Last week, President Barack Obama and Governor Mitt Romney went head-to-head in the first presidential debate of the season. Anyone watching can attest that the entire broadcast was atrociously lacking in rhetoric and structure. One candidate went in circles around the other and the moderator. Repeat with second candidate. Repeat the cycle.
It’s like when Kanye West interrupted the VMA awards. If it were put on a 90 minute loop.
Even more disturbing was the fact that neither of the grown educated men running for a presidential term have mastered the basic literacy skill of taking information and putting it into a concise, two-minute summary. That’s a skill that I would like our Commander in Chief to have mastered.
On Thursday, we’ll get to watch the Republican and Democratic vice presidential candidates run the same circles, show the same disrespect and grossly overstep time limits in the same manner. I predict it will be an almost identical debate.
We need to make the debates more of a dialogue focusing on the various choices of what policies a person’s vote would result in, and less of an incoherent circus of meaningless chatter.
The debates should be a useful and influential tool in educating voters on candidate platforms. Instead the debates are a mess, and the one-on-one nature of these debates lies at the core.
I see one viable solution to this problem—open up the debates to include third-party candidates.
Of course, allowing any man who puts a boot on his head and declares himself to be a presidential candidate (I’m looking at you, Vermin Supreme) to join the debates is not the solution. There needs to be a bit of selectiveness to the process, while still being as fair and inclusive as possible.
It takes 270 of the 538 possible electoral votes to win the presidential election. Any candidate that is on enough state ballots to hypothetically win 270 electoral votes should be invited to join the debates.
For the 2012 election that would mean Republican Mitt Romney, Democrat Barack Obama, Libertarian Party candidate Gary Johnson (who has access to 515 electoral votes) and Green Party candidate Jill Stein (447). All four have a hypothetical shot at winning the presidency, and therefore should be allowed to inform the public about what they would do if put into the Oval Office.
Not only would this change make the debates less of a pissing contest between two people, but it would be more ethical and lawful of the CPD.
The Commission on Presidential Debates, or CPD, is a non-profit, non-partisan 501(c)(3) corporation. This earns them a tax-exemption status equal to that of churches and charitable organizations. The IRS website states that an organization of this status “may not attempt to influence legislation as a substantial part of its activities and it may not participate in any campaign activity for or against political candidates.”
By barring viable third parties from participating in the debates, the CPD is putting restrictions on which candidates voters get access to educating themselves about. Omitting information from the public is a form of influencing legislation. Allowing just the two major parties to debate is a form of advocating for those political candidates.
Of course, some deceitfully inclusive guidelines regarding who can debate do exist. In 2000, the CPD established a rule that any candidate had to poll at least 15 percent across five national polls in order to debate.
This is problematic because in order for the nation to say who they are voting for in the polls, they need to be educated about which candidates are running. Voter education is greatly influenced by the media. Media bias prevents information from reaching voters.
This media bias creates a nasty cycle of education gaps and preferential treatment to Republicans and Democrats, simply because they are bigger names.
This is not just.
The CPD should accommodate to be as unbiased as possible with the debates. Redefining the guidelines regarding who can debate will result in the debates becoming more poignant, ethical and dignified affairs. Both on stage and from a behind-the-scenes legal business practice perspective.
Anna Mitchell is a junior liberal arts major. Her columns appear Wednesdays in the Collegian. Letters and feedback can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.