Thursday, February 12, 2004

Debates Should be Open
A number of former presidential candidates for the Reform, Green, and Constitution Parties filed a lawsuit today asking that third party candidates be included in future presidential debates. The lawsuit claims that the current Commission on Presidential Debates, which is funded largely by corporations, is acting in partisan fashion by only inviting the two leading candidates. Details can be found here in the Boston Globe.

In general, debates should be a larger part of our campaigns and paid ads should be a smaller part. Debates force candidates to at least somewhat address the issues that their opponents, media moderators, or even audience members are concerned about. They provide a low cost way for voters to learn about candidates, in a forum where big money holds little use. The inclusion of Ross Perot in the 1996 debates raised significant issues such as the budget deficit that the leading two candidates were ignoring. Perot's strong showing, as well as the victory of third party candidates like Jesse Ventura after inclusion in debates, indicates that the public will support some minor parties when they are given a chance to make their cases. The current Commission policy is to require candidates to achieve 15% support in the polls before inclusion in the debates. This puts the cart before the horse. Candidates should be included in debates first, to give voters a chance to see what they are all about. Then, it might make sense to eventually narrow the field in future debates. Maybe Fox TV has the right approach with their American Idol show, where viewers eliminate candidates at every show until just two finalists remain. But at least auditions are open so everyone has a chance to get their foot in the door.

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