might recall (or learned via history, depending on your age) that Reagan trounced Carter in that election.

By 1988, the Commission was created. It is perhaps one of the only true bipartisan organizations in the country, because its primary interest is to keep the two-party system strong to the exclusion of other candidates. They work with the major candidate campaigns to set the rules, none of which are ever actually made public.

Whether or not a third party is allowed to participate is based on the completely subjective question, "Can they realistically win?"

In 1992, Ross Perot was included in the debates, but only because George Bush the First wouldn't debate if he wasn't included. The Clinton campaign didn't want him there but knew that denying his presence would look cowardly.

In 1996, it was Bob Dole who particularly didn't want Perot involved, thinking that Perot would pull more support away from him than President Clinton. Clinton had a large lead in the polls over Dole and used Perot as a bargaining chip. Rather than demand Perot's inclusion, Clinton limited the number of debates to two and set them both opposite the World Series, hoping no one would watch and therefore not change the dynamic of the race.

And so on...

No third party will ever be included unless both parties want the third party candidate involved.

This year, Ralph Nader (Independent), Cynthia McKinney (Green), and Bob Barr (Libertarian) are all on enough state ballots that they could conceivably win a plurality of electoral votes to win the presidency. But McCain and Obama don't want them in the debates, and the Commission on Presidential Debates does the two major parties' bidding.

I'm not actually overstating the case when I say that this is strangling our democracy. The best ideas come from third parties. The Republican Party was just a third party, after all, when it took up the issue of the abolition of slavery.

Most popular movements become embraced first by third parties. And those third parties either become serious contenders, or the popular movement becomes embraced by one of the major parties.

We need to hear from alternate voices. Two very simple examples from the debates so far that demonstrate why...

All four candidates (I'm talking Dem and Pube Prez and Vice Prez) support the monstrous Wall Street bailout. We need to hear why it's a bad idea too. All four candidates stand against gay marriage. We need to hear why treating a large portion of the population as second-class citizens is un-American.

We need to open our debates. And you can read more about this at

And that's What Stood Out This Week.



At 1:08 AM , Anonymous curt(bald bro said...


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