PDA

View Full Version : Commission on Presidential Debates, service or disservice? [USA Election Side-Topic]



Synapse
October 5 2012, 12:11:27 PM
(I need to take a quick moment to acknowledge in shame that I was made aware of this by the Canadian media, as the US media has never mentioned it when I'm listening. I find it sad that I have to listen to the CBC to hear about the interesting workings of American politics, but that's not the thrust of this thread.)

I wanted to hear some discussion on whether people think the way the Commission on Presidential Debates organizes things is helpful or hindering to the democratic process here in the USA.

Some background...

1. The CPD was created in 1987 to run the USA presidential debates. Prior to that, debates were mostly run by the League of Women Voters, a non-partisan group. After the 1984 election, the league refused to sponsor more debates because of limits being placed on the debate content and format by campaigns:

"The League of Women Voters is withdrawing sponsorship of the presidential debates...because the demands of the two campaign organizations would perpetrate a fraud on the American voter. It has become clear to us that the candidates' organizations aim to add debates to their list of campaign-trail charades devoid of substance, spontaneity and answers to tough questions. The League has no intention of becoming an accessory to the hoodwinking of the American public."

2. The CBD has run every debate since then, including the 2012 debates.

3. It's co-presidents are Democrat Mike McCurry (telecommunications lobbyist), and Republican Frank J. Fahrenkopf (casino gaming lobbyiest)

4. In 2004, 93% of their funding came from only 6 companies, none of which were mentioned publicly. Anheuser Busch is prominently at the event, though.

5. The debate rules are organized by the candiate's party staff in advance in a signed Memorandum of Understanding, which is entirely secret. It frequently details which topics can be discussed, which can be rebutted, and who will be allowed into the audience to ask questions.

6. Until 2000, third party candidates were arbitrarily denied from joining the debates. After 2000 the requirement was set at 15% support across 5 national polls.

7. Because of this setup, the US presidential debates have the following features:
-All topics are known in advance
-All questions are prescreened
-(sometimes) rebuttals are not allowed
-Sponsors of the debates get direct access to the candidates and their staff.
-The rules of the debate and the sponsors are never made public, except once in 2004 when the rules were made public.
-Candidates are contractually obligated NOT to attend anyone else's debates.

==================

Ok thats enough facts. What do you think? Personally, I think its disengenuous at best, and outright lying to the american people at worst. It projects itself as an open debate, while actually it has more in common with a joint press conference and lobbying session, the rules of which are sealed. People approach the debates as an unscripted forum and therefore view what happens there as more trustworthy than commercials or news conferences. For example it would be reasonable to assume that Obama does not call Romney on what seems to be a blatant lie because Obama actually isn't sure it's a lie. The actual truth may be that Obama is contractually obligated not to reply.

An open debate is not written as a requirement for democracy but it is widely assumed to be a prerequisite. In the USA an open debate cannot be had.

I also frown on a campaign sponsored lobbiest shindig, but that concern pales in comparison to the first. Anyway fixing debate sponsorship wouldn't improve the lobbying situation in a meaningful way.

Synapse
October 5 2012, 12:24:38 PM
I fail at titles. Should be "Presidential" Thanks mods for fixing my title.

Smuggo
October 5 2012, 12:42:51 PM
Unfortunately, political "debate" of this type is often a bit of a stage show. In the UK we have Prime Minister's Questions once a week where opposition MPs slag off the Govt and the PM responds, or some fawning MP from the ruling party asks some crap question he knows the PM can answer to make the Govt look good. It's pre-screened though and largely just a bit of showmanship.

Last election we also had one with the three main party leaders on the BBC I think, but again it seemed pretty staged and the questions were obvious.

What I would say is, having a privately funded organisation running these, when they're seen as a major component of the political campaign process, is probably not a good idea and clearly there's transparency issues. I'd say that it would be better for the Govt to set up a Quango to organise these (or get your equivalent of the electoral commission to do it), but I know Americans can be a bit weird about the state doing things.

rojomojo915
October 5 2012, 01:25:23 PM
If you haven't seen the HBO movie Game Changer, you are in for a rude awakening as you can see just how much prep went into for Palin and how it was all just a giant charade. Unfortunately, that is the way it needs to be (even if I dont like it), because if it isn't, you will realize that the candidates know nothing and you are in reality electing their advisers to run the country.

