In 1987 the Democrat and Republican parties decided to join forces to create a joint entity to oversee presidential debates. Since 1976 the League of Women Voters, a non-partisan organization, had accepted the challenge to run the debate series so that the public would be able to witness actual debate between candidates. What the parties’ decision would obviously lead to is the exclusion of any candidate who is outside of the two parties and the end of actual debating.
In a letter to the editor in the New York Times dated March 11, 1987, Lenore Chester, then-president of the New York League, stated that the debates should not be controlled by the two major parties because they will stifle debate and then goes on to list reasons why her organization has had trouble with candidates from both parties. The debate set for March 2, 1988, was cancelled because a few of the candidates did not want to participate, which was probably a party tactic. In October of that same year the League ended its relationship with the debates. Today we have the Commission on Presidential Debates that was formed in 1987. The commission’s website states that it was created to “provide the best possible information to viewers and listeners” and that it is also nonpartisan.
I do not believe this for a second. I highly doubt that an organization created the same year as both parties’ decision to end their relationship with the League is nonpartisan. What we have now is an organization that works in concert with both major parties to eliminate debate and squash the attempt of any other party candidate to join, which is what happened this year with Ralph Nader. There is no actual debate. It is merely a question, answer and short rebuttal session. The revelation of the secret contract between each party for this series of debates does not make me feel any more inclusive in the political process of this nation.
I do not feel that there is any reason to actually watch or listen to these sound bite sessions. In no way will each candidate be spontaneous or say anything that was not driven into their heads by their coaches and speechwriters. I would like to have a moderator and all of the candidates answering questions the moderator wrote without informing anyone and the allowance of ample time for rebuttal instead of a quick 30 seconds. The debates are a farce and only push the public farther away from an inclusive experience.
Vontilla Steven can be contacted at