September 08, 2008
Debates Not Open for 2008
I've written many times about the problems with our presidential debates. This year, as before -- but unlike 2004 -- the debate contract between the two campaigns is being kept secret.
Long story short -- and you can find out much more at Open Debates -- a private, nonpartisan organization called the Commission on Presidential Debates is given control of the debates by the candidates of the two parties, and the CPD decides how the debate will be run.
Well, that's what they want you to think. In fact, the CPD was started in 1986 by the RNC and DNC (it's still co-chaired by then-chairs of the DNC and RNC, Paul Kirk and Frank Fahrenkopf, today) to take away control of the debates from the League of Women Voters, and it is the candidates' campaigns themselves that come up with all the rules.
So, for example, when Ross Perot was kept out of the debates in 1996, it was because Dole's campaign demanded it, and Clinton's campaign agreed. The candidates are the ones who agree on everything -- from the number and format of debates, to who will moderate each one, and even the size of the podiums and number of TVs in the dressing rooms -- and the CPD just rubber-stamps it. If you feel like the debates are set up to be commercials for the campaigns ... you're absolutely right.
Bush and Kerry made their memorandum of understanding (PDF, 7.3MB) public in 2004. The MOU negotiated by Senator Lindsey Graham and Representative Rahm Emanuel for McCain and Obama, unfortunately, has not been made public.
Of course, making the MOU public is just one small step. Really, control of the debates should be relinquished to an actual independent party, such as the League of Women Voters.
Cross-posted on <pudge/*>.
Posted by pudge at September 08, 2008
10:35 PM | Email This
1. The Saddleback forum was probably the most informative, useful "debate" we've seen. I'd like to see more of that. Thank you, Rick Warren.
2. The CPD is a distinct blemish on the face of the history of American presidential debates. The League was right in their (very forcefully-worded) rejection of the modern debate formats. Unfortunately, even with limited steps toward transparency like a public MOU, there's really not much to stop the "hoodwinking of the American voter," potential or actual. Good call on the independent organization, Chris, and something that more Americans need to know about the debates.
I wish Sen Obama had accepted the invite of Sen McCain for a series of town meetings.
Very interesting post about the structure of the CPD.
4. Stuart - Obama doesn't want do deal with un-vetted crowds. "profile in courage" that Obama.
What? League of Women Voters, independent?
Specifically, read the section titled "Program and Action." They may limit the scope of their political agenda and activities, but they are NOT independent. They claim to be non-partisan (which has some merit, while still debateable), but they are VERY political, and admittedly so. Further, their national organization is different from the chapters, many of which (like Seattle) just operate as the social hour for uppity liberals.
6. Let the League of Women Vipers have it? Why not let moveon.org take control and be done with it?
7. A very enlightening and revealing post to me Pudge; I was not aware of that. Incredible that this 'format fixing' is not made public so that at the very least voters can see how these things are 'staged'. I guess I'm not surprised...does this jive with both candidates professing 'change'...hardly. :)
Good of a time as ever to bring up the boast, "I'll debate John McCain anytime and anywhere".
Stuttter, stutter, stutter, er, hum haw, "just not too often and only at the place of my choosing and under my conditions:".
When Obama first came to light last fall, I was totally impressed he was a gymrat BB player. Being of that genre before back surgery and a MCL tear, it was good to see someone like that.
But now, I am wondering. When I was playing, there were two types of ballers- those that were pretty, stayed outside, never rebounded, never passed and just shot and then there were the blue collar types who rebounded, passed and worked hard. The second type had short careers as gymrats due to the injuries. Obama is still playing so my guess he was of the prissy first type who never broke up a sweat. Not blue collar after all.
As for the boasting, that is also gymrat. Talking trash. That seems to be all he knows, because the first time he gets challenged, he backs down just like Beta males do at gym challenges. He seems to be of that wimpier mode.
As for time committment, I bet, but have no proof, that most of his community organizing was spent at the gym during the early afternoon hours when the good ballers were out playing. Again, this is not responsible.
