Last week, Open Debates (see Opendebates.org), a nonprofit,
non-partisan organization, whose purposes I support, filed a complaint
with the Federal Election Commission (FEC) against the Commission on
Presidential Debates (CPD) which was created and is controlled by the
Republican and Democratic Parties. Open Debates charged, with
documentation, that the CPD is not non-partisan but is deeply
bi-partisan, serving and obeying the dictates of the two major Parties.
Open Debates argues that such control is a violation of FEC debate
regulations. Corporate contributions which could go only to an
educational association are instead going to a bi-partisan political
organization which is unlawful.
A new, non-partisan Citizens Debate Commission (CDC) has been
established by Open Debates with a Board of Directors composed of
conservative, liberal and moderate representatives. The CDC is not
under the control of any candidates or any parties. It serves an
educational function to sponsor rigorous debates with exciting third
party or independent candidates participating.
This entry criteria is not easy but it is possible, unlike the CPD's
mountainous hurdle, required in 2000, of averaging 15% voter support in
5 national polls in September. Even Ross Perot, who got on the debates
in 1992 and received 19 million votes, did not come close to reaching a
15% level in September of that year.
The new Debate Commission's criteria are that a candidate must be on
enough states' ballots to be able theoretically to win the electoral
college, and must either garner 5% voter support or be supported by a
majority ofcitizens in polls who want him/her to be on the Presidential
Open Debates had a news conference on February 19th at the National
Press Club (carried by C-Span) where directors of the Citizen Debate
Commission spoke their mind on the necessity to open up the debate
process to vital issues and differing views by more than two major party
candidates. In 2000, candidates Bush and Gore set a debate record for
agreeing with one another.
All the speakers, Paul Weyrich, Alan Keyes, Kert Davies and Rob
Richie provided their unique elaborations for the benefits to the
voters, their vital issues, and voter turnout from more diverse debates
and more flexible debate formats. The existing CPD debate formats are
really parallel interviews by one questioner, and not really debates.
There is an additional importance. The debates are overwhelmingly
the only major way candidates, without big money and television ads, can
reach the American people. Indeed, even with the big-money candidates
it is presently the only way that any positions or rebuttals can be
communicated apart from soundbite journalism on television. The major
nominees usually do not like to give long interviews to the press or go
My nephew, Tarek Milleron, while thinking about this debate subject,
came up with a sterling idea. The CPD stonewalls all criticisms and
challenges (although a new book-length expose by George Farah may flush
it out soon). So Milleron proposes tens of thousands of proxy debates
all over the country -- in schools, universities, Elks Clubs, union
halls, chambers of commerce, forums by the League of Women Voters, the
Junior League Civic and neighborhood associations. People would
volunteer to stand in for the Presidential candidates, under
cross-questioning debate formats. The internet can help find these
proxies. National sponsors can offer user-friendly debate manuals,
prizes and other incentives that bring the betterdebates beyond their
auditoriums to websites with larger audiences.
High school and college debate teams should pick this idea up readily
on a national scale. They are already trained and ready to go. The
point is not an occasional debate here and there which probably goes on,
but a large number of debates everywhere in the country with a national
focus. His proposal would be a great educational mechanism to inform
and animate voters and bring them to the polls in greater numbers. It
would also help to diversify the issues and broaden the subject matter
and solutions to our problems which are deserving of attention by those
Presidential candidates on the ballot.
Usually, presidential contests between the two major parties narrow
the number of repeated disagreements, however, rhetorical to a half
dozen or less. This cul de sac campaign shortchanges the many matter
that are left out. Also excluded are the many people, whose on the
ground innovations, for example, in education, tax reform, energy,
public transit, health care, civil and criminal justice, childhood
nurturing, recycling, consumer rights, workplace conditions and more
effective foreign policy and defense call out for attention and diffusion.
Milleron's proposal is very cost-effective; but it needs a new level
of voter will power to participate in the upcoming Presidential election
not just accede to a spectator role. Should these mini-debates
proliferate, the Citizens Debate Commission will be on its way to
displacing the stagnant, arrogant corporate-sponsored, corporation known
as the Commission on Presidential Debates.
E-mail Ralph Nader: email@example.com