Sacul
October 5 2012, 01:47:03 PM
Dog and Pony show.

If you see it as anything else.......

Synapse
October 5 2012, 11:13:08 PM
Dog and Pony show.

If you see it as anything else.......

I agree but then that doesn't advance the conversation much. What would you think of abolishing the debate entirely?

Aea
October 6 2012, 08:07:50 AM
I have no issue with this organization existing. True, debates are awful in these campaigns but if CPD ever disagrees with the candidates then they're side stepped. Seems simple enough to me.

Keorythe
October 6 2012, 04:51:03 PM
Never understood why they didn't have a real debate moderator there instead of some journalist.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Commission_on_Presidential_Debates

Some of the stuff there doesn't exactly correspond to what's in the OP. Topics weren't usually known or pre-screened and the advocacy groups made mention of that fact for the 2012 debates when stating that it had not been done since the 1988 debate.

Synapse
October 6 2012, 05:03:12 PM
Never understood why they didn't have a real debate moderator there instead of some journalist.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Commission_on_Presidential_Debates

Some of the stuff there doesn't exactly correspond to what's in the OP. Topics weren't usually known or pre-screened and the advocacy groups made mention of that fact for the 2012 debates when stating that it had not been done since the 1988 debate.

Aside from 2004, and maybe one other year, you can't know that. MOU is secret every year.

Victoria Steckersaurus
October 8 2012, 05:12:46 PM
When they made the rules public in 2004, there was some mild outrage at how pants-on-head retarded they were. They essentially spelled out in the rules that no actual debate was to take place. It was embarrassing. Since then, they've made sure to keep the rules under wraps to avoid exposing the sham.

Melichor
October 9 2012, 04:17:14 AM
Unfortunately if there was a real debate it wouldn't change a thing I fear. A candidate could come out on stage, flip off the camera and say "fuck you America" and he would probably still maintain most of their parties voter base because most American voters have no idea why they are voting for who they do...they just show up and vote according to what they were taught to vote for. Even though congress at the moment has I believe a less then 15% approval rating most if not all of the congressmen do not have to worry about losing their jobs...and it is a fucking shame.

ccpl_fisher
October 16 2012, 03:17:28 AM
Dog and Pony show.

If you see it as anything else.......

I agree but then that doesn't advance the conversation much. What would you think of abolishing the debate entirely?
I want Lincoln-Douglas style debates. not going to happen though :/

FourFiftyFour
October 16 2012, 03:28:55 AM
LD would be great.

Vortex
October 16 2012, 08:32:49 AM
LD would be great.

Fuck yea. Did that all four years in highschool, would love to see some proper, actual debates instead of the canned shit the GOP/Dem corporate coalition deigns us.

Nicho Void
October 16 2012, 03:33:10 PM
LD would be great.

Fuck yea. Did that all four years in highschool, would love to see some proper, actual debates instead of the canned shit the GOP/Dem corporate coalition deigns us.
But then the candidates would be required to discuss policy. We can't have that.

Synapse
October 17 2012, 07:49:22 PM
Here is a link to the full MOU leaked this year (also on time):
http://thepage.time.com/2012/10/15/the-2012-debates-memorandum-of-understanding-between-the-obama-and-romney-campaigns/
http://gawker.com/5951977/leaked-debate-agreement-shows-both-obama-and-romney-are-sniveling-cowards

Some good opinionating:
http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/oct/16/presidential-debate-issues

Then some choice quoting:
"The town hall debate we're going to see tonight is the most constrained and regulated town hall debate in presidential debate history. The first town hall debate was introduced in 1992, and no one knew what anyone was going to ask, none of the audience members were going to ask. The moderator could ask any follow-up questions. It was exciting, and it was real.

