"Celebrity is no substitute for an honest and vigorous debate on a matter as fundamentally important as war."
That is what antiwar Senate candidate, Jonathan Tasini, told New York Times columnist Bob Herbert last May in describing his rationale for making a Democratic Party primary run against incumbent-Goliath, Sen. Hillary Clinton.
Tasini has since qualified for the ballot with 40,000 signatures – far surpassing the required 15,000 – and he is polling at a surprising 13 percent (or, perhaps not so surprising, if one considers the outrage over Iraq.) But, despite Tasini's strong run, the voters of New York might not get that vigorous debate after all.
Cable news station, NY1 – owned by Time-Warner – declared that Tasini cannot participate in its televised debate series because he hasn't raised the arbitrarily required $500,000. Tasini nearly triples the 5 percent polling requirement but he doesn't have the cash flow NY1 is looking for to legitimize his candidacy.
Now there's democracy in action for you: only the wealthy or those who raise enough money are welcome in this contest of ideas – no matter how critical the moment in our nation's history and no matter how many voters pledge their support.
As the New York Post (whose owner Rupert Murdoch held a July fundraiser for Senator Clinton) points out, "Traditionally, the test of seriousness in a statewide candidate in New York is successful completion of the grueling ballot-access process. It ain't easy, to put it mildly - but Tasini has made that grade."
The Post editorial goes on to argue that "70 percent of New York Democrats consider Iraq to be a major Election Day issue." Don't the citizens of New York deserve to hear a range of views now that so many have expressed support for Tasini's candidacy?
Consider some of these differences on critical issues -- as outlined by the Peace Action Voter Guide (you can guess where the two candidates stand): Opposes the presence of permanent US bases in Iraq; Opposes a military invasion of Iran; Supports cutting outmoded items from the Pentagon budget to fund urgent domestic needs; Supports the US National Missile Defense Program; Opposes a time-lined withdrawal of US troops from Iraq, beginning in 2006; Supports a prohibition on US arms sales and military training to governments that the State Department deems human rights abusers. And there's more.
It's time to take on our downsized politics of excluded alternatives. Click here to contact NY1 and demand that it act in the public interest and allow this debate. It's the right thing for the New York Senate race, and it's the right thing for our democracy.
Copyright © 2006 The Nation