The Commission on Presidential Debates’ Decision to Prevent Third-party Debate is Anti-competitive and Anti-democratic

A candidate should earn the right to participate in all presidential debates if the candidate appears on enough states’ ballots that he or she has a mathematical chance of winning a majority vote in the Electoral College, and therefore enough votes to win the presidency.

CPD’s 15% polling policy ensures that only the major parties get to debate. The candidates are beside the point.

A candidate should earn the right to participate in all presidential debates if the candidate appears on enough states’ ballots that he or she has a mathematical chance of winning a majority vote in the Electoral College, and therefore enough votes to win the presidency.

So, let’s have presidential debates!

Not so fast. The Commission on Presidential Debates stands in the way.

CPD imposes debate qualification requirements that enable the two major American political parties to muzzle legitimate third-party candidates who have substantial national support. CPD’s selection criteria is appropriate except for the final clause of this description taken from CPD’s website re the 2016 Non-Partisan Candidate Selection Criteria: “Under the 2016 Criteria, in addition to being Constitutionally eligible, candidates must appear on a sufficient number of state ballots to have a mathematical chance of winning a majority vote in the Electoral College, and have a level of support of at least 15 percent of the national electorate as determined by five selected national public opinion polling organizations…” See, http://www.debates.org/index.php?page=overview

We have four presidential candidates with mathematical chances of being elected but only two will debate. Really?

Libertarian party candidate Gov. Gary Johnson and Green party candidate Dr. Jill Stein will appear on enough states’ ballots to have a mathematical chance of winning the election but don’t have 15% support in the polls and won’t be on the debate stage with Hillary Clinton and Donald J. Trump. Write-in independent candidate Evan McMullin does not appear on a sufficient number of state ballots to have a mathematical chance of winning a majority vote in the Electoral College. He is polling well below the 15% figure CPD uses to determine eligibility to debate and therefore does not meet either criteria.

The root of the problem is CPD’s goal that only the “leading” candidates should debate. What is a “leading candidate”? CPD says it is a candidate who polls 15% or more during the months leading to the general election. CPD offers rationalizations for the 15% polling threshold, invoking George Wallace (20% in 1968), John Anderson (15% in 1980) and Ross Perot (who reached 40% in the polls in 1992 before fading fast).

“So what?” you ask, “Big deal,” you say. It is a big deal because the result of CPB’s 15% polling policy and “leading candidates only” goal is to remove from the debate half of the candidates with mathematical chances of victory. The other two candidates got onto all, or almost all states’ ballots so why can’t they debate? Because only the leading parties get to debate. The candidates are beside the point.

The major political parties are in the business of self-preservation, not representative democracy.

Continued exclusive control of American politics is what the major parties want. What they don’t want is competition, especially as they recognize the active dissatisfaction and evolving sophistication of minority and (mostly) younger American voters who are increasingly willing to consider alternative candidates that speak to their needs and concerns. At the same time as the majors adjust to social media it scares them to death because it is a truly democratic environment. Need proof? Look at the Sanders primary campaign. Sen. Sanders mobilized young voters like never before and social media played a yuuuuge role.

The major parties got a good scare; they know they must prevent evolution or risk irrelevance and a long fall from power. To do so, the major parties’ leaders have proven they will hold their noses and endorse “their candidate” so long as they think that person is the only hope that “their party” can win. The process is hardly likely to produce the best candidate.

The two major parties know controlling access to and manipulating the media in the final months of a heated presidential campaign is key to preserving the status quo. It is especially important to control the debate stage where voters can see and assess the candidates in face-to-face, live debate. They know they have to keep Johnson and Stein off the debate stage.

And that strategy, my friends, is the problem. Don’t fall for it. Americans are sick of the status quo but the major parties cling to it, voters be damned.

Here’s how the Commission on Presidential Debates is playing the major parties’ game.

CPD’s 15% polling threshold is anticompetitive

Enter CPD, whose goals and policies may seem objective enough, but really they aren’t. The 15% polling threshold – actually a bar – is arbitrary in a campaign where substantial evidence exists that one major party rigged its own primaries to ensure the party leadership’s preferred candidate got the nomination despite epic unfavorables, serious questions about her judgment, integrity, self-dealing and NASCAR-style sponsorship by Wall Street firms. The other major party got hijacked by a bigoted and hypocritical nincompoop whose naive policy-making process resembles an angry drunk riding a bicycle in soft sand, and whose principles and personal conduct are an insult to traditional conservative politics.

The Democrats nominated a Republican, whether they recognize it or not (they don’t). The Republicans nominated a fool whose victory will likely destroy the Republican party, destabilize national security and the economy, and squander the nation’s global credibility, whether they recognize it or not (they don’t). The parties turned American politics upside down. So their leadership looked upon their work and asked themselves, what to do?

Seeing the gathering storm and with rat-like instincts for self-preservation, the two parties then set about the business of preventing their respective herds from defecting to alternative candidates like Gov. Johnson or Dr. Stein. How? With the help of the CPD. By excluding Johnson and Stein from the debate stage CPD enables the major parties’ agenda of exclusion. It cannot be that this was CPD’s intention all along, can it? Who’s idea was the 15% bar anyhow?

Rules like CPD’s 15% polling bar reward the major parties’ anti-competitive behavior by eliminating legitimate challengers from the national debate stage – literally.

The 15% bar is arbitrary but very effective in a campaign where the major parties have learned, perhaps adapting strategies from the likes of V.I. Lenin, Josef Stalin and Vladimir Putin, the art of eliminating competition by manipulating the news cycle rather than waging honest, open competition. The major parties are expert at doing this and the media is complicit. Some news outlets are witting participants, some perhaps not. Each party’s goal is to beat the other party, but they also recognize that competitive “outsiders” will toss the whole game out of balance. The quality of the candidates is a lost priority. Joining forces to preserve the status quo is the name of the game.

