Thursday, October 04, 2012

Are the debates rigged? Sure, but they're rigged jointly by the two campaigns


"Voters are not allowed to know about the current backroom fix between Obama and Romney."
-- Ralph Nader, in a CounterPunch post,
"Rigging the Presidential Debates"

by Ken

What I really wanted to talk about tonight had nothing to do with the debates. It would have led off with a luscious Peter Steiner New Yorker cartoon with the caption ""On the Internet, nobody knows you're a dog." I had this idea that I could say just one thing about The Debate and then get on to some serious funny business. Then the one thing grew to two, and the two to three, and the three things called for some additional context, and then . . . .

Sigh. Okay, let's get to it. Remember that I'm speaking as a confirmed debate non-watcher. As I predicted, though, I was unable to fend off learning way too much about what happened. Here first are the original two things I wanted to say:

(1) Willard Inc. and his handlers demonstrated that it is possible for a man to get up in front of a national TV audience and not just lie his head off but at almost every point flatly contradict things he has said just as publicly and: (a) be lying both times, and (b) have nobody in the infotainment noozemedia notice.

(2) That the president's handlers were totally unprepared for the above is either a perfect metaphor for the way this administration has functioned or else merely business as usual for it.

As we're going to see, if the debate was "fixed," it was fixed jointly by the two campaigns. Obama's people sent him out to get skunked anyway. As Charles P. Pierce puts it in a shrewd Esquire post about the presidential skunking: "The only way that the wonkish, garbled, and distracted performance by the president makes any kind of sense is if the White House has internal polls that indicate that a majority of Americans believe that Willard Romney eats live chickens in praise of Satan."

Now here's the third thing:

(3) Do we know whether moderator Jim Lehrer was acting out of compulsions invisible to the naked eye which made most of the questions suitable for a well-armed liar like Willard while also omitting from the discussion almost every subject of actual important regarding domestic affairs? I think again of that mock Republican presidential debate staged by ACN anchor Will McAvoy (Jeff Daniels) on The Newsroom where Will as moderator asked real issues questions and in follow-up pressed each candidate stand-in for an actual answer.

As I pointed out, this is one of Aaron Sorkin's lovely romantic political fantasies, but he always designs those fantasies so that there's no good reason why they couldn't actually happen -- just the eternally cruddy but inescapable reason that that's the way things happen in real life. (Of course there are reasons for that.) I'm not sure much more was to be expected of Jim L, a tried-and-true Villager, and I don't imagine there was much chance of a more focused and focusing moderator being accepted by either side, let alone both sides. Still, it would be nice to know how much of the inept moderating was structural and how much was just Jim of the Village being Jim of the Village. (Actually, since writing this, I've been directed to some directly pertinent information on this subject. See below)

And here's that bit of needed context --


I've always insisted that the second term of George W. (for "Who???") Bush evevntually fell apart not because the American public realized that it had been systematically lied to at every point during the Bush regime but because Americans became angry at the woeful quality of the lies they were being fed. It was, like, personally insulting to them. In line with their commitment to American exceptionalism, they had come to believe that America produces the best lies in the word -- no, in the universe -- and here they were being asked to swallow lies that wouldn't get past a slow-learning four-year-old.

And so, in accord with the gospel delivered unto them by St. Ronnie of Reagan, which told them that as Americans they're entitled to a reality that makes them feel good and never ever have to settle for any so-called reality that doesn't, they expunged the Bush regime from memory -- without, however, ever turning against either its policies or its procedures.

Similarly, the stumbling ineptitude of the Willard presidential circus to date has repelled many of those same Americans who are demanding nothing more than their a minimum standard in the lies they're asked to swallow. The danger is that if Willard's people have truly gotten their fabulizing act together, their guy is already immunized against charges of "flip-flopping," and accusations of "inconsistencies" or "contradictions" or the like will be unlikely to have any force, since that portion of the public's only question is apt to be, Does this candidate make me feel better about my reality -- or at least better than the crummy version of it we've gotten from President Obama?


On this subject Ralph Nader has an important post on CounterPunch, "Rigging the Presidential Debates," in which he takes us into the super-secret world of the secret contracts apparently written every four years by the two major-party campaigns and their "corporate offspring," the Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD). The CPD, a colleague reminds us, was created after the League of Women Voters in 1988 withdrew from its previous sponsorship of the presidential debates, on the ground that, as league president Nancy M. Neuman explained,
the demands of the two campaign organizations would perpetrate a fraud on the American voter. It has become clear to us that the candidates' organizations aim to add debates to their list of campaign-trail charades devoid of substance, spontaneity and answers to tough questions. The League has no intention of becoming an accessory to the hoodwinking of the American public."

