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Stateside with Rosalea: Not the any o'clock news


Stateside with Rosalea: 2004 Presidential Election

Not the any o'clock news

By Rosalea Barker

Whenever George Will - a conservative commentator on ABC's 'This Week' - says something self-deprecating about the US I catch a whiff of Eau de Rat. Like any scriptwriter - and what are these talking heads doing but writing the script for the way people will view the news - he knows the value of setting up a story in advance.

Will's commentary this morning was to do with how the English language might be perceived as having been run over by a musical comedy with the American usage of the word "debate". He was referring to the debates between the nine would-be Democratic presidential candidates, and showed a couple of photos of them lined up on stage and all together for a group photo.

Ostensibly, he was lamenting the fact that "debates" are no such thing and never have been since the first televised ones between Kennedy and Richard Nixon in 1960. The most famous presidential debates - those between Lincoln and Douglas in 1858 - had argument and rebuttal times that were in the half to one-and-a-half hour time frame.

By decrying the shortness of time that candidates now use to present their arguments, Will seems to be making a perfectly sensible point. He asks if the public has such a short attention span it can't deal with anything more than a minute from the candidates. But the real message was those pictures of a crowd of candidates wanting to speak.

What George Will didn't mention was that on 17 June a group of third party candidates and their parties from across the political spectrum joined together to file a legal complaint with the Federal Election Commission to block the Commission on Presidential Debates from sponsoring, with corporate backing, the presidential debates in 2004. The complaint stems from the CPD's use of a "face-book" showing photographs of people who would not be admitted as audience members to the 2000 debate in Boston.

Audience members, right? It wasn't just that were excluded from participating in the debate - they weren't even allowed in the venue. The complainants are the Natural Law Party, the Green Party of the United States, the Constitution Party, their respective 2000 presidential candidates, the Greens' 2000 vice presidential candidate Winona LaDuke, and the Reform Party's 2000 presidential candidate Pat Buchanan.

The full press release is at http://releases.usnewswire.com/GetRelease.asp?id=112-06172003. A Sunday morning Google search of the news using the term "CPD complaint" brings back only 15 stories, two of them about police departments beginning with "C", and most of the rest repeats of the wire story the Associated Press put out. ABC News on the internet was one of the sites that carried the story last Tuesday, but I haven't been watching telly this week so I can't say if it made any television news bulletins.

According to a media release on its website, the Commission on Presidential Debates is "the non-partisan, non-profit, tax-exempt 501(c)(3) organization that sponsored all the general election presidential and vice presidential debates in 1988, 1992, 1996, and 2000." The CPD accepts no money from the government or political parties and it finances its debates entirely through private contributions.

Its selection criteria for including candidates in the 2000 election debates were 1) that they were eligible under the US Constitution, 2) that each had his or her name appearing on enough state ballots to have at least a mathematical chance of securing an Electoral College majority, and 3) that the candidate had a level of at least 15 percent support in the national electorate. The level of support was determined by averaging the results of polls done by ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, and Fox News (and their related print and/or polling company partners).

If the minor parties succeed in their suit - particularly in the part that requires the CPD to return the millions of dollars of corporate sponsorships that paid for the 2000 presidential debates - the case will become big news. Remember, the complainants aren't challenging their exclusion as participants in the debates - which resulted from a failure to meet the 15 percent popularity threshold - they're challenging whether the CPD is meeting its own criteria of being non-partisan.

On a more international note in the minor party newswires this week, came one entitled: Pull the plug on Congressional inquiry into Iraq's weapons. "Surprise! It appears that another US leader has manipulated facts and exaggerated threats in order to whip up war hysteria," said Joe Sheehusen, executive director of the Libertarian Party, which staunchly opposed the invasion of Iraq. "Do we really need a congressional hearing to discover that politicans are adept at using words as weapons of mass deception?"

He then goes on to list a few specific "examples of U.S. leaders lying our country into war" - such as the incident in the Gulf of Tonkin that led to Congress authorising Lyndon Johnson's use of military force in Vietnam. Sheehusen urges voters to keep in mind that last October, 296 Representatives and 77 Senators voted in favour of a resolution supporting the invasion of Iraq. "So every one of these individuals is just as responsible as Bush for the consequences of that decision - and convening a hearing won't change that."

There are many people within both the Democratic and Republican parties who were just as opposed to the invasion of Iraq as the smaller political parties, and I suspect their numbers and their discontent is growing exponentially with every passing day that nothing of any consequnce is achieved in the region except the further enflaming of anti-US sentiment. I don't know how this will affect the Republican field for the 2004 presidential election, but later this coming week you can see its effect on the Democratic candidates at http//www.moveon.org when the results of that organisation's on-line primary election are announced.

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