Wednesday, August 18, 2004
History of the presidential debatesI wanted to cover a little of the more recent history of presidential debates, and how the Commission on Presidential Debates came to be. Just so everyone can understand what we are up against and at risk of sounding overly self-important, or too melodramatic, how crucial the effort to open debates is to democracy.
Since the dawning of the TV age, starting with the infamous Nixon-Kennedy debates in 1960 the debates were sponsored by the major TV networks ABC, CBS and NBC. Beginning in 1976 the presidential debates were organized by the League of Women Voters (LWV), who also conducted the debates in 1980 and again in 1984. While the LWV claimed to be non-partisan they did take a public stand on issues important to them and rated candidates according to their support of the LWV's positions. This created a less than perfect situation since they were biased for or against the candidates the were presenting. In 1987 the writing was on the wall for the LWV's sponsorship as the Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD) was created by republican and democrat henchmen. A tersely worded October, 1988 press release by the LWV says it all:
"The League of Women Voters is withdrawing its sponsorship of the presidential debates . . . because the demands of the two campaign organizations would perpetrate a fraud on the American voter. It has become clear to us that the candidates' organizations aim to add debates to their list of campaign-trail charades devoid of substance, spontaneity and answers to tough questions. The League has no intention of becoming an accessory to the hoodwinking of the American public."
What the LWV was alluding with their claim of "hoodwinking" is the fact that while the CPD claims to be non-partisan it was co-chaired by Frank J. Fahrenkopf, Jr. and Paul G. Kirk, Jr. The head of the Republican National Committee and the head of the Democrat National Committee, respectively, at the time of the CPD's creation. These two gentlemen co-chair the CPD, and remain active in their parties politics to this day. The remaining members of the CPD's board of directors reads like a who's who of party politicians and political insiders.
In interviews that are quite telling of the co-chairs intents Mr. Fahrenkopf once stated the CPD "was not likely to look with favor on including third party candidates in the debates" and Mr. Kirk went even further admitting he "personally believed the panel should exclude third party candidates from the debates."
There you have it utter contempt not just for those with hopes of getting our third party candidates in the debates, but contempt for democracy and the entire political process. Please join us in this effort. Only through the action and voices of many will we restore honesty and openness to the presidential debates.
Thank you to FreezerBox, I lifted the LWV quote from their page at http://www.freezerbox.com/archive/2000/11/cpd/ . And thanks to Open Debates, the quotes from Mr. Fahrenkopf and Mr. Kirk, and many more can be found at http://opendebates.org .
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