A Bunch of Nobodies

Did you see the debate last night? Who do you think won? Obama? McCain? I can’t tell you who won the debate last night, but I can tell you who didn’t: Charles Jay, Ron Paul, Charles Baldwin, Alan Keys, Gloria LaRiva, Gene Amondson, Ted Weill, Bob Barr, Brian Moore, Roger Calero, Jonathan Allen, Ralph Nader , Jeffery Boss, Richard Duncan, Bradford Lyttle, Frank McEnulty, Cynthia Ann McKinney, and Thomas Stevens .

Who are these people? They are all candidates for President of the United States of America. Several, including Barr, Nader, and McKinney will appear on ballots across the nation on Election Day. However, none of them were invited to speak at any of the debates, and now none stands a chance of victory.

It is a curious phenomenon that the American people settle for two choices every election cycle. Sure we vet out the various democratic and republican candidates during the primaries- but what about third party and independent candidates? Is it really possible that the collective views of hundreds of millions of Americans are neatly summed up by two men, year after year, decade after decade? I would venture a guess that the answer is no. I would also venture a guess that this might have something to do with our nation being polarized…

Across the world other nations have recognized this reality, and have adjusted their political process accordingly. A quick summary of some of the world’s leading nations, and how many parties are represented in their government: Canada- 4; France- 9; Japan- 7, Germany- 6, India- 40+. It would be a hard sell to convince me that these countries are employing some sort of backwards system that wouldn’t work in the real world.

Actually, I would beg to differ & would go so far as to suggest that several of these nations have done a better job running their economy and political affairs than we have over the past 8 years. Further, when the World Health Organization ranks us 36th of all nations in terms of meeting the needs of its citizens, it might be a hint that we need to start thinking outside of the box.

So how has this curious system come to pass in the United States? After all, in the past there have been numerous political parties in America such as the Green Party, Constitution Party, Libertarian Party, Boston Tea Party, & Socialist Party. If I were cynical, I would tell you the system was rigged.

So here goes: the system is rigged.

Every election since 1988 has been hosted by the non-profit Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD). This sounds pretty innocuous until you learn that the Commission is run by a former head of the Republican National Committee (Frank Fahrenkopf) & a former head of the Democratic National Committee (Paul Kirk). These were the two guys you saw at the pre-debate introductions last night.

Every election cycle, the CPD negotiates a “memorandum of understanding” with the major candidates over who gets to participate in the debate, among other things. Surprisingly, independent contenders usually do not make the short list. The most recent exception- Ross Perot, was only allowed into the 92’ debate because the other candidates agreed to let him participate. Now, it is true that the CPD has only been in existence since 1987- so does that mean 3rd parties were part of the scene before the CPD took over? In a nutshell, yes.

Prior to the CPD, the non-partisan League of Women Voters hosted the debates, and in 1980, when independent candidate John Anderson wanted to participate in the debate, the league allowed him to participate over Jimmy Carter’s objections and eventual boycott. This willingness to do what is right, and not bend to the wishes of the two major political parties was lost when the League refused to continue to sponsor the debates after learning that these “memorandums of understanding” were being created.

So what do we do about the fact that the American people are forced year after year, to buy into a political establishment run by two major parties who are content to fight over congressional and executive seats?

I’m not sure. In the word of Eugene Debs:

“I do not want you to follow me or anyone else; if you are looking for a Moses to lead you out of this capitalist wilderness, you will stay right where you are. I would not lead you into the promised land if I could, because if I led you in, some one else would lead you out. You must use your heads as well as your hands, and get yourself out of your present condition”

I would suggest however, that you educate yourself on this topic if it matters to you. Try some of the following links:

Democracy Now

Open Elections

Presidential Candidates

Commission on Presidential Debates

Knowledge is the first step towards achieving change. Martin Luther King put it best when he said: “In any nonviolent campaign there are four basic steps: collection of the facts to determine whether injustices exist; negotiation; self-purification; and direct action”.

I would submit to you, by reading this article and the attached links, you have begun step one.