Nader is a substantial candidate, one whose issues and priorities are different from Al Gore and George W. Bush.
The best thing about the frantic presidential primary season was plenty of television and radio debates. On the Republican side, the worst thing about the primaries was that there were too many candidates for the time allowed. That meant lots of rhetorical heat and little enlightenment.
So we have some sympathy for the gatekeepers of debates slated for the general election. To present substantive debates requires limiting participation to substantive, viable candidates. Provided that he continues to campaign aggressively, Ralph Nader, carrying the Green Party standard this year, is one of those candidates and should be included in this fall's presidential debates.
Trouble is, the Commission on Presidential Debates, composed of only Democrats and Republicans, puts up high barriers for third-party candidates. Early this year the commission said it set two qualifications of the three presidential debates it is running. One is that a candidate's name must appear on enough state ballots to have a mathematical chance of winning a majority in the Electoral College. The other is a candidate must be polling 15 percent in five specific major national polls.
We aren't sure there is a magic number that puts a candidate over the threshold of seriousness. Nader himself argues for a poll showing of 5 percent the figure in states like Minnesota for third parties to gain ballot access.
But we do know that Nader is a substantial candidate, one whose issues and priorities are different from Al Gore and George W. Bush. In his own way, Nader can add to the political dialogue as effectively as Ross Perot did in the 1992 Reform Party run against fiscal irresponsibility in Establishment Washington.
There must be more reasonable rules for third-party participation. It makes a difference who is allowed to play in the prime time debates, as Minnesotans know from the last gubernatorial race that included third-party candidate Jesse Ventura.
The presidential debates this year will be more valuable if Nader is invited to participate.
© 2000 PioneerPlanet / St. Paul (Minnesota) Pioneer Press