Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Open up the Debates!

Tomorrow night brings the first presidential debate, and with it, new debate drinking games. Politico and Vanity Fair already have some suggestions, as do the proprietors of

“I drink to make other people interesting,” proclaimed George Jean Nathan, H.L. Mencken’s literary partner in crime. That sentiment helps explain why self-medication has become almost essential to these exercises in American civic life.

So stock up on the hard stuff: The “zinger” shootout tomorrow in Denver promises to be the same old stale, stage-managed affair. That’s the way the Demopublican duopoly wants it, and the Commission on Presidential Debates — the gatekeeper corporation set up by the two major parties in 1986 — makes sure the duopoly gets its way.

For tomorrow, the CPD has settled on the same fellow who moderated the first debate in 2008, PBS’ Jim Lehrer. Lehrer inadvertently provided one interesting moment last time, when he asked the candidates: “Are you willing to acknowledge, both of you, that this financial crisis is going to affect the way you rule the countryas president of the United States?”

That was a cringe-worthy way to describe a constitutional officer for a free republic, yet very few people cringed. Neither Sen. McCain nor Sen. Obama objected to the idea that it’s the president’s job to “rule the country.”

After all, by October 2008, it had become clear that whoever won would, as Yale Law professor Jack Balkin observed, “inherit more constitutional and legal power than any president in U.S. history.” President Obama would go on to expand those powers still further, with a secret — but apparently expansive — interpretation of the Patriot Act and targeted killing of American citizens, among other innovations.

Gov. Romney doesn’t present much of a contrast to Obama on the foundational issue of whether it’s the president’s job to “rule the country.” Libertarian Party candidate Gary Johnson, a former two-term governor of New Mexico, does. He’s against targeted killing of Americans, he supports repeal of the Patriot Act and an end to the War on Drugs.

Johnson’s on the ballot in some 47 states, and he’s registered more than 5 percent support in a couple of national polls. But he’s locked out of the debates.

It’s “a rigged system designed entirely to protect and perpetuate the two-party duopoly,” charges Johnson lieutenant Ron Nielson. Nielson is biased, of course, but he’s not wrong. The major party organizations created the CPD — its first co-chairs were the chairmen of the Republican and Democratic parties — in order to seize control of the debates from the independent League of Women Voters. The scam worked: The League pulled out in 1988, decrying “a fraud on the American voter.”

Full article: … /open-up-the-debates

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