Nader writes specifically of the 2004 contract between George W. Bush and John Kerry, obtained by George Farah, executive director of Open Debates (, who Nader tells us worked for him "over a decade ago, right out of Princeton before going to Harvard Law School." The contract specified that the two candidates would participate only in the agreed-upon debates under the agreed-upon candidates, with no other candidates ("in 2000 and 2004," says Nader, "national polls showed majorities wanting me in the debates -- the only way non-billionaires could reach tens of millions of voters -- but the captive CPD and their compliant director, Janet Brown, created other exclusionary barriers"), conditions that Nader points out would constitute a criminal antitrust violation if undertaken by two corporations. What's more, Nader says, "The Bush/Kerry closeout of the voters and the media extended to their agreeing not to ask each other direct questions but only rhetorical questions, and to clear any questions from the audience by their chosen moderator prior to the debates."
Nothing seems to motivate the mainstream campaign press into challenging the two Party duopoly, its definition of important questions, or the rancid corporate sponsorship of the debates down to the hospitality parties the corporatists hold at the debate locations in Colorado, New York and Florida this October. The reporters must like the free wine and food. . . .

Substantively, the supine press applies its own rules. Rule One is to avoid pressing questions that extend the public’s agenda beyond what the two major candidates are wrangling over. So if they don’t debate pulling back from unauthorized wars, invasions, incursions or other important foreign policy moves they are not asked. Rule Two is to ignore what major civic groups or groups with credible track records propose for the candidates to address. So Obama and Romney are not pressed by the press to expressly respond to many important issues including: what they would do on law enforcement against corporate crime, fraud and abuse, whether they favor a $10 minimum wage that catches up to 1968, inflation adjusted, for thirty million workers, or on their positions on either a Wall Street speculation tax that can raise big money or even a carbon tax.

Union organizing rights, workers’ health and safety, and a variety of important consumer protections are scarcely on the press table even when their own colleagues often report on these timely subjects. . . .
"This year," Nader says, "voters are not allowed to know about the current backroom fix between Obama and Romney."

On the bright side, there doesn't seem any reason to think that voters would especially care.

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At 7:12 PM, Anonymous me said...

Not just the debate, but the whole election - the whole government - is fixed. The Demublicans and the Republocrats are are screwing the public yet again.

At 9:45 PM, Anonymous Kevin said...

Chris Mooney is awesome. That is all.

At 1:01 AM, Blogger gcwall said...

The debate may have been rigged by some parties for other parties, but it appears that the Democratic Party was not in on it, considering the blizzard of media criticism aimed toward President Barack Obama following the debate.

The rigged part included the set-up during the previous two weeks that implied that one public debate could be a game changer, followed by the piled on criticism by so-called liberals and republicans against President Obama after the debate.

The "news" media and powerful special interests are manipulating for a Romney/Ryan victory.

At 1:15 AM, Blogger gcwall said...

Nadar's comments must be viewed skeptically, because he continues to nurse an old grudge against the Democratic Party that would not help him become president.

The reality is that if a potential candidate cannot prove that a substantial portion of the electorate favors his or her candidacy he or she does not get to play.

At 6:00 AM, Blogger Bula said...

Seeing the jobs report today, I wonder if Obama took it on the chin for the sympathy vote, create a panic in supporters, and bump up donations. I have to believe he knew those numbers were coming. Seems to have been a good fund raising strategy.

Maybe I'm giving them too much credit....

At 7:29 AM, Blogger John said...

To gcwall:

You may be correct about Nader's grudge but I seriously it would not be for the reason you state.

I doubt if Nader ever asked the Dems to help him become president. If he is holding a grudge against them it is because they made a concerted effort to keep him off the presidential ballot in several (if not many) states in two elections.

John Puma

At 7:31 AM, Blogger John said...

that is:

" ... I seriously doubt it would be for the reason ... "

John Puma

At 1:11 PM, Blogger opit said...

TY for the Open Debates links and comments. BTW the embedded link URL for Open Debates has a prefix which redirects to 404

At 1:30 PM, Blogger opit said...

Doesn't the mystification and unpreparedness for lies, evasions and self contradiction remind you of previous Karl Rove misdirection operations ? That would be the same chap funded by corporations to run the current edition updating 'Leading to War' per Iraq for the current intensifying of anti Iran war whoring - a bipartisan operation illuminated at CASMII.

At 3:31 PM, Blogger KenInNY said...

(1) John P: Did it really sound as if I was suggesting Nader is motivated by a grudge? In my mind the point was that when it comes to the 2000 and 2004 debates, and above all the "role" of third-party candidates, Ralph knows whereof he speaks.

(2) Opit, thanks for calling attention to the bum link for That should have been the easiest link in the world, since all I had to do was copy the text and paste it right back in as the link, and I still managed to screw it up! Anyway, it's fixed now -- and luckily should have been easy enough to find on its own.


At 5:25 PM, Anonymous me said...

I don't know whether Nader holds a grudge, but I do.

I did not vote for Nader in 2000, but I wish I had. Gore ran a crappy campaign, and was completely out of his league in fighting over Florida. Sue, he would have been better than Bush. (BFD - who wouldn't have been?), but he still would not have been good enough. Lieberman, for god's sake!!

Voted for Obama too, because I thought he would bring Change. Jesus, what a sucker I was.

Never again! I will not support the duopoly. They can all go fuck themselves.

At 6:22 PM, Blogger KenInNY said...

I just want to clarify, me, that I'm quite sure Nader holds a grudge -- why wouldn't he? I'm just saying that I'm not saying he's "motivated by" that grudge in passing on what he knows about the way the presidential debates are rigged.


At 7:06 PM, Anonymous me said...

I agree.


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