"Well, President George H.W. Bush stumbled in response to an oddly worded question about the federal deficit, and the candidates - the campaigns have panicked and have attempted to avoid that kind of situation from happening again. In 1996, they abolished follow-up questions from the audience.

"In 2004, they began requiring that every single question asked by the audience be submitted in advance on an index card to the moderator, who can then throw out the ones he or she does not like. And that's why the audience has essentially been reduced, in some ways, to props, because the moderator is still ultimately asking the questions.

"And this election cycle is the first time that the moderator herself is prohibited from asking follow-up questions, questions seeking clarification. She's essentially reduced to keeping time and being a lady with a microphone.

ccpl_fisher
October 18 2012, 01:24:47 AM
Here is a link to the full MOU leaked this year (also on time):
http://thepage.time.com/2012/10/15/the-2012-debates-memorandum-of-understanding-between-the-obama-and-romney-campaigns/
http://gawker.com/5951977/leaked-debate-agreement-shows-both-obama-and-romney-are-sniveling-cowards

Some good opinionating:
http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/oct/16/presidential-debate-issues

Then some choice quoting:
"The town hall debate we're going to see tonight is the most constrained and regulated town hall debate in presidential debate history. The first town hall debate was introduced in 1992, and no one knew what anyone was going to ask, none of the audience members were going to ask. The moderator could ask any follow-up questions. It was exciting, and it was real.

"Well, President George H.W. Bush stumbled in response to an oddly worded question about the federal deficit, and the candidates - the campaigns have panicked and have attempted to avoid that kind of situation from happening again. In 1996, they abolished follow-up questions from the audience.

"In 2004, they began requiring that every single question asked by the audience be submitted in advance on an index card to the moderator, who can then throw out the ones he or she does not like. And that's why the audience has essentially been reduced, in some ways, to props, because the moderator is still ultimately asking the questions.

"And this election cycle is the first time that the moderator herself is prohibited from asking follow-up questions, questions seeking clarification. She's essentially reduced to keeping time and being a lady with a microphone.
I actually think the moderator did the best job so far in this series of debates.

Synapse
October 18 2012, 09:56:11 PM
Here is a link to the full MOU leaked this year (also on time):
http://thepage.time.com/2012/10/15/the-2012-debates-memorandum-of-understanding-between-the-obama-and-romney-campaigns/
http://gawker.com/5951977/leaked-debate-agreement-shows-both-obama-and-romney-are-sniveling-cowards

Some good opinionating:
http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/oct/16/presidential-debate-issues

Then some choice quoting:
"The town hall debate we're going to see tonight is the most constrained and regulated town hall debate in presidential debate history. The first town hall debate was introduced in 1992, and no one knew what anyone was going to ask, none of the audience members were going to ask. The moderator could ask any follow-up questions. It was exciting, and it was real.

"Well, President George H.W. Bush stumbled in response to an oddly worded question about the federal deficit, and the candidates - the campaigns have panicked and have attempted to avoid that kind of situation from happening again. In 1996, they abolished follow-up questions from the audience.

"In 2004, they began requiring that every single question asked by the audience be submitted in advance on an index card to the moderator, who can then throw out the ones he or she does not like. And that's why the audience has essentially been reduced, in some ways, to props, because the moderator is still ultimately asking the questions.

"And this election cycle is the first time that the moderator herself is prohibited from asking follow-up questions, questions seeking clarification. She's essentially reduced to keeping time and being a lady with a microphone.
I actually think the moderator did the best job so far in this series of debates.

Not coincedentally, the moderator is the only person in the debate process NOT bound legally by the MOU.

Don Rumata
October 22 2012, 10:40:01 PM
Some background...

1. The CPD was created in 1987 to run the USA presidential debates.
[...]
4. In 2004, 93% of their funding came from only 6 companies, none of which were mentioned publicly. Anheuser Busch is prominently at the event, though.