Hopefully, Obama gets vetted quickly and maybe my opinion of him will go up.
Yes, the LWV is independent. I did not mean "independent" as "not politically biased," I meant it in the sense that it is not beholden to or affiliated with any party or parties.
The LWV had for many years put on perfectly good and fair debates, and they were biased to the left at the time, too. Absence of bias is not a prerequisite for being able to put on a good debate.
Maybe the LWV could no longer do today what they did 20+ years ago. If not, fine, pick someone else.
10. This is really unfortunate. I think there should be at least one debate that is controlled solely by the public. Create a bipartisan panel of people to come up with the questions for both candidates, and those questions should be unknown to the candidates prior to the debate. Let the panel agree on the moderator as well. If I wanted a debate full of scripted answers, I'd just skip it and watch campaign speeches.
11. Palouse, I should clarify, the debate questions are NOT known beforehand by the candidates. However, it is possible some debate topics are declared off-limits in the MOU, it is not possible -- not with people like Jim Lehrer as moderator -- that the actual questions are known beforehand.
12. I don't disagree with you on this one Pudge. I do have a question, however. At what point do you draw a line as far as participation? If it was me, it would be on how widespread the candidate was on ballots. The only question would be if that number would be on the ballot across a majority of states, a two-thirds, majority, all the states, or what.
tc, I've talked about this a lot in recent years, and I think a good standard is being on enough state ballots to win a majority of electoral votes.
If that didn't work, we could re-address the question later. The CPD uses an average of national polls in addition, I believe, to being actually able to win, but they set the percentage too high, IN ORDER TO exclude candidates like Nader and Perot.
14. Pudge- I agree with your goal, but how would you enforce it? The reality is that the debate organizer has to motivate the candidates, one of whom would usually be better off if the debates never happened, to participate. The organizer's only power is the ability to complain publicly if one side is blatantly uncooperative.
Bruce: you enforce it by shaming the parties and candidates into agreeing to it. The same way you get them to do public financing.
Actually public financing comes with the added incentive of a bunch of $$$$, which still isn't enough.
17. Nice catch, thanks for the linkshare pudge. Nuggets like this are why I regularly visit, despite the critical and acidic engagements we enjoy. I'd add shaming the networks, debate producers, and their advertisers to shaming the parties for these phony performances. They not only encourage it, they sell it as the real thing and every pundit will debate the performance of the candidates instead of the performance of the theater troupe putting on the show. We are far too accustomed to mediated reality. Party on.
18. To clarify my previous post, I meant the public $$$$ aren't enough incentive to get candidates to always accept them. I wish they could be forced to, but that's apparently unconstitutional. I wasn't saying it's not enough $$$$; I don't know if it is or not.
What a resource. Quote: "In 1976, the majority of debate discourse focused on eight issues, but in 2000, the majority of discourse focused on only five issues. And what are these dominant issues? With the exception of the 1992 debates, which included Perot, presidential debate content has increasingly consisted of issues targeted toward specific voting populations in swing states.
Acid Brain: George Farah wrote a book "No Debate." Highly recommended.
(BTW, I voted for Harry Browne in 1996 because I was angry at Bob Dole for blocking Perot from the debates. Plus I lived in MA and Dole had no chance in MA. But still.)
21. Thx pudge. (Nice to know to know even freaks like me and mine are not as far out as we feel when these surreal things are broadcast.)
The LWV is liberal, but to their credit, every time I pointed out they had neglected to include me (when I was running for Congress as a Libertarian) they included me at the last minute or before.
The CPD excludes third parties, and this is just what the D's and R's want.
By the way, glad to hear that Pudge has voted Libertarian in the past! :)
I hate the format but it is a private organization and respect their right to do what they want with their money.
What upsets me more is the RNC and DNC having giant weeklong partys/commercials at tax payer expense and excluding candidates like Paul from speaking and telling supporters who they can support and not allowning all votes to be counted.