Synopses & Reviews
The presidential debates are the "Super Bowl of politics": the democratic centerpiece of the election season. These quadrennial confrontations broadcast to tens of millions of Americans are the only decisive political discussion between the candidates to which an ever-increasing number of unaffiliated voters may look. Yet the two major parties dictate almost every aspect of the event, stifling broad electoral choice.
In No Debate, author and lobbyist George Farah uses the lens of the presidential election, an event he argues is singularly important to our electoral democracy, to examine just how open America's elections may or may not be.
Central to his argument is the national debate sponsor, the Commission on Presidential Debates, an ostensibly nonpartisan group which Farah exposes as an arm's length organ of the major parties to keep out viable third parties. In this meticulously researched expose, Farah finds a determinedly collusive commission, its board boasting some of the most powerful partisans in the country, through which tax-deductible corporate political donations to both major parties are funneled.
Along the way, Farah examines the backroom maneuverings and political calculations of the major parties: from Ross Perot's strategic debate invitation in 1992, to his exclusion in 1996, to the treatment of Buchanan and Nader in the 2000 election. With startling clarity No Debate documents a grievous institutional rigging of the electoral process, wherein glorified news conferences pass as debate and the two parties call the shots at the electorate's expense.
"Farah has produced a useful book, well researched and clearly written....His reporting on the collusion between the commission and the major party campaigns is detailed and persuasive. It's persuasive enough that it should encourage reporters to examine the process, in order to foster a greater public debate about the debates." Columbia Journalism Review
"No Debate...exposes just how far the Republicans and Democrats have sold out the American people in suppressing vital issues which need to be examined by the discerning voter. It is shocking but maybe this book will shock citizens into action." Paul M. Weyrich, Heritage Foundation Cofounder
"No Debate exposes how behind-the-scenes wheelin' and dealin' inside the Beltway wrecks our most valuable political forums the presidential debates turning them into cures for insomnia that prevent the American people from hearing about issues they want to hear about." Jim Hightower, author of Thieves in High Places
"George Farah argues persuasively that the presidential debates are organized almost entirely to serve the interests of the two major party nominees and not the public interest. If you want a behind the scenes look at candidate negotiations, backstage maneuvering, and the machinations involved in dealing with major 3rd party candidates, No Debate is the book for you." Nancy M. Neuman,former president of the League of Women Voters
"George Farah examines one of the biggest blasts of arrogance in the history of the U.S. the collusion between the Republicans and Democrats to manipulate the public by manipulating the Presidential debates. Every American citizen, regardless of party affiliation, should rise up against this un-American strategy. It's not just the White House that's at stake, but democracy itself. Read this book, get angry, and rise up." Phil Donahue
"At last, a full-scale, documented report on how the Commission on Presidential Debates rigs the process to prevent the public from hearing independent voices not connected with the Republican and Democratic parties." Nat Hentoff
"Presidential debates are both a public function and an essential part of the electoral process. That process is now broken because of exclusionary rules dictated by private interests and narrow partisanship. George Farah has carefully researched and documented that charge. His prescription for reform would honor the principle of public interest and accountability by establishing a system which would provide fair and open debates." John B. Anderson
With startling clarity, Farah exposes the private bipartisan organization behind the presidential debates.
GEORGE FARAH is the founder and executive director of Open Debates, a Washington-based nonprofit committed to reforming the presidential debate process. He is also a student at Harvard Law School. His articles have appeared in Extra! Magazine and The Philadelphia Inquirer, as well as other publications.
Broadcast to tens of millions of Americans, the presidential debates are the Super Bowl of politics. A good performance before the cameras can vault a contender to the front of the pack, while a gaffe spells national embarrassment and can savage a candidacy. The slim margin for error has led the two major parties to seek—and achieve, under the aegis of the bipartisan Commission on Presidential Debates—tight control through scripting, severe time limits, and the exclusion of third-party candidates. In No Debate, author and lobbyist George Farah argues that these staged recitations make a mockery of free and fair presidential elections.
With urgency and clarity, this book reviews the history of presidential debates, the impact of the debates since the advent of television, the role of the League of Women Voters, the antidemocratic activity of the CPD, and the specific ways that the Republicans and Democrats collude to remove all spontaneity from the debates themselves. The author presents the complete text of a previously unreleased secret document between the Republicans and Democrats that reveals the degree to which the two parties—not the CPD—dictate the terms of the debates. In the final chapter, Farah lays out a compelling strategy for restoring the presidential debates as a nonpartisan, unscripted, public events that help citizens—not corporations or campaign managers—decide who is going to run the White House.
About the Author
George Farah is the founder and executive director of Open Debates, a Washington-based nonprofit focused on reforming the presidential debate process. His articles have appeared in Harvard Law Record, Extra! and Princeton's Progressive Review.
Table of Contents
List of Cartoons vi
1 Debate Cartel 1
2 Hostile Takeover 23
3 Candidate Exclusion 39
4 Stilted Formats 75
5 The 15 Percent Fiction 97
6 Issue Exclusion 125
7 Failed Restitution 140
8 Citizens' Debate Commission 155
Appendix A 1996 Memorandum of Understanding 176
Appendix B Joint Press Release from the Democratic and Republican National Committees 191
About the Author 224
About the Open Debates 224