Ah, finally it makes sense. When watching the first debate, I noticed eagle decoration on the background and thought it reminded me of something... It was a bloody Anheuser-Busch logo!

http://i.imgur.com/6ZSW5.jpg

LOL. American Democracy brought to you by Belgian-Brazilian conglomerate that makes Budweiser, Miller Lite and other equally shitty beer.

Can't wait for today's Foreign Policy debate. It will no doubt be sponsored by Northrop-Grumman and its full line of award-winning aircraft carriers and nuclear submarines.

Don Pellegrino
October 22 2012, 10:46:01 PM
The Commission on Presidential Debates ( who has run debates since 1988) sounds like a government agency, it sounds like a nonpartisan entity, which is by design, is intended to deceive the American people. But, in reality, it is a private corporation financed by Anheuser-Busch and other major companies, that was created by the Republican and Democratic parties to seize control of the presidential debates from The League of Women Voters in 1987. ... every four years, this commission allows the major party campaigns to meet behind closed doors and draft a secret contract, a memorandum of understanding that dictates many of the terms. The reason for the commission’s creation is that the previous sponsor, The League of Women voters, was a genuine non-partisan entity, our voice, the voice of the American people in the negotiation room, and time and time again, The League had the courage to stand up to the Republican and Democratic campaigns to insist on challenging creative formats, to insist on the inclusion of independent candidates that the vast majority of American people wanted to see, and most importantly, to insist on transparency, so that any attempts by the Republican and Democratic parties to manipulate the presidential debates would result in and of enormous political price....

The best part of the history starts in 1980. In 1980, John B. Anderson, an independent candidate for president, runs against Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan. President Jimmy Carter absolutely opposed independent candidate John Anderson’s participation in the presidential debates, and The League had a choice; do they support the independent candidate’s participation and defy the wishes of the President of the United States or do they capitulate to the demands of President Jimmy Carter? The league did the right thing, it stood to the President of the United States, invited John B. Anderson. The President refused to show up. The League went forward anyway and had a presidential debate that was watched by 55 million Americans. You fast forward four years later, Amy, and the Walter Mondale and Ronald Reagan campaigns vetoed 80 of the moderators that The League of Women Voters had proposed for the debates.

And The League didn’t just say, OK that’s fine we’ll allow you to select a moderator that’s going to ask softball questions, The League held a press conference and lambasted the campaigns for trying to get rid of the difficult questions. Of course there was a public outcry. So The League marshaled public support to criticize when they attempted to defy our democratic process and the result was fantastic. For the next debate, the campaigns were required to accept The League’s proposed moderators for fear of an additional public outcry. And you fast forward four more years later and you have the Michael Dukakis and the George Bush campaign’s drafting the first ever 12-page secret debate contract. They gave it to The League of Women Voters and said please implement this. The League said, are you kidding me? We are not going to implement a secret contract that dictates the terms of the format. Instead, they release the contract to the public and they held a press conference accusing the candidates of "perpetrating a fraud on the American people" and refusing to be "an accessory to the hoodwinking of the American people."

Well conveniently, just a year earlier, the Republican and Democratic parties had ratified an agreement "to take over the presidential debates, and they created this artifice, this commission, and the commission was waiting in the wings and stepped right in and implemented the very same 12-page contract that The League had so effectively denounced, and ever since we’ve had a contract.

The 12-page contract then said very specific provisions that the candidates cannot actually ask each other any questions during the debates, that no third party candidates would be permitted to participate in those events, that there would be a certain number of audience members that would be supportive of the various candidates. Actually, it is quite tame compared to the contracts we have seen in recent years. That contract was 12 pages. The 2004 contract that we’ve managed to obtain a a copy of, was 32 pages. So, over time, the candidates have made even greater efforts to control various components of the debates to eliminate both third party candidates, unpredictable questions, and any threat to their dominance in our political process.

... And that is why the debates are just political theater. The candidates know what will be said and have a contract with the moderator about what will not be asked.


TL;DR They won't ask any sensitive questions, let the debate get too intense or even let the debaters ask each other a question because the main point of it is to ensure that the system remains a duopoly. Easy questions, maximum advertisement, no substance, no controversy, both candidates must leave the debate looking good.