Election 2012

Open up the Debates!

Johnson's on the ballot in some 47 states, and he's registered more than 5 percent support in some national polls. But he's locked out of the debates.


Tomorrow night brings the first presidential debate, and with it, new debate drinking games. Politico and Vanity Fair already have some suggestions, as do the proprietors of debatedrinking.com.

"I drink to make other people interesting," proclaimed George Jean Nathan, H.L. Mencken's literary partner in crime. That sentiment helps explain why self-medication has become almost essential to these exercises in American civic life.

So stock up on the hard stuff: The "zinger" shootout tomorrow in Denver promises to be the same old stale, stage-managed affair. That's the way the Demopublican duopoly wants it, and the Commission on Presidential Debates—the gatekeeper corporation set up by the two major parties in 1986—makes sure the duopoly gets its way.

For tomorrow, the CPD has settled on the same fellow who moderated the first debate in 2008, PBS' Jim Lehrer. Lehrer inadvertently provided one interesting moment last time, when he asked the candidates: "Are you willing to acknowledge, both of you, that this financial crisis is going to affect the way you rule the countryas president of the United States?"

That was a cringe-worthy way to describe a constitutional officer for a free republic, yet very few people cringed. Neither Sen. McCain nor Sen. Obama objected to the idea that it's the president's job to "rule the country."

After all, by October 2008, it had become clear that whoever won would, as Yale Law professor Jack Balkin observed, "inherit more constitutional and legal power than any president in U.S. history." President Obama would go on to expand those powers still further, with a secret—but apparently expansive—interpretation of the Patriot Act and targeted killing of American citizens, among other innovations.

Gov. Romney doesn't present much of a contrast to Obama on the foundational issue of whether it's the president's job to "rule the country." Libertarian Party candidate Gary Johnson, a former two-term governor of New Mexico, does. He's against targeted killing of Americans, he supports repeal of the Patriot Act and an end to the War on Drugs.

Johnson's on the ballot in some 47 states, and he's registered more than 5 percent support in a couple of national polls. But he's locked out of the debates.

It's "a rigged system designed entirely to protect and perpetuate the two-party duopoly," charges Johnson lieutenant Ron Nielson. Nielson is biased, of course, but he's not wrong. The major party organizations created the CPD—its first co-chairs were the chairmen of the Republican and Democratic parties—in order to seize control of the debates from the independent League of Women Voters. The scam worked: The League pulled out in 1988, decrying "a fraud on the American voter."

The CPD set an enormously high bar to third-party participation, and its nominal independence protected the major parties from a public backlash. "We were able to hide behind the commission," and exclude Ross Perot from the 1996 debates, Scott Reed, Dole's campaign manager commented.

The Johnson campaign filed suit against the CPD two weeks ago. Irony of ironies, its claim invokes the Sherman Antitrust Act. Gov. Johnson's antitrust suit hasn't got a prayer, but he does have a point.

Why shouldn't the American people get at least one debate that includes third-party candidates? We needn't include the "Rent Is Too Damn High" guy—though that would be interesting—but why not make room for third parties with sufficient ballot access to have a chance at winning? (Jill Stein of the Green Party would also qualify, by that criteria).

Public pressure—which has cost the CPD three sponsors in recent weeks—may work where litigation fails. Make it interesting for once—it would be healthier for our democracy and for our livers.

This column originally appeared in the Washington Examiner. 

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  1. “… it would be healthier for our democracy and for our livers.”

    I don’t mean to sound like an asshole, but I must mention again that the United States aren’t a democracy — they’re a republic. That distinction is paramount and unequivocally vital.

    And the only way Johnson gets a podium at the debates is if sheep start shitting rubies and Dianne Feinstein loses an election — it ain’t gonna happen.

    1. the United States aren’t a democracy — they’re a republic

      ^^^this times a thousand million +1. I am so sick and tired of reading people argue about “defending our democracy” in this country when they don’t realize that WE AREN’T A FARKING DEMOCRACY.

