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John Adams on the Hofstra Partisan Presidential Debate

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Debate Background

Hofstra University is hosting a Presidential Debate on Wednesday, October 15, 2008.  The debate is sponsored by the so-called Commission on Presidential Debates.  Hofstra mistakenly calls this commission "nonpartisan" when it is actually bi-partisan--entirely controlled by the Democratic and Republican Parties and funded by a few large corporations (much like the presidential election).  Or, as Connie Rice put it in her 2004 NPR story, Top 10 Secrets They Don't Want You to Know About the Debates:

The "independent and non-partisan" Commission on Presidential Debates is neither independent nor non-partisan. CPD should stand for 'Cloaking-device for Party Deceptions'--it is not an independent commission on anything. The CPD is under the total control of the Republican and Democratic parties and by definition bipartisan, not non-partisan. Walter Cronkite called CPD-sponsored debates an 'unconscionable fraud.'

Of course, that won't stop the corporately-funded PBS from televising the debate in 2008.  Since they did not heed the word of the 2000 debate moderator Mark Shields who commented on the exclusion of that year's Green Party presidential candidate from the debates:

My apology to Ralph Nader for not demanding he be included in the presidential debates.

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You can read all about Nader's 2000 Green Party candidacy in his Crashing the Party.

As part of the activities leading up to this debate, Hofstra is having Historical Re-enactments and Discussions on Democracy on Tuesday, October 14, 2008.  If many of the characters included in the scheduled re-enactments were alive today, they would be protesting the exclusion of Green Party candidate Cynthia McKinney, independent candidate Ralph Nader, and Libertarian candidate Bob Barr from the debates.  All of these candidates will be on a sufficient number of ballots to win a majority of the electoral college votes.

John Adams

John Adams was a proponent of the separation powers, going as far as not to even trust a single legislature.  In his Thoughts on Government he wrote, "a single assembly is liable to all the vices, follies, and frailties of an individual."  As to the separation of powers Adams wrote that

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Power must be opposed to power, and interest to interest.

It would logically follow that Adams would apply this principle to candidates and political parties so that a debate should include all presidential candidates.

When Adams first ran for president in the election of 1789 under the new U.S. Constitution there were 12 white men running for president.  George Washington won the presidency without the support of any political party.  Adams would be quite shocked to find out that in 2008 only two candidates will be allowed to speak when many more are on the ballot, and solely because of their membership in a political party.  Of course, corporations were a rarity in Adams' time, so they did not control our economy or politics.  Green Party candidates do not take money from corporations, allowing Green Party elected officials to be independent servants of all the people.

John Adams
John Adams

Though Adams ran as a candidate of the Federalist Party, he did not see the winner take-all system of elections which forced the country into choosing between two patronage-bestowing parties as the best answer as he stated in a 1789 letter:

There is nothing which I dread so much as a division of the republic into two great parties, each arranged under its leader, and concerting measures in opposition to each other. This, in my humble apprehension, is to be dreaded as the greatest political evil under our Constitution.

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Under the Constitution rules in Adams' time, he became the Vice president, by virtue of being the runner-up in the Electoral College.  Oddly enough, my 9-year-old nephew just suggested this weekend that he thought Obama and McCain should just become President and Vice President.  Especially with these two men, creating this joint administration would not be as unworkable a solution as the corporate media often makes it sound.  An AP story reviewed the McBama agenda which set out the similarities between the corporate candidates McCain and Obama on a variety issues such as Iraq, tax cuts, offshore drilling, stem cell research, and same-sex marriage.    Having Green Party presidential candidate Cynthia McKinney in the debates would provide an alternative to this corporate agenda.  Furthermore,   Cynthia McKinney differs from the Obama/McCain corporate agenda by being outspoken about demanding impeachment, supporting single-payer universal healthcare, rejecting nuclear energy, investigating the government's failures during Hurricane Katrina, and providing a real investigation into the events leading up to the tragedy of 9-11.

With Washington refusing to run for a third term, Adams succeeded in gaining the presidency in the election of 1796.  In this election there were again 12 white men running for president.  In Adam's time, it was considered unsightly for candidates to campaign, so the newly formed political parties did it for them.  it would still be shocking to Adams that only 2 political parties were allowed to participate in this process.  Under the original Electoral College system, Adam's frenemy Thomas Jefferson was elected as his Vice President.  This system provides balance of viewpoints closer to the use of proportional representation in elections advocated by the Green Party for more inclusive government.

The following quote from Adams summed up my feelings about the exclusion of candidates and thereby the blocking of alternative viewpoints in the presidential debates:

"Remember, democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There never was a democracy yet that did not commit suicide."

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Ian Wilder is co-blogger at onthewilderside. He is a peace and justice activist, and a former NY State Green Party Co-Chair.

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