A lot of coverage has been given to the first presidential debates of 2016 and the ensuing jockeying for position since the end of the actual event. It was a Republican Party event featuring over half of the declared Republican Party candidates in two different forums, one early and one late.
Fox News and Facebook were the main headliners for sponsorship with Fox supplying the approved moderators. A polling average scheme was used to determine which time slot and stage position each of the seventeen top contenders would get (there’s actually over 30 declared republican candidates and 17 democratic candidates as of this writing not counting third party candidates). Candidates went along with the scheme since they desire the exposure and willingly answer to party leadership when it comes to such campaign activities.
Beyond the debates for republican candidates there will be a series of debates for democrats who are lucky enough to get invited and, eventually, debates will be agreed upon between the final two republican and democratic candidates and their ticket mates they select for the vice president role. Terms will be agreed upon, moderators selected and agreed upon, locations, stages setup and positioning, lighting and more will be discussed and agreed upon between the candidates and the true power behind the debates, the Commission on Presidential Debates.
It is interesting these events are still called debates. Watching the first of this long presidential campaign it is clear to see these events have devolved into glorified question and answer sessions. Citizens are told these debates are their chance to see THE candidates and HEAR them articulate their message. Yet all candidates are not heard and true messages are given little voice. In this particular instance, the first debate this year, many of the voices sounded exactly the same leaving viewers to wonder why so many feel they must declare a candidacy since they seem to be saying the exact same thing as those they theoretically oppose.
No matter, as the campaign grinds forward more debates will be on the agenda and will be as controlled by the two major parties as all debates have been since the mid-1980s. After allowing a third-party candidate (John Anderson) despite Jimmy Carter’s campaign objecting to it, the League of Women Voters (LWV) fell out of favor with the two major parties. The LWV had sponsored and helped organize the debates from 1976 through 1984 but the two parties had formed a commission in ‘84 aimed at changing the independent nature of organizing debates. When the LWV found out about a secret Memorandum of Understanding between the Bush and Dukakis campaigns, before the 1988 debates, they washed their hands of it stating;
“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.” (Open Debates; Revealing History)
The LWV did not want to ‘perpetrate fraud’ or be a part of the hoodwinking but the Commission on Presidential Debates (newly formed by both major parties and controlled by the two parties even today) have no problem with fraud and hoodwinking. The American public today do not even realize just how much these controls have helped to further silence any contrary voices from independent candidates and candidates within the two parties that the leadership of the parties many not approve of. Our presidential campaigns have devolved into a form of reality show competition and we learn little substance about the people running. We only need to look at the 2008 campaign to discover how little the public is told about a favored candidate but a candidate out of favor will be fully exposed and lambasted in the media.
Reality TV shows are very popular and this year’s first debate helps to show how popular it can be with 24 million viewers tuning in to see who the Republican candidate may be from the chosen field. Like a wresting match, outcomes are orchestrated as carefully as possible. Though still allowed to vote, do citizens or the Commission on Presidential Debates have more say on who will be the next president?