I thought this an appropriate time to recycle something that made the rounds a while back: Open Debates is a 501(c)3 nonprofit, nonpartisan organization committed to reforming the presidential debate process. Presidential debates have been a part of the campaign cycle since 1976. They were originally run by the nonpartisan League of Women Voters, who pulled out in 1988 in protest over attempts by both parties to control every aspect of the debates, saying
…It has become clear to us that the candidates’ organizations aim to add debates to their list of campaign-trail charades devoid of substance, spontaneity and answers to tough questions. The League has no intention of becoming an accessory to the hoodwinking of the American public.
Sounds about right, given what I’ve seen of this year’s “debates”. No follow-up questions, no public questions, no willingness whatsoever to face even their opponents, let alone the people. Spineless and disgusting. In the wake of LoWV’s principled withdrawal, the two major parties put together the Commission on Presidential Debates, which is essentially a way for them to maintain secret control over every detail of the debates. Worse, there appears to be a significant degree of input from corporate interests. The best democracy money can buy, indeed.
Open Debates supports the Citizens’ Debate Commission, who describe themselves as “a nonpartisan organization that was established to sponsor future general election presidential debates [and] consists of national civic leaders from the left, center and right of the political spectrum who are committed to maximizing voter education”. The Commission has seventeen members and an Advisory Board of over fifty community organisations. The proposed structure of future debates is as follows:
1. Participants to be selected according to criteria developed by the Appleseed Citizens’ Task Force on Fair Debates, part of the Appleseed Electoral Reform Project at American University’s Washington College of Law: third party candidates will be included if they make enough state ballots to win an electoral college majority and either register at five percent in national polls (designed to match eligibility for federal campaign funding) or register a majority in national polls asking eligible voters who should participate. The idea is to allow third party candidates with a reasonable level of support to take part, without drowning out majority candidates.
2. Schedule: five 90-minute presidential debates and one 90-minute vice-presidential debate at colleges and universities across the country.
- Follow-up questions must be permitted in every debate.
- At least one debate must include candidate-to-candidate questioning.
- At least two debates must include rebuttals and surrebuttals.
- Response times must not be overly restrictive.
- Candidates may only exercise a limited number of vetoes concerning the selection of moderators and panelists.
- Two single moderator debates, at least one to feature direct candidate-to-candidate questioning, loose time restrictions and minimal interference from the moderator.
- Authentic town-hall debate: no screening of questions, audience to be a valid cross-section of America.
- Youth debate: selbstverständlich.
- Panel debate: questions from a panel of academic, civic, artistic, religious, media, labor and business leaders/experts.
Elected leaders should be accountable. Run properly, the presidential debates could force the major parties to face the people on every issue, not just the comfortable ones. It’s not enough — a good hard look at the presidential candidates once every four years — but it’s a start. Go here to see what you can do to make it happen. If nothing else, at least sign the petition.