Saturday, August 05, 2006

Democracy in America?

Last week I wrote about the New York Times's odd choice of a photograph to accompany a story about Jonathan Tasini, who is running for Senate against Hillary Clinton in New York. This week I find that New York cable news channel NY1 (a Time Warner property) has refused to allow Tasini to participate in a televised primary debate. Their reason? Tasini doesn't meet their criteria to participate in the debate: Tasini polled 13 percent recently, but his campaign has only raised $150,000. In contrast, a Democratic gubernatorial candidate who recently polled at only 9 percent—but who has raised/spent over $6 million—was included in a recent NY1 debate. As FAIR's alert notes,
As writer/activist Barbara Ehrenreich said at a Tasini campaign forum protesting the exclusion (Village Voice, 8/2/06), "When you have to have half a million dollars to tell people what you stand for, then we're not talking about democracy anymore, we're talking about plutocracy."

The League of Women Voters, which for many years served as the main sponsor of national and local debates, requires only that a candidate has met the legal standard for getting on the ballot—in this case, 15,000 signatures. Tasini received 40,000 signatures, placing him well over that mark.

Tasini is Clinton's only primary opponent and has been outspoken in his opposition to the Iraq War, which Clinton has consistently supported. By shutting Tasini out of the debate, NY1 is limiting the discussion of important viewpoints and ultimately limiting voter choice.

One cannot help but be reminded of the halcyon days of 2000, when Ralph Nader was not only forbidden to participate in the televised presidential debates but forbidden even to view one—despite the fact that he had a ticket—from "an alternative viewing site." Check out the Debate This! site for a brief on how the "bipartisan" Commission on Public Debates took over control of the presidential debates from the nonpartisan League of Women Voters in 1987.

Want a good laugh? Check out the CPD's mission statement (emphasis mine):

The Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD) was established in 1987 to ensure that debates, as a permanent part of every general election, provide the best possible information to viewers and listeners. Its primary purpose is to sponsor and produce debates for the United States presidential and vice presidential candidates and to undertake research and educational activities relating to the debates. The organization, which is a nonprofit, nonpartisan corporation, sponsored all the presidential debates in 1988, 1992, 1996, 2000, and 2004.
Then check out theirCandidate Selection Process:
The mission of the nonpartisan Commission on Presidential Debates (the "CPD") is to ensure, for the benefit of the American electorate, that general election debates are held every four years between the leading candidates for the offices of President and Vice President of the United States.
"Between the leading candidates"—by which we mean, of course, the ones who attract enough deep-pocketed supporters to buy enough advertising to float to the top of the money-driven primary process. Whether the allusion here is to cream or to scum is, I fear, a matter of perspective.
The goal of the CPD's debates is to afford the members of the public an opportunity to sharpen their views, in a focused debate format, of those candidates from among whom the next President and Vice President will be selected.
...a field which this very selection process magically helps to whittle down to two pairs from the two parties whose representatives run the organization which runs the debate.
In each of the last four elections, there were scores of declared candidates for the Presidency, excluding those seeking the nomination of one of the major parties. During the course of the campaign, the candidates are afforded many opportunities in a great variety of forums to advance their candidacies.
Yes, "opportunities" like being blocked from other televised debates because your campaign hasn't raised or blown through half a million dollars.
In order to most fully and fairly achieve the educational purposes of its debates, the CPD has developed nonpartisan, objective criteria upon which it will base its decisions regarding selection of the candidates to participate in its 2004 debates. The purpose of the criteria is to identify those candidates who have achieved a level of electoral support such that they realistically are considered to be among the principal rivals for the Presidency.
Any chance that a third-party candidate might "realistically" improve their "level of electoral support" by kicking corporate-friendly establishment candidates' asses in front of millions of Americans on national TV is, of course, practically ruled out by these "nonpartisan, objective criteria." Funny how that happens.
The CPD's third criterion requires that the candidate have a level of support of at least 15% (fifteen percent) of the national electorate as determined by five selected national public opinion polling organizations, using the average of those organizations' most recent publicly reported results at the time of the determination.
It's an arbitrary criterion that they basically pulled out of their corporate-funded asses, but hey, it keeps out the riffraff.

Sure, in the world's proudest, richest, most powerful "democracy," the two major political parties control the very debates through which underfunded upstarts might be able to challenge their stranglehold on power and for-profit media corporations double as gatekeepers who ensure that only candidates with deep enough pockets get to participate in televised debates, but remember: it's The Daily Show that makes kids cynical.

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