Bleary-eyed voters in a Svengali-like trance are abandoning their common sense in droves and feel compelled to defend their party by supporting its chosen “lesser of two evils.” They simply throw in with their party’s seriously flawed, “leading candidate,” the only goal being to beat the other major party’s seriously flawed “greater of two evils” leading candidate. They don’t vote for their candidate. They vote against the other party. That’s wrong and it has to change or we are doomed. We need a system that produces the best candidates, not a system that promotes a race to the bottom. CPD’s 15% polling bar is either too high (could that figure be the doing of the 2 “major” parties?) or it is altogether unnecessary.

CPD’s “Leading Candidates” policy is arbitrary and subjective

We must hear from all “legitimate” candidates, not just “leading” candidates who owe their candidacies to a corrupt and broken two-party system. A legitimate candidate is a Constitutionally eligible person who was nominated by a national political party and appears “on a sufficient number of state ballots to have a mathematical chance of winning a majority of votes of the Electoral College,” and therefore meets CPD first two criteria. Such a candidate would, by definition, enjoy substantial national support. That may not be a knowable, or quantifiable number because many voters who would support such a candidate may instead support a “mainstream” major party candidate out of fear of the other side’s greater evil winning. It’s a Catch-22. Closing the debate as CPD has done enhances the effect and assures the outcome. As American citizens, we owe it to ourselves to empower these voters and their candidates so they have a meaningful voice in American presidential politics. Isn’t the goal supposed to be that the best candidate should win? Party politics as presently practiced prevents this.

Is a debate with four candidates unmanageable?

As far as the “leading” candidates policy goal is concerned, we aren’t talking about a debate among 17 candidates vying for nomination by a party, many of whose support is barely measurable; of course a field that large must be culled. It was. That was done in the primary process. It was a circus that, largely for other reasons, produced an absurd result. But this is the actual presidential election. Now we are talking about a debate by only four nominees, the final four. 4. Four debaters is a manageable number for any moderator. No matter how we spell it, all four should debate.

CPD’s policy and goals assure that third party candidates’ messages are squelched. The media focuses almost entirely on the most controversial sound bites rather than on reasoned discourse – a game one candidate plays particularly well, better than any other, and even smart people fall for it in huge numbers. Big money prevents ordinary people from having a voice. Sane people make progress, not salacious headlines, and that isn’t profitable for the media. Crisis and colorful conflict is profitable. A candidate who attacks women, the disabled, an entire religion, LGBT voters, Gold Star families, who calls people schoolyard names, who makes up flamboyant lies on the fly and won’t walk them back, that’s what puts eyeballs on screens and sells advertising. When that combines with the Clinton scandals and brutally effective money machine there’s little left in the news cycle for anyone else.

So we need debates – all four candidates facing off at the same time, in real time. The system as it exists today punishes sanity. Access to the presidential debate, therefore, is the only way to let the voters see the candidates on an equal footing and thereby stand a chance to make informed choices. It may be the only way third party candidates can access a wide enough audience to make their message known.

How democratic!

CPD’s 15% polling bar is anti-democratic and perpetuates corrupt two-party control of American politics

CPD is a private organization funded by private donors. It gets no government money directly but it gets tax protection. In exchange for tax protection CPD must remain non-partisan. Excluding half of the candidates is, by definition, partisan. So ask yourself what sense is there in protecting an entity that raises and uses money to prevent legitimate third-party candidates from challenging the “major party” status quo, and prevents voters from seeing all the candidates compete in real time on a level playing field? CPD’s partisan policy disenfranchises third-party voters by excluding their candidates. That’s un-American.

Perhaps CPD’s valuable 501(c)(3) status should be reviewed again for the way in which the major parties abused CPD. Maybe its status should be revoked.  Prior efforts have failed in court and at the Federal Election Commission. The major parties control the CPD despite their Herculean efforts to mask that fact.  “Politics has nothing to do with it,” said nobody, ever.

If CPD won’t level the playing field by amending its 15% bar and eliminating its preference for what it calls “leading candidates” then maybe now, in this bizarre climate where the two historically dominant political parties formed an unholy alliance to monopolize the news cycle and manipulate public opinion by drowning out independent voices with significant national support, where information and disinformation move at the speed of light, where big money controls the process and assures the outcome, and where the nation’s future depends more than ever on a fair and transparent process including all legitimate candidates, then maybe now people with vision and imagination can make the case and strike a blow for a level playing field.

Now is the time to change the path we’re on. Think hard about “your” party. Did it earn your loyalty? Does it serve your needs? Or does it serve its own interests and now exist simply to perpetuate that existence and entrench its internal leadership?

Vote for the best candidate. Vote your conscience, even if that is not how “your party” wants you to vote. If we all did that we could fix the system. Do we have the courage?

And, CPD, let all four national party candidates debate. We need to hear their ideas exchanged in an open, competitive and democratic debate where they can be compared side by side. We don’t need the same-old-same-old, and we don’t need a lunatic bloviate masquerading as the agent of change or the champion of the people his companies routinely put out of business by not paying their bills. Shame on a system that allows this.

[NOTE: featured photo is a screencap of vlogger Nachi Free’s youtube video on the presidential debate subject. View it here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MAY8LiNKeh4 . Every time Mr. Free refers to Gov. Johnson, though, please also think to yourself “…and Dr. Jill Stein…” We want all four candidates on the debate stage. We are entitled to it. -SNL]

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