By: Mark Srulowitz  | 

In the Absence of Black and White, Vote Green (Vol. 66, Issue 4)

Just a few days ago, millions of Americans flocked to elementary schools, town halls, and other polling stations to cast their vote for the presidency. At the same time, millions of other Americans took advantage of a day off by running errands, hanging out at the mall, or watching old Simpson reruns.

Why is it that the very symbol of democracy and