The Commission on Presidential Debates’ Exclusion of Vital Issues

The Poverty of the Debates

Below are cumulative mentions of specific words or phrases by either George W. Bush or Al Gore during their three  Commission on Presidential Debates events in 2000. Transcripts were obtained  immediately after the third debate from CNN.com

Middle Class
15
Working Class
0
Prosperity
16
Homeless(ness)
0
Poverty
1
Wealthiest
20
Poorest
1
Crime (street)
23
Crime (corporate or
white collar)
0
Prison (s)
0
WTO
0
NAFTA
0
Corporation(s)
0
Labor
1
“Free Trade”
0
Immigration
0
Population Growth
0
Transportation or Traffic
0
Slobodan Milosevic
17
Tax (es)
144
Social Security
67
Seniors
64
Teenagers
0
Medicare
58
Drug(s) (prescription)
60
Prevention (of illness / disease)
0
Drug War or
War on Drugs
0

The nationally televised presidential debates should address a broad range of national issues that most concern citizens–especially issues that the major party candidates typically ignore when left to their own devices. But under the control of the Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD), many of the greatest concerns of the American public are excluded from discussion entirely.

The exclusion of deserving independent or “third party” candidates has generated the greatest criticism of the CPD, but the narrow range of discussion and lifeless formats also are critical problems.

The inclusion of the two third-party candidates with major national constituencies (Pat Buchanan and Ralph Nader) in 2000 likely would have changed the results of this survey dramatically, but we should insist on an entity and structure that ensures broad and substantive debates, regardless of who is participating.

The stiflingly narrow range of discussion is a direct result of the “debates” being controlled by the CPD–a private institution owned and operated exclusively by prominent Democratic and Republican party operatives. The major party candidates are granted near-total control over format, moderators, and who is invited to participate.

This control includes formats devoid of direct dialogue between the candidates themselves or between citizens and candidates. Even the promising “town hall” format has been turned into a spontaneity-free imitation of real discourse by preventing any citizen from actually speaking. The questions are screened and read from a card by moderators like Jim Lehrer, who consistently has declined to confront the candidates with uncomfortable questions.

Even former President George Bush decried the vapidity of the CPD’s events, “It’s too much show business and too much prompting, too much artificiality, and not really debate,” said Bush. “They’re rehearsed appearances.”

See our overview of the presidential debates and the need for reform.