From the time American children enter school they are told they can be anything they want to be — even president of the United States. After all, America is the land of opportunity where all you need is a big dream and a little hard work.
In reality, only those allowed to participate have a shot at the United States’ presidency.
I’m not talking about the vast amounts of wealth, Harvard degree or friends in high places one needs to be eligible. While a certain pedigree and small family fortune (or, at the very least, wealthy donors) are necessary steps toward the Oval Office, the most insurmountable obstacle is that posed by the Commission on Presidential Debates.
The commission was created in 1987 to “ensure that debates, as a permanent part of every general election, provide the best possible information to viewers and listeners,” according to its website. But civil rights activist and lawyer Connie Rice says the CPD is far from being a public service.
“The CPD is under the total control of the Republican and Democratic parties and by definition bipartisan, not non-partisan,” Rice said.
In Rice’s Top 10 Secrets They Don’t Want You to Know About the Debates, she contends that the CPD purposefully shuts out third-party candidates.
“This is what I call the Obstruction of Democratic Debate Rule, which sets an impossibly high threshold for third-party candidates… Where are we, Russia? Isn’t Vladimir Putin wiping out democracy in Russia by excluding all opposing candidates from the airwaves during his re-election campaigns? Most new ideas come from third parties — they should be in the debates.”
Rice is not alone in her harsh criticism of the CPD. The League of Women Voters, which used to run the debates, withdrew its support in October 1988 because of the “campaign-controlled environment.”
“The League of Women Voters is withdrawing its sponsorship of the presidential debate scheduled for mid-October because the demands of the two campaign organizations would perpetrate a fraud on the American voter,” League President Nancy M. Neuman said in a press release. “The League has no intention of becoming an accessory to the hoodwinking of the American public.”
But hoodwinking is exactly what the CPD does.
According to the report, Deterring Democracy: How the Commission on Presidential Debates Undermines Democracy, the Democrat and Republican parties took over the presidential debates in 1986. The CPD was created by then chair of the Republican Party Frank Fahrenkopf and then chair of the Democratic Party Paul Kirk. Both Kirk and Fahrenkopf still reside as chairmen on the committee. The consequences of such partisan creation and control are devastating, according to the report:
“Candidates that voters want to see are often excluded, such as Ross Perot. Issues the American people want to hear about are often ignored, such as free trade and child poverty. And the debates have been reduced to a series of glorified bipartisan news conferences, in which the Republican and Democratic candidates exchange memorized sound bites.”
Even Walter Cronkite called CPD-sponsored debates an “unconscionable fraud.”
It’s disturbing that in a so-called democracy as America, such a dictatorial system exists. When it comes to selecting the most important person in the nation — and arguably the world — debates, and thus elections, are anything but democratic.