Democracy is not a spectator sport. There’s a lot of horse betting it seems, without considering that we are really talking about the future. Democracy works best with big deliberations, problem solving, and informed adults making compassionate and thoughtful decisions.
Substantive issues need critical airtime, not tweets. That’s why we debate. I don’t have a dog in this fight. Technically, I am a Green. It's been 20 years since Ralph Nader and I ran for the presidency and vice presidency of the United States and were barred from the debates. “Who gets to debate and who does not, is really about who gets to funnel democracy,” Nader reminded me recently.
In 2000, we appeared on the ballot in 43 states, up from 22 in 1996. We won 2,882,955 votes, or 2.74% of the popular vote. That was on pennies. While we did not attain the 5% required to qualify for federally distributed public funding, we secured ballot status in Delaware and Maryland. Despite our lack of debate airtime, we secured 10% of the Alaska vote, 6.9% in Vermont , Massachusetts, and similar numbers in Rhode Island, Montana, Hawaii, Maine Colorado, Washington, D.C., and in Minnesota and Oregon we were the same (5.04%).
The Debate Commission was so concerned that Nader was barred from attending the debates even with a ticket in the Boston and St. Louis debates (I had a newborn son, so I left the fisticuffs to the presidential candidate.) The exclusions prompted a lawsuit in District Court in Boston against the Commission on Presidential Debates, a commission “security consultant” and a State Police sergeant.
Is the Commission on Presidential Debates afraid of having an independent win?
The debates used to be sponsored by the League of Women Voters. That’s until 1988, when the Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD) was formed, comprised of the heads of the Democratic and Republican parties, and Dorothy Ridings formerly of the League of Women Voters. At that time, Ridings questioned whether third-party and independent candidates could get ''a fair shake'' under such an arrangement. I would say no.
Should we have open debates? Yes. Take Ross Perrot, an independent candidate in 1992, who won 18.9% of the popular vote, but did not win any electoral votes. He was in the debates.
If we could have debated, this is what we would have said: We believe that corporate power should not run a democracy. We believe in the Green New Deal, that America deserves more than a two-party system, we deserve a reduced military budget, universal healthcare, affordable housing, free education and a shift in tax policies to place the burden more heavily on corporations than on the middle and lower classes. And we believe in real debates.
Sadly, some interesting candidates have been sidelined for sure: Corey Booker, Julian Castro, Kamala Harris and Tulsi Gabbard. Now, enter Michael Bloomberg. In early February, he rocketed into third place nationally in Democratic polls even though he hadn’t participated in any debates. After $360 million in innovative advertising, a journalist asked him if the nation wanted “two billionaires” fighting it out on Twitter. “Who’s the second one?” he deadpanned.
That’s a funny jab at Trump. Actually, another billionaire on the ticket is Tom Steyer, who’s been pushing for Trump’s impeachment for two years. In all, there are good arguments that billionaires should be in the debates and not just woo us with advertising.
I hope democracy works; that money doesn't buy elections; and that the poorest people in the country, in fact the world, benefit from the American president. I miss the League of Women Voters, they were unaffiliated women with integrity. That’s what we need more of in democracy. Integrity.
Winona LaDuke, White Earth, is executive director of Honor the Earth in Callaway, Minn. In 1996 and 2000, LaDuke ran as the vice presidential candidate with Ralph Nader on the Green Party ticket.