Presidential debates: Bi-partisan, fraudulent, corporate controlled theater

The debates are part of the unconscionable fraud that our political campaigns have become. Here is a means to present to the American people a rational exposition of the major issues that face the nation, and the alternate approaches to their solution. Yet the candidates participate only with the guarantee of a format that defies meaningful discourse. They should be charged with sabotaging the electoral process. Walter Cronkite

This will not be a debate in the sense the word is often used in the English language because all of this is so tightly controlled by the candidates themselves and their managers. These things have developed over the years into what some people believe can more accurately be described as a joint campaign appearance or an orchestrated news conference. Dan Rather

The debate commission is a corrupt duopoly. Steve Forbes

In dictatorships, it’s common for political insiders to hinder or even silence non-establishment challengers. To do that in America, which supposedly champions open elections, is outrageous and intolerable. But that is just what the Commission on Presidential Debates has done. The Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel

I was one of the 50 to 60 million American citizens who watched the first presidential debate. Besides being bored to tears, I was disappointed in Barack Obama’s “performance.” Obama lost by anyone’s measure. He seemed disengaged and let Romney blather on spouting positions that were often the direct opposite of those taken through much of his campaign. Confusing, I’m sure, to Obama, as well as those of us watching.

But does it matter that Obama “lost?” By design, the debates are practically without substance. Maybe Obama was bored like I was—that, and the fact that his opponent, Mitt Romney, unusually energized and obnoxiously aggressive, lied though most of the tortured event. How do you “debate” someone when the ground is continually shifting?

The best moment, of course, was Romney’s threat to kill Big Bird. The instant and overwhelming response on Facebook and Twitter was both heartening and hilarious. The American people (especially women with young children) want their Muppets and their public television. There is a point where you hit a brick wall with pandering, and it seems Romney ran full speed ahead, right into it. It was the “best moment” because the response was an overwhelming vote from the electorate for something in the public sector to be preserved.

So, let’s get back to the reality of our substance-free presidential debates. Here are some points to consider.

The debates are undemocratic. Under the aegis of the Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD), the Republican and Democratic presidential campaigns get together and write up a secret contract. Yes, it’s secret. They jointly decide what is off limits, which is just about everything meaningful to the lives of most of the electorate. The acceptable questions and terms of engagement, agreed upon by signed contract, precludes a debate that might in any way threaten Washington’s subservience to corporate interests. Even the so-called “town hall” debate questions are so thoroughly vetted ahead of time that the format is nothing less than a sham. It’s a pretend town hall meeting.

CPD’s secret contract is not available for public review or comment. If you want to see that contract, join with 18 progressive groups who are demanding that the content of the contract be made public. The groups include Open Debates, Common Cause, Public Citizen, Rock the Vote, Democracy Matters, Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting, Center for Study of Responsive Law, and Free & Equal Elections Foundation. The bottom line: a handful of Republican and Democratic Party hacks should not be determining what is and is not acceptable in our national political discourse.

The CPD exists to shut out third parties candidates and ideas. According to, the League of Women Voters served as an excellent and genuinely nonpartisan presidential debate sponsor from 1976 until 1984, courageously including popular independent candidates and prohibiting the major party campaigns from manipulating debate formats.

But, in 1986, the Democratic National Committee and the Republican National Committee ratified an agreement “for the parties to take over presidential debates.” Fifteen months later, the two parties created the CPD to implement joint sponsorship of general election presidential and vice-presidential debates, starting in 1988.

The CPD competed with the League for control of the 1988 presidential debates. After prolonged negotiations, they reached a simple compromise: The CPD would sponsor the first debate, and the League would sponsor the second. But when the League began preparing for the debate, the Bush and Dukakis campaigns handed it a secretly negotiated Memorandum of Understanding—a contract that dictated every detail of the debates, from the selection of panelists to the color of the timer lights on the podiums. The agreement even mandated that the League uninvite civic group leaders and replace them with a handpicked partisan audience.

The League of Women Voters bowed out in disgust, and issued this statement:

The League of Women Voters is withdrawing sponsorship of the presidential debates … because the demands of the two campaign organizations would perpetrate a fraud on the American voter. 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.

The Commission purposely sets the bar impossibly high for third party inclusion in the debates. It’s intention is to limit political discourse and the free exchange of ideas, and the result has been to actively, and intentionally, impoverish the political dialogue in the United States. There are so many limits on the debate questions and what the candidates can say, it’s no wonder they end up being unwatchable pablum—theater rather than actual discussions of issues meaningful to voters.

The media has helped CPD in its efforts to stifle outside ideas by ignoring third party candidates. Case in point: The mainstream media acts as if the excellent Green Party presidential candidate, Jill Stein, doesn’t exist. If you are interested in a truly progressive candidate and progressive ideas, check out her interview with Bill Moyers. Jill Stein, hands down, is my candidate of choice. But, I will be voting for Barack Obama. I do not want Mitt Romney, who I believe to be a sociopath, to have the power of the presidency. Because of the stranglehold of the Democratic and Republican parties on the political process, this time around, I don’t have a choice.

Surprise! The CPD is funded by corporations! If you go to the CPD website, they proudly list their corporate donors, all of which expect something from both parties in return for their support and campaign donations. From

Since the CPD seized control of the presidential debates in 1988, the debates have been primarily funded by corporate contributions. Multinational corporations with regulatory interests before Congress have donated millions of dollars in contributions to the CPD. Tobacco giant Phillip Morris was a major sponsor in 1992 and 1996. Anheuser-Busch has sponsored presidential debates in its hometown of St. Louis in 1996, 2000, 2004 and 2008.

The CPD has turned the presidential debates into yet another opportunity for special interests to influence the political process via financial contributions. . . . By contrast, donations to the nonpartisan League of Women Voters were primarily considered civic charity.

Indeed. Donations motivated by a sense of civic duty? What an antiquated concept. My final thoughts on the debates: don’t worry if Obama won or lost. Remember, it’s only the first round. And secondly, the debates are held so late in the game that, no matter what happens, most people have already made up their minds. If you want to worry about something, worry about the state of our democracy.