Thoughts on the Debates

Okay, I’ve talked some about how we needed to have the debate this evening between McCain and Obama.

Although, we should get some sense of the candidates positions on certain issues from tonight’s festivities, it’s a far cry from the kind of debate it should be.

An excerpt from OpenDebate.org:

The Presidential debates — the single most important electoral event in the process of selecting a President — should provide voters with an opportunity to see the popular candidates discussing important issues in an unscripted manner. But the Presidential debates fail to do so, because the major party candidates secretly control them.

Presidential debates were run by the civic-minded and non-partisan League of Women Voters until 1988 [read their letter withdrawing sponsorship], when the national Republican and Democratic parties seized control of the debates by establishing the bi-partisan, corporate-sponsored Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD). Posing as a nonpartisan institution committed to voter education, the CPD has continually and deceptively run the debates in the interest of the national Republican and Democratic parties, not the American people.

Every four years, negotiators for the Republican and Democratic nominees secretly draft debate contracts called Memoranda of Understanding [view the 2004 version] that dictate precisely how the debates will be structured; co-chaired by the former heads of the Republican and Democratic parties, the CPD obediently implements the contracts, shielding the major party candidates from public criticism.

Such deceptive major party control severely harms our democracy. Candidates that voters want to see are often excluded; issues the American people want to hear about are often ignored; the debates have been turned into a series of glorified bipartisan news conferences, in which the candidates exchange memorized soundbites; and debate viewership has generally dropped, with twenty-five million fewer people watching the 2000 presidential debates than watching the 1992 presidential debates. Walter Cronkite called CPD-sponsored presidential debates an “unconscionable fraud.”

Open Debates has helped establish a truly nonpartisan Citizens’ Debate Commission comprised of national civic leaders to sponsor presidential debates that are rigorous, fair, and inclusive of important issues and popular candidates. The higher values of democracy and voter education will be restored to the presidential debates by the Citizens’ Debate Commission.

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