Eight ground rules to ensure that the 2008 campaign is one that we can be proud of and not dread.
WITH THE PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION season beginning nearly 90 weeks before Election Day, and an open seat promising a bitter, protracted battle on both sides, this is a good time to agree to a few ground rules to make this an election that we can be proud of and not one to dread. While New Mexico Governor Richardson's call for Democrats not to attack each other is a good start, there is much more we should demand of those who seek our nation's highest office. RULE NO. 1: TALK ABOUT THE ISSUES. Above all else, candidates should talk about issues that matter. We have too many pressing problems that require serious discussion to justify diverting the debate to symbolic wedge issues such as school prayer and flag burning. I doubt that any of the nearly 50 million Americans without health insurance or those who lost loved ones on Sept. 11 are grateful for all the time we have spent in the past on these symbolic issues instead of health care coverage or homeland security. RULE NO. 2: BE HONEST. Candidates should pledge to be honest and fair with facts. Read my lips -- this means not only telling the truth, but not distorting your opponent's record or making unrealistic promises. It also means repudiating surrogate or allied organizations that fail to uphold this standard. Let the path to the White House be on the white horse of integrity and not the swift boat of deceit. RULE 3: ENCOURAGE PARTICIPATION. As candidates travel across the country and meet Americans from all walks of life, they should listen closely as they voice their feelings of alienation and disenfranchisement because the greatest threat to our democracy is not Al Qaeda, but apathy. Candidates should pledge to encourage and find ways to maximize voter participation instead of attempting to suppress the vote of the opposition through intimidation or misinformation and should also endorse Senator Obama's proposed legislation criminalizing such conduct). RULE 4: DEMAND A FAIR VOTE. As candidates travel the country, they should encourage each Secretary of State to use 2007 to ensure that their vote-counting technology and procedures inspire confidence, rather than breed mistrust. This includes allocating voting machines based on the quantity and not the quality of voters in a given area. RULE 5: SHOW RESPECT. The various candidates are public servants who have served with distinction in our armed services and as mayors, governors and members of Congress. They have earned the right to be treated with respect by all, whether it is their opponent, the media or voters attending their events. It is fair to question their ideas and proposals, but not their patriotism or love for this country. The reciprocal obligation is that the candidates refrain from denigrating the government and civil servants they seek to lead. RULE 6: MORE DEBATES. When it appeared that President Kennedy's opponent in 1964 would be his good friend Barry Goldwater, the two talked about traveling the country together and engaging in debates at each stop. Today's candidates should embrace this model and pledge that if they win the nomination they will agree to at least four regional debates and an additional debate held in the House of Representatives, where the questions will be posed by the leaders of each party. RULE 7: HONOR THE WILL OF THE PEOPLE. Had Senator Kerry been declared the winner in Ohio in 2004 we would have had two consecutive elections in which the victor lost the popular vote. In order to avoid such an anomalous result, each candidate should pledge that should they be their party's nominee they will instruct their electors in each state to vote for the winner of the national vote. Once freed from the chains of the Electoral College map, the candidates should also pledge to visit each state during the fall campaign. RULE 8: IMPROVE THE PROCESS. The winner of the election should host all of the candidates involved for a private discussion about the process and ways to improve it. Who better to conceive solutions to improve the process than those who have spent two years fully emerged in it? In addition, such a meeting would serve to refocus all involved away from the election towards the critical task of governance. While I harbor no illusions that any candidate would accept or honor all of these rules, that does not mean we cannot demand it. After all, it is our vote and our election, not the candidates. We have every right to demand that the next president not only be capable of leading this great nation, but be fairly elected through an untainted process. In other words, it is our right to echo Langston Hughes' call to "let America be America again." (Originally published in Santa Monica Daily Press)
Bennet Kelley is an award-winning columnist, a political commentator, radio host and the former Co-Founder and National Co-Chair of the Democratic National Committee's Saxophone Club (its young professional fundraising and outreach arm during the Clinton years).
Bennet also is a leading authority on internet law and is the host of Cyber Law and Business Report which airs on WebmasterRadio.fm.