Cultural Psychology

Archive for August 2008

The Commission on Presidential Debates: A National Scandal

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The Commission on Presidential Debates: A National Scandal

Following up on a previous post, I did a little research on the mysterious Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD), which organizes the televised presidential debates.

The sordid details of this Commission supply the most tangible, unequivocal evidence imaginable that the Republican and Democratic parties are a duopoly, collaborating to control the government and to preserve the status quo. The details are also a tragic testimony to how easily the American public is duped. As this blog hopefully shows, I try to stay politically aware; but until a few days ago I, like most people, naively assumed that the debates are being responsibly run. It seems rather clear that they aren’t.

The History

For many years, the famous League of Women Voters (LWV) ran the presidential debates. They saw themselves as citizens, and the candidates as ‘guests’ — that is, citizens controlled the debates, and the candidates took their directions from citizens. By 1988, the Republican and Democratic parties began to collude in advance, drafting “memoranda of understanding” agreeing with each other on the format and content of the debates. They then tried to dictate format and groundrules to the LWV. At that point the LWV withdrew, stating indignantly, “the League has no intention of becoming an accessory to the hoodwinking of the American public.”

So, in their place, the Committee on Presidential Debates was formed — a private and ostensibly nonpartisan nonprofit organization, but actually under the direct influence of the Republican and Democratic Parties. Since then the debates have existed for the sole purpose of consolidating the joint Republican/Democratic monopoly on American government.

You might say, “Wait, wasn’t Ross Perot in the 1992 debates?” Yes he was. That’s because both Clinton and Dole agreed to let him participate. Basically, both major parties saw it to their advantage: each expected Perot to divert more votes from the other major party.

But in 1996 this same Ross Perot was excluded from the debate, despite (1) having roughly the same level of pre-debate public support he had in 1992, and (2) having gained 19% of the popular vote in 1992. Until 2000 there were no objective criteria for inclusion — it was decided by the CPD and their advisers. They weren’t accountable to anyone except the Republican and Democratic parties.

This is all spelled out clearly in a revealing 26-page report, Deterring Democracy: How The Commission On Presidential Debates Undermines Democracy, written jointly by several citizen advocacy groups. I can’t improve on what the reports says and simply refer readers to it. I especially recommend the sections, Candidate Exclusion, and Corporate Sponsorship.


A look at the leadership of the CPD, as shown as their website, leaves little doubt about their control by the Republican and Democratic parties:

Here are their co-chairmen:

  • Frank J. Fahrenkopf, Jr. (former chair, Republican National Committee; gambling lobbyist;president, American Gaming Association; directs enormous contributions to Republican and Democratic parties)
  • Paul G. Kirk, Jr.(former chairman, Democratic National Committee)

Here are the ‘Honorary Chairmen’:

  • Gerald R. Ford (deceased)
  • Jimmy Carter
  • Ronald Reagan (deceased)
  • William J. Clinton

Here is the Board of Directors:

  • Howard Buffett: son of Warren Buffett (corporate investor and world’s richest man)
  • John C. Danforth: former Republican senator; grandson of William Danforth, Ralston-Purina founder
  • Antonia Hernandez: Democrat; “Her tenure with MALDEF [Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund] has been marked by controversy…”; narrowly escaped termination from MALDEF based on questions of leadership and administrative capabilities
  • Michael D. McCurry: former press secretary/White House spokesman for Bill Clinton
  • Newton N. Minow: veteran Democrat; former FCC head
  • Dorothy Ridings: former president and chief executive officer of the Council on Foundations
  • Alan K. Simpson: Republican; former US Senator
  • H. Patrick Swygert: Former university president; Fannie Mae board of directors

Corporate Sponsorship

The CPD is funded by corporate sponsors. An interesting trick: the Republicans and Democrats collude to form a non-profit, non-partisan organization for ‘public education’. Corporations can contribute as much as they want to this entity, freed from the usual concerns of limits on political campaign contributions.

Current or former corporate sponsors include: Anheuser-Busch ($550,000 in 2000), Philip Morris ($250,000 in 1992), AT&T, Prudential, IBM, Ford, General Motors.

For more information, why not visit Basically this is a citizen-run group that would like to give back to citizens control of the debates. If the cloud here has a silver lining, it’s that there are still honest Americans like those at Open Debates trying to get the country back on track. You aren’t alone.

2012 Update

For more details and an excellent presentation overall, see this Democracy Now interview with George Farah, Director of Open Debates.

Written by John Uebersax

August 20, 2008 at 7:03 pm

Open the Presidential Debates to Third Parties!

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Open the Presidential Debates to Third Parties!

A recent Zogby poll showed that most American voters would like to see the Libertarian party presidential candidate, Bob Barr, participate in the presidential debates.

However, the Commission on Presidential Debates refuses to allow this. They require that a candidate meet two inclusion criteria:  (1) that their name appears on enough state ballots to grant a “mathematical chance” (i.e., a non-zero probability) of winning the election, and (2) that polls show that at least 15% of voters support the candidate.

As of this writing Bob Barr is already on 38 state ballots — including California, Florida, Illinois, and Texas — and he is likely to ultimately be on 48 state ballots.  Thus the first criterion above is met.  However, he only has a 6% endorsement rate in national polls; on that basis he is excluded from the debates.

The Commission on Presidential Debates fails to appreciate the circularity of their reasoning.  By excluding third parties from the debates, nobody learns about these parties, and therefore nobody supports them.  American is force-fed a diet of ‘Republicrat’ propoganda.  We continue to be presented with a narrow choice between the two major parties, which are basically clones of each other. This is something Americans should be angry about.

American needs fundamental change.  There are solutions — but these must entail bold, courageous, and innovative ideas.  Those will not come from the Republican or Democrat parties, which both reflect the vested power interests that have produced the problems America faces.

Whom you vote for is up to you to decide.  I wouldn’t try to influence your vote even if I could.  But I will supply a link to the Libertarian party platform, and, for that matter, to Ralph Nader’s too.  Please take a minute to look at these — just to see that there are good ideas out there.  People need to see how badly the Democrat and Republican parties are shortchanging us.

The two major parties, the media, and, to a large extent the academic community are colluding to perpetuate a fantasy world of wrong ideas and stupid ways of looking at things.  There’s no reason why the problems we face can’t be solved.  Your common sense tells you that.  Trust your common sense, and extricate yourself from the tissue of lies the major parties and the media present.

And if you haven’t already seen it, here is my article:  Why Vote Third Party?

Written by John Uebersax

August 19, 2008 at 5:54 pm