Something was dreadfully
wrong with the presidential McDebates of 2004. And it was something even more fundamentally flawed than these two uninspiring
presidential candidates. Even George Bush Sr. criticized the debate forum saying, “It’s too much show business
and too much prompting, too much artificiality, and not really debates.”
I thought back to the
Nixon-Kennedy debates in 1960. What a difference from then to now. The 1960 debates were a discourse elevated by reason, pragmatism
and adult sensibility. Both men were aggressive and articulate debaters; but maybe because people then felt more like participants
in the democratic process than spectators, the debates were awe inspiring in stature, resembling the Lincoln-Douglas debates
more than the Super Bowl or the Academy Awards.
Not surprisingly, the
McDebates of 2004 were proscribed by rules set forth by the Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD), a group financed by
big-moneyed lobbies, ensuring that apart from a few jabs about Iraq, very little would be discussed in depth. Nothing to embarrass
the candidates. No uncontrolled dialogue, the eruption of which might disturb the quiescence and apathy of the American public.
Moreover, CPD rules
say neither candidate can debate each other outside of the “official debate” for the rest of the campaign. The
CPD further mandates that the audience be pre-screened and “observe in
silence.” Two minutes to develop topics. And no rebuttals, follow-up questions, or candidate-to-candidate questions.
And rules governing third party candidates are so exclusionary that even Ross Perot, who received 19 million votes in 1992,
would not have qualified. Everything necessary, in other words, to produce a filtered, standardized and homogenized product.
No wonder the venerable Walter Cronkite called it an “unconscionable fraud.”
If I could dictate the guidelines for the debates. I would fill the audience with passionate students, working
people, farmers, small business owners and feisty elders. I would invite all candidates to participate, not just the “officially
designated” ones. Nobody would be informed ahead of time of the questions.
(Does anybody give you the questions before you go to a job interview?) There would be twelve debates and each would last
three hours. (the Weld-Kerry senatorial debates featured eight televised debates)
Of course this would stress the candidates, but it would give us a window on how they behave under pressure, and just as important,
who they really are under their “masks.”
All questions would
be on the table. Here’s just a few you might hear: First: the family farm- why did the government bail out banks in the 1990’s and refuse to help family farms or independent gas stations before they
went under? And why are tax advantages given to businesses who outsource to China,
but none for businesses who remain here? Maybe a few questions about the World Bank, or about our long-standing practice of
propping up anti-democratic regimes? And then there’s foreign aid. Why are 40 million people without health insurance
while we give away billions? How about the drugging of America’s children with over 5 million kids on anti depressants,
many of them forced to ingest these drugs by schools and the pharmaceutical-social work-psychiatry industry. And with 36 hours
of debate time, we can learn in depth what each candidate feels about the prison industry, gay marriage, social security,
immigration, Enron, multiculturalism, Zionism, NAFTA, globalism, affirmative action, Gulf War Illness, the use of uranium ammunition, Saudi Arabia- and more. We’d have a hell of a time. Everybody in the nation would
be tuned in. Oh yeah, I almost forgot: unlike the McDebates, nobody would be forced to remain silent. And to remove inhibitions,
beer, wine, and rum (in honor of the founding fathers) would be served to the audience- open bar. And because the founding
fathers knew that real democracy is hard and messy work, security would be provided; not to oversee and enforce silence, but
to break up fistfights when the audience’s passions overflow. Moderator for the debate would be Judge Judy.
The 2004 McDebates
were a scam. They show how far government has gotten from the “we the people,” who are going to awaken someday
and remember that the government as conceived by the founding fathers was to serve the people, not the other way around. Next
time, the CPD should do away with the embarrassing pretense of their McDebates and just cancel them altogether. Then the networks
can televise something more relevant and less pretentious, like reruns of the Three Stooges.
John Adams warned us
when he said, “Gentlemen, you have a republic-IF you can keep it.”