Let 'Em in the Debates!

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Ralph Nader answers questions at a news conference in Wisconsin

After weeks of watching the painful cat-and-RAT (seems more appropriate than "mouse") game between Bush and Gore, the two finally agreed on the conditions of the debates on Oct. 3, 11 and 17. The Commission on Presidential Debates requires any candidate to carry at least a 15 percent rating in the public opinion polls in order to participate. This is unfair to American citizens as well as to the candidates for the following reasons:

    1. Public opinion polls serve private interests, paid for by corporate advertisers and media corporations. In fact, the commission itself is funded by companies like Anheuser-Busch and AT&T. With the debates so corporately controlled, the true democratic process hasn't a chance. But attention, debate sponsors: Debates involving candidates outside the two major parties earn significantly higher ratings than debates between the two major candidates.

    2. Voters in nearly every state will see at least four choices on their ballots, not two. To gain ballot status in most states, a candidate must be placed on the ballot by petitioning thousands of state voters. The process alone should be enough to earn a candidate the right to participate in the debates.

    3. A party's candidate has to get only 5 percent of the popular vote in a national election to receive matching Federal funds. Why is the debate criterion triple the 5 percent required to earn matching funds?

    4. The 15 percent requirement is based on faulty reasoning. Media polls will show two major candidates getting the majority of the poll points, while the media will only cover those two choices. It is a self-perpetuating cycle. Poll percentages are a better measure of how well the media is informing the public than of whom the public would vote for when presented with all the information.

If either major candidate were worth having in office, they would show their appreciation for our great democracy by giving voters every fair chance to weigh their choices. If they are the best choice, they will not be threatened by minor candidate's participation... and in the shadow of the current duopoly, every other party IS minor!

The fact that candidates like Nader and Buchanan have emerged indicates a shift in political attitudes yet unrecognized by either major candidate. Voters feel abandoned by the political process, as candidates promise campaign finance reform but take millions of dollars from private interests; while they argue about how the RATS got into their campaign commercials or how they can adopt each other's stance as their own. Many voters have simply become alienated from their own political process. Others are tired of waiting and have begun to work for and seek out their own choices. If the Debate Commission continues to ignore the presence of third- and fourth-party candidates, a hijacking of our political system is imminent. Less than half of American voters elected our last president. When the people are taken out of the process, we no longer have a democracy.