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The Sheboygan Press

Wednesday, September 29, 2004

John F. Kerry and George W. Bush, are the two major applicants for the most important job in the world.

We'd like to see them tested in a far better way than the type of presidential debates that begin Thursday night in Coral Gables, Fla.

What's wrong with the presidential debates? Under the Commission on Presidential Debates, which has overseen the debates for the last four elections, the debates have become tools of the two dominant parties, rather than instruments serving the people who are doing the "hiring," the voters.

Under the commission's approach, the two parties secretly negotiate the debate formats and schedules. They exclude minor party candidates, restrict the subject matter and set up formats that allow their candidates to parrot the same lines they use in their stump speeches and in their advertisements. There is little or no direct questioning of one candidate by the other.

The American people aren't being fooled.

And a result has been more voters tuning out the debates; viewership has plummeted by 25 million over the years.

Further, the journalists covering the debates have become more like theatrical critics analyzing how each candidate played their rehearsed roles instead of pundits analyzing what they said and how credible it was.

To make the debates more meaningful we'd like to see them turned over to the Citizens' Debate Commission or some similar organization that would set fair candidate selection criteria, feature innovative and engaging formats and oppose the anti-democratic demands of the major parties.

Consider the makeup of the Citizens' Debate Commission. Its members include: Paul Weyrich, co-founder of the conservative Heritage Foundation, Chellie Pingree of Common Cause, Randall Robinson of the Trans African Forum, John B, Anderson, a third-party candidate for president in 1980, Tom Gerity of the Brennan Center for justice, Ambassador Alan Keyes, Larry Noble, a former Federal Election Commission general counsel and Jehmu Greene of Rock the Vote.

The result of the work of such a diverse group would likely be a debate format that allowed about four to seven candidates -- at least in the initial debates-- discussing a far wider range of topics with a broader spectrum of solutions. Further, the debate formats could be set up so that the two major candidates might be thoroughly questioned and required to back up their statements with logical answers and pertinent facts.

Such debates would be far more insightful, far more interesting and likely to attract far more viewers.

That's what is needed for candidates for the world's most important job.