Political debates look like formal official affairs. With all the fanfare and importance attached to them it would be easy to assume that they’re a certified, legal part of our election process. We don’t even think about who arranges political candidates’ debates.
Is it the media?
Is it the government?
Nope. Acually, it’s the candidates themselves who arrange the debates. There is no public authority responsible for these things at all.
It goes something like this. One of the candidates, the democrat say, announces in one of his media events that he hopes there will be an opportunity to speak about the real issues with his republican opponent in an open forum. He sounds very serious and confident about this and challenges his opponent to a debate.
But that certainly doesn’t guarantee one. What happens next is that the two campaigns negotiate the details of their meeting. Will it be a formal debate with point and rebuttal? (Answer: not likely!) What kinds of questions will be asked? Who will moderate? Will the media be allowed time for commentary or analysis? Will the candidates have to field questions from the audience? Who, exactly, will be allowed in that audience? In short, every possible scenario will be negotiated to ensure that the candidates can’t embarass themselves, and that nothing of substance will happen. Once the campaign managers have agreed what they’ll allow their candidates say, they can present it to the media as a take-it-or-leave-it affair. Follow our rules, or you don’t get to show the debate at all. The all-powerful, left leaning but biased to the right, corporate owned, media doesn’t have nearly as much say as the candidates imply.
One more point that’s all but certain: the Libertarian (or Green or independant for that matter) candidate will not be invited. Even though each of these candidates has jumped through all the necessary hoops to have her name legally on the ballot in her state or district, we won’t hear her views debated by the two main candidates. Even though she’s convinced the requisite number of citizens to sign petitions nominating her and she’s met all the legal requirements, no one is going to call.
Inviting alternative opinions to the debate is just another chance for the candidates to actually have to answer a real question or address a diferent topic and there is simply no motivation for either candidate to do this. It’s a lose-lose situation for them.
Is there anything we can do about this? A few, mostly ineffective ideas come to mind. For example, we could start by informing ourselves about all of the candidates. It’s easier these days, thanks to their websites. Then we can vote for whom we think best meets our principles and ideas, regardless of which party they are in and their chance of winning. It’s a novel idea, I know, but perhaps it will slowly send a message to the media that there is interest outside of the front runners and then, when these other parties come asking about debates the media might just start thinking they could sell some ad time by letting these folks speak.
It’s our party. We should be able to invite whoever we want!