The overwhelming majority of Americans want to hear us debate the Republicanand Democratic candidates. Will Trump and Clinton stand up for democracy?
PHOTOCREDIT – ‘The CPD is a thinly disguised scheme to protect the two establishment parties from competition.’ Photograph: MediaPunch/Rex/Shutterstock
Presidential debates should be an opportunity for the American people to decide the direction of our nation. But since 1987, everything about the debates has been predetermined by the party bosses who run Washington.
Consider that 76% of Americans want the presidential debates to include Gary Johnson and me. Yet the phony Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD) is trying to rob voters of the open debates they want.
The CPD is actually a private corporation that refuses to disclose its current funders or sponsors. The Democratic and Republican National Committees both select its leaders. The CPD literally excludes the 50% of voters who reject their parties.
This two-party cartel posing as a public service “commission” admitted in a 1987 press conference that independent candidates and alternative political parties should be excluded from the debates, and they create artificial barriers to exclude them.
For example, the CPD demands that candidates poll at 15% or higher to be included in the debates. This arbitrary number was put in place the year after third-party candidate Jesse Ventura won the governorship of Minnesota. Ventura was included in debates when he was at 10% in the polls, and his performance carried him to victory. To prevent a similar upset at the national level, the CPD quickly raised the bar to the arbitrary 15% requirement.
The former president of the League of Women Voters, one of the most respected nonpartisan organizations in the country, called the commission “a fraud on the American voter”.
The CPD also keeps the debates within a narrow set of issues determined by party bosses. In 2012, the presidential debates skipped over major issues including gay rights, the war on drugs, domestic surveillance, housing and abortion. Climate change, the greatest crisis facing humankind, wasn’t mentioned even once.
Again, the League of Women Voters said it best: “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 honest answers to tough questions. The League has no intention of becoming an accessory to the hoodwinking of the American public.”
Donald Trump was at a press conference with Jesse Ventura in 2000 and commented plainly about the CPD requirement that candidates poll at 15% to be allowed in the debates. “It’s disgraceful,” Trump replied. “It’s amazing that they can get away with it.”
The CPD is a thinly disguised scheme to protect the two establishment parties from competition, and perpetuates a political system controlled by the wealthy and big business interests.
I call on Donald Trump to follow the example of Ronald Reagan, who insisted that independent candidate John Anderson be included in the debates in 1980. When President Jimmy Carter refused, Reagan defended democracy by debating Anderson without Carter.
While running for president in 2008, Hillary Clinton said candidates “should be willing to debate anytime, anywhere”. Gary Johnson and I are ballot-qualified candidates and on enough ballots to win the presidency. The American people deserve to hear our perspectives. As the standard-bearer of the Democratic party, Clinton should reject an undemocratic process where partisan elites can shut out candidates with enough popular support to get on the ballot.
We can’t have democracy without a free exchange of ideas and an informed public. The presidential debates, watched by roughly 70 million people, are the most important way for voters to get information.
We should no longer allow this private corporation to decide who the American people can hear. We should not allow them to turn our public debates into a choreographed and carefully scripted farce that prevents honest discussion of the real issues our country faces. We need a truly independent Citizens Debate Commission to ensure that all candidates on enough ballots to win the presidency are included. A new independent debate commission should reflect the true diversity of the American public.
Greens are committed to creating new institutions for a more participatory democracy. A real debate commission would usher in a new era of debates that truly inform the voters and challenge the status quo.
Ajamu Baraka – my vice-presidential running mate on the Green Party ticket – and I have published an open letter to Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton urging them to participate in open debates including all four campaigns that have the potential to achieve 270 electoral college votes.
As de facto leaders of their parties, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton could be champions of democracy. Either (or both of them) could end the monopoly of the elitist Commission on Presidential Debates by demanding four-way debates in 2016.
The question is simple: will Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump stand for open debates and American democracy, or not?