Friday, October 08, 2004


Yes, it's nice that Kerry's doing well; moreover, it's a great pleasure to see Bush make an ass out of himself to millions of people.

But the debates are for shit, and here's why:

The League of Women Voters faithfully served as a genuinely nonpartisan presidential debate sponsor from 1976 until 1984, courageously ensuring the inclusion of popular independent candidates and prohibiting major party campaigns from manipulating debate formats.

In 1980, the League invited independent candidate John B. Anderson to participate in a presidential debate, even though President Jimmy Carter adamantly refused to debate him.

Four years later, when the Ronald Reagan and Walter Mondale campaigns vetoed 68 proposed panelists in order to eliminate difficult questions, the League publicly lambasted the candidates for "totally abusing the process." The ensuing public outcry persuaded the candidates to accept the League's panelists for the next debate.

And in 1988, when the George Bush and Michael Dukakis campaigns drafted the first secret debate contract -- a "Memorandum of Understanding" that dictated who got to participate, who would ask the questions, even the heights of the podiums -- the League declined to implement it. Instead, the League issued a blistering press release, claiming that "the demands of the two campaign organizations would perpetrate a fraud on the American voter."

The major parties, however, did not want a sponsor that limited their candidates' control. Consequently, in 1986, the Democratic National Committee and the Republican National Committee ratified an agreement between Fahrenkopf and Kirk "for the parties to take over presidential debates." In 1987, Fahrenkopf and Kirk incorporated the CPD, and for the next 18 months, they served as co-chairmen of their parties and co-chairmen of the CPD simultaneously. Though it has been 17 years, Fahrenkopf and Kirk still co-chair the CPD.

Yes yes, do read the whole thing.

Though the debates are better this year precisely because there is noticeable difference between the candidates, it's no excuse to forget that the system, in this regard too, is broken and rigged in favour of the status quo. In effect, there is a sort of Kevin Drum-ification at work here, where the centripetal forces pull everyone to the wishy-washy, empty-headed, technocratic "center", which is to say, objectively to the right.