Sunday, September 26, 2004

Let's Debate the Debates

You may not be hearing much from John Kerry and George Bush in the next few days, they are studying. They both have essentially vanished from the public to prepare for the first of the three debates.

What I don't get is why it has taken so long to actually meet up face to face. We've known each party's choice for president since early spring. We knew Bush was to be the Republican nominee since probably the day he took office. Kerry had accumulated enough Democratic Party delegates by mid-March. Here it is more than six months later and finally we can compare the two on the same stage.

It's not like they haven't had the opportunity. Several times in their campaigns they've crossed paths in the same state, and at least twice they were at campaign events in the same city, same day, nearly same time. Oh, but the two parties will say that neither candidate was official until they had their respective conventions. That argument is nearly worthless, the primary season has rendered convention nominations as nothing more than a media event which could have happened long before.

There really is no reason why we haven't had a number of debates by now. Actually there is one reason, the two parties have stubbornly refused to adapt to modern times. The two parties have moved the primaries to much earlier in the year, yet keep their conventions dated to just a few months before the election. In fact the Republican Party moved their convention date even later than ever before (some have said that the reason was to schedule it closer to the anniversary of 9/11).

In my opinion we should have had debates begin by at least June and some of the third party candidates could have been included. Other candidates would have had a chance to be seen by the public and if they didn't start gaining some popularity measured by polls then they would be knocked out of future debates as they proceded closer to the election. It would be not unlike so many of our reality shows that start with many contestants and eliminate them as the show progresses.

But something like that is going to be hard to create as the committee that "sponsors" elections is made up of an equal number of Democrats and Republicans with no other party allowed to be on the committee. The Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD) is actually a 501c(3) organization formed by the two parties and funded mostly by donations from major corporations (Budweiser, 3com, US Airways, for instance). The two parties did this to take control of the presidential debates from The League of Women Voters, they did this in order to be able to collude on many aspects of the debates particularily the shunning of other parties.

Now the two parties get together and set the rules of the debates every four years. Before when The League of Women Voters ran the debates the rules were more non-partisan and if the candidates didn't like some of the rules they would threaten not to participate. You may not know this, but there is no law requiring presidential debates, so if the CPD wanted to they could opt not to stage any debates.

The CPD will set the formats, whether they sit or stand, who moderates, what questions are asked, etc. and cram only three debates into about two weeks. We could have had a debate season with much more vigor, with more candidates and more meetings if only the CPD could be trumped or disbanded. The chairmen of the debate commission, former Republican National Committee chairman Frank J. Fahrenkopf Jr. and former Democratic National Committee chairman Paul G. Kirk Jr. basically run the debate charade.

There has been established an alternative to the CPD called the Citizens Debate Commission which has support from all sides of the political spectrum. We won't see this new commission running the 2004 debates, but I urge anyone who wants to see a better debate system in the future to investigate the ideas of the Citizens Debate Commision at this


Blogger R said...

The presidential debates are a joke. They're nothing more than a tepid, scripted interaction between the two candidates. Bush and Kerry have both been told what questions they can expect and how they should answer them.

Choreography, smoke, and mirrors. Every answer is screened by several people before it's deemed an acceptable answer. Every movement, every word...will we lose any voter support if we say this?

The candidates are nothing but puppets. They say and do what their campaign managers tell them. It's pathetic.

The CPD is also worthless.

4:30 PM  

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