      I will say to your other point that if they can do it for Perot they could do it for another third party candidate, but neither GJ or any other third party has come close to breaking 10% in any poll, thus no one cares enough to make it happen as it did for Perot.

  2. the way you rule the country as president of the United States

    Nice. Of course, this is exactly what a lot of Americans apparently believe; we are electing a monarch with absolute control over the economy and society.

    1. Yeah. It’s hellishly retarded. We’re supposed to be electing a shepherd for the government’s enumerated functions, not a Caesar.

      1. They’re shepherds, all right – just don’t ask who the sheep are. Baa.

        1. Seriously, people don’t seem to know who the President of the United States is supposed to be. This isn’t the fucking Tzardom of Russia, for fuck’s sake, and we’re not meant to be electing a tzar.


    Sounds so final.

  4. Just to beat my favorite horse – when John Stossel had the equivalent of a third-party debate, he had Obama and McCain look-alikes on the panel without the right to speak or question anyone – probably intended as an ironic reversal of the way they treat 3rd parties.

    But what if the stand-ins take a more active role? They could be celebrity supporters of a major-party candidate, or computer avatars programmed to repeat campaign speeches relevant to the point being debated, etc.

    Be sure to say, before the debate, “we invited the major-party candidates, but they wouldn’t come, so we’re using these celebrities/avatars instead.”

    1. How about holograms? If they could being back Tupac as a hologram I don’t see why it wouldn’t be possible to have holograms of Obamney and Rombama with pre canned selections of various speeches describing, accurately, their positions.

      1. The better the gimmick, the more viewers.

  5. Bread and circuses.

  6. I refuse to watch the debates even to make fun of them.

    I can give you the executive summary right now.

    Romney: Obama is destroying this country, we need a new vision! (which I won’t detail at this time)

    Obama: Romney is a 1% banker!

  7. Probably the only sponsors left that would consider dropping their support of the CPB in 2012 are a Belgian (shitty) beer company and a discount airline. The rest are a bottled water lobbyist, a couple lawyers, a Chicago philanthropist, and a white man’s burden foundation.

    Anheuser-Busch Companies
    The Howard G. Buffet Foundation
    Sheldon S. Cohen, Esq.
    Crowell Moring LLP
    International Bottled Water Association (IBWA)
    The Kovler Fund
    Southwest Airlines

    1. “Anheuser-Busch Companies”

      Do enough people here drink that company’s products to make a boycott threat credible?

      1. All the non-craft drinkers here consume orphan tears which is MillerSAB, so no.

        1. Bah, Coors is the only one that has been responsibly union busting since the 70s. Then again, I’m not sure how it all works out after they got bought by Molson to for Molson Coors which then merged with SABMiller to form MillerCoors in the US.

          But that’s why when I can’t drink good beer or liquor, I drink Coors products.

    2. Southwest Airlines….how could you, these two candidates both would love to see the legacy airlines stomp you to death!!!

  8. I also have a problem with the moderators. Why always Jim Lehrer? He comes up from state sponsored government media. I think we need to see Bill O Reilly, Sean Hannity, John Stossel.

    1. Greg Gutfeld.

        1. Simon Cowell

          1. Kanye West

  9. Here’s what Johnson should do:

    Have a live video stream of himself answering the questions as the candidates are asked. He will have a feed of the debate that just cuts off before Obummers or Mittens answers. Since he is filming it live, replay value will exist, because he won’t have time to manufacture answers. People dissatisfied with the debate can be turned on to the Johnson alternative. This would be a way for him to not only ‘participate’ in the debate, but also to raise awareness of the lockout.

  10. First question of the night:

    “Mr. President, how difficult is it being so awesome?”

  11. As economist Professor Thomas Sowell said:

    “One of the common failings among honorable people is a failure to appreciate how thoroughly dishonorable some other people can be, and how dangerous it is to trust them.”

    Cris Baker

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