Third Party Presidential Debates The Second College Edition of The American Heritage Dictionary defines debate as; To engage in argument by discussing opposing points (American Heritage,369). Another definition is as follows; a formal contest of argumentation in which two opposing teams defend and attack a given proposition (American Heritage,369). The Random House College Dictionary offers this definition; To engage in formal argumentation or disputation with (another person, group, etc.) (Random House,342). So which definition is correct? We know a debate is a discussion or an argument. What has to be decided is whether or not it is between two groups or several groups.
That same question has arisen in the Presidential debates of the 1996 presidential election campaigns. That question being whether or not Ross Perot and his running mate should have been included in the debates with President Clinton, Bob Dole and their running mates. In order to answer this question we have to know more about the debates history. The presidential debates are in place for the public to see and hear what the candidates have to say about issues facing the nation. While debating between presidential candidates has been occurring throughout America’s history they were limited to a small audience (Leone, ).
However with the 1960 debates between Kennedy and Nixon a whole new world was opened as millions of viewers watched the debates on television (Leone, ). Those first televised debates are generally credited with giving John F. Kennedy the winning margin in a very close presidential race (Leone, ). Following the 1960 election there were no publicly televised debates until 1976, and since then the debates have become an expected and important feature of presidential campaigns (Leone, ). The confidence of the debates with widespread views of general lack of government legitimacy prompted the formation of the Presidential Debate Commission before the 1988 election thus replacing the League of Women Voters as the debate sponsors (Leone, ). What is the purpose of this commission? ” The mission of the Commission on Presidential Debates is to ensure for the benefit of the American electorate, that general election debates are held every four years between the leading candidates for the offices of President and Vice President of the United States” (Commission, ).
The commission sponsored the debates of 1988, 1992 and are planning, organizing and implementing the 1996 debates (Commission, ). The commission also has a goal that is; “To afford the members of the voting public an opportunity to sharpen their views of those candidates from among whom the next President or Vice president will be selected. In light of the large number of declared candidates in any given presidential election, the Commission has determined that its voter education goal is best achieved by limiting debate participation to the next President and his or her principal rival(s)” (The Commission on Presidential Debates, ). In the case of a third party the Commission also has a position. The Commission developed nonpartisan criteria to base its decision regarding selection of nonmajor party candidates for participation in the 1996 debates(Commission, ).
The purpose is to identify nonmajor candidates who realistically have a chance of election as the next President of the United States and who are considered to be among the principal rivals for the Presidency (Commission, ). The commission goes on to say that the chances do not have to be overwhelming, but must be more than theoretical (Commission, ). The Commissions criteria for inclusion in the debates of a nonmajor party candidate is a review of the following questions; Is there evidence of national organization, are there signs of national newsworthiness and competitiveness, are there indicators of national enthusiasm or concern, to determine whether the candidate has a significant chance of election to warrant inclusion in one or more of its debates (Commission, )? In order to better understand these criteria we have to look at them in greater detail. Evidence of national organization involves satisfaction of the eligibility requirement of the Constitution of the United States (Commission, ). The candidate should have placement on ballots in enough states to have a mathematical chance of obtaining an electoral college majority (Commisson, ). The candidate should also have organization in a majority of congressional districts on those states (Commission, ).
Finally the candidate must be eligible for matching funds from the Federal Election Commission or be able to adequately fund a national campaign and be endorsed by federal and state office holders (Commission, ). Signs of national newsworthiness and competitiveness are described by opinions of electoral experts, media and non-media personnel (Commission, ). They include professional opinions of the Washington bureau chiefs of major newspapers, magazines and broadcast networks (Commission, ). The opinions of professional campaign managers and pollsters, not affiliated with the candidate, and those of political scientist specializing in electoral process are also taken into consideration (Commission, ). Column inches on newspaper front pages and exposure on network telecast in comparison with the other major candidates as well as views published by prominent political commentators are considered (Commission, ). The third criteria involves evidence of national public enthusiasm or concern to asses public support for a candidate(Commission, ).
The factors considered are the results of significant public opinion polls conducted by national polling and news organizations as well as reported attendance of meetings and rallies across the nation in comparison with the two major party candidates(Commission, ). We might say that all of the criteria for third parties to be included in the debates are good and fine or not, but who is on this commission that gives them authority to decide the fate of candidates. Believe it or not there are some impressive names of individuals on the commission. This includes both former Presidents Gerald R. Ford and Jimmy Carter, Governor Pete Wilson, two state representatives, Lewis and Vucanovich, as well as Caroline Kennedy the daughter of late President John F.
Kennedy (Commission, ). There are also thirteen national organizations that work with the Commission to promote the educational values of the debates. These organizations also try to find ways to get the young people of America involved in the political process (Commission, ). Included in this grouping are The American Library Association, the National Association of Broadcasters, the National School Board Association and the Newspaper Association of America among others (Commission, ). One could say this commission is fairly represented by individuals and organizations that are knowledgeable of the election process, but are they representative of the voting public. That is for you to decide.
Now that we know about the Commission on Presidential Debates stand on third parties being in the debates we should find out a little more about who the third parties are. Actually in this 1996 election year there are several third party candidates running for the office of President of the United States. Most of us are familiar with Ross Perot because of his 1992 election campaign and the events of his current campaign, however there are fou …