It’s Our Ball ...

by J.D. Tuccille
September 20, 1996

So the Commission on Presidential Debates ran down its mighty checklist and, after careful and well-considered deliberation, determined that only Bob Dole and Bill Clinton fit the criteria for invitation to that most exclusive of political clubs, the U.S. presidential debates.

Oooooh. Shock! Surprise! I never anticipated such a decision! How can it be?


Let’s face it. Politics in the United States is as exclusive a pursuit as the two senescent, but still dominant political parties can achieve. The Commission on Presidential Debates is run by and for the Republicans and Democrats; its staff is fifty-fifty R/D and the heads are Paul Kirk and Frank Fahrenkopf — past heads, respectively of the Party of the Purse-Snatchers and of the Gamy Old Pricks. The bi-partisan commission snatched this role away from the non-partisan League of Women Voters for the express purpose of reasserting the dominance of two increasingly creaky political machines.

So I never really thought that the CPD would choose to admit Perot, a presidential candidate who pulled one out of every five votes in 1992, let alone a shoe-string funded insurgent candidacy like that of Harry Browne. This isn’t about debate guidelines — it’s about political survival.

And the rationales offered up by the two parties’ butt-boys in the press are truly astounding. The most common excuse (hazarded even by William Safire, who all-too-often punctuates stretches of truly sharp analysis with mires of inside-the-beltway new-speak) has been that the next president is going to be either Dole or Clinton (only Clinton, really, but we're trying to pretend this is still a race), so why throw anybody else into the mix?

Well, for starters, because the vote totals pulled by other candidates can affect which of the two front-runners gets to warm that antique, leather-upholstered seat in the Oval Office. Shades of 1992! Does anybody remember a certain independent candidate affecting that race? Imagine a five-way debate with Browne, Clinton, Dole, Nader, and Perot. Strong showings by one or more of the “third” candidates could throw the electoral votes of toss-up states one way or the other. Now, stop whining! There’s no “spoiler” effect involved in this — that’s a straight function of democracy.

And let’s not gloss over the sheer obnoxiousness of basing debate invitations on current poll standings. That’s tantamount to announcing that the election is over. The election is not over and upsets do happen — sometimes without any warning whatsoever. Before the last Canadian general election, the parliamentary majority was held by the Progressive Conservative party. Now, the PCs ran into some trouble and were expected to lose the last election, but few people expected the ruling party to be reduced to two seats in parliament, or its role as the traditional right-of-center party to be assumed by the Reform Party (unrelated to the jug-eared martian’s creation) which hadn’t even existed when the Progressive Conservative government took power.

That’s comparable to Gingrich’s minions getting their clocks cleaned this November and being replaced as the opposition to Clinton by a large contingent of first-time Libertarian legislators. It’s highly unlikely. But it happens in democratic systems.

And that’s why the CPD’s decision is so blatantly, obviously, political. These aren’t stupid people. They know that the democratic process is usually volatile, and that the U.S. is now leaving a period of uncharacteristic political stability (some — yours truly — would say stagnancy). There is no “non-partisan” excuse for keeping Browne, Perot, and, maybe, Nader out of the debates after they’ve jumped through ballot-access hurdles and built national campaign organizations.

But the decision is unlikely to change. The Republicans and the Democrats made the rules for this game, and now that the kids from down the block are trying to join in, it looks like the fading champs are just going to take their ball home.

But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t share your thoughts with the Commission. Lots of thoughts.

From the Notebook

I’ve received some e-mail recently (thanks, Charlie Wareing), informing me that fisherman Jim Blaes, a fellow whose very name sends federal swabbies’ blood pressure soaring to dangerous altitudes, is going on trial in San Jose on September 30. Blaes, you may remember, is the fellow who told the Coast Guard to say “pretty please” when they demanded permission to board his fishing boat back in May. He also asked them to leave their artillery at home.

Blaes has won considerable support from other fisherman, and from like-minded souls across the country. The feds, on the other hand, are apparently trying to find a hole deep and dark enough to drop him down.

To the extent afforded by severely limited press coverage (nothing has appeared in either of the San Francisco dailies since July) and canned Coast Guard information, I’ll keep you up-to-date on the progress of Blaes’ trial. Until I can gather something of greater import, I’ll at least offer the address of Captain Blaes’ legal defense fund which, I’m sure, could use a dollar or two:

Capt. Jim Blaes
Jim Blaes Defense Fund
P.O. Box 450
Morro Bay, CA 93443

Until next time ...

Ah well, and so much for the power of argument. So back you go to Full Automatic or to my home page.

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Copyright (c) 1996 Jerome D. (Il Tooch) Tuccille. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or medium without express written permission of Il Tooch is prohibited. Mess with me and I’ll use your polished skull as a beer mug.