Amer­ica doesn’t have pres­i­den­tial de­bates, but it should

The Dundalk Eagle - - BY PEOPLE THE - By THOMAS L. KNAPP

On Au­gust 6, the Com­mis­sion on Pres­i­den­tial De­bates de­nied US pres­i­dent Donald Trump’s re­quest to in­crease the num­ber of de­bates be­tween him­self and Demo­cratic nom­i­nee Joe Bi­den from three to four.

Trump’s case: The ex­pan­sion of vot­ing by mail means that many bal­lots will have been cast be­fore the first sched­uled fake de­bate on Septem­ber 29.

The CPD’s re­sponse: “[T]he de­bate sched­ule has been and will be highly pub­li­cized. Any voter who wishes to watch one or more de­bates be­fore vot­ing will be well aware of that op­por­tu­nity.”

In re­al­ity, the num­ber of CPD pres­i­den­tial de­bates will, as usual, come to a grand to­tal of zero. The pur­pose of CPD since its for­ma­tion in 1987 has been to, as League of Women Vot­ers pres­i­dent Nancy M. Neu­man noted at the time, “steal the de­bates from the Amer­i­can vot­ers.”

The events put on by CPD are not “de­bates.” De­bates in­volve for­mal ar­gu­ments over ques­tions of sub­stance. CPD events are the­atri­cal pro­duc­tions — sideby-side can­di­date com­mer­cials, fi­nanced by mil­lions of dol­lars in ar­guably il­le­gal cam­paign con­tri­bu­tions from cor­po­rate spon­sors.

You al­most cer­tainly won’t see the Con­sti­tu­tion Party’s Don Blanken­ship, Green Party nom­i­nee Howie Hawkins, or Lib­er­tar­ian pres­i­den­tial can­di­date Jo Jor­gensen on the CPD “de­bate” stage this year. These two-con­tes­tant, two-win­ner beauty pageants are run by the two “ma­jor” par­ties, and since 1992 (when in­de­pen­dent can­di­date Ross Perot got onto the stage and took 19% of the vote) have been specif­i­cally de­signed to ex­clude third party and in­de­pen­dent can­di­dates.

Go­ing into the CPD “de­bates,” Donald Trump’s goal will be to make Joe Bi­den look se­nile, and Joe Bi­den’s goal will be to make Donald Trump look stupid. They’ll both al­most cer­tainly suc­ceed.

When the events end, most view­ers prob­a­bly won’t know any more than they did be­fore about where those two can­di­dates stand on the im­por­tant is­sues. For the can­di­dates, the CPD, and the “ma­jor” par­ties, that’s a fea­ture, not a bug. If vot­ers un­der­stood how sim­i­lar the two “ma­jor” par­ties and their can­di­dates are on ac­tual pol­icy, they might start tak­ing a harder look at those third party and in­de­pen­dent can­di­dates.

Every four years, those other can­di­dates spend a good deal of time and money try­ing to get over the CPD’s bar, a bar they know will be ma­nip­u­lated or sim­ply raised if that starts to look like a pos­si­bil­ity.

We won’t get real de­bates un­til vot­ers start boy­cotting the par­ties and can­di­dates who refuse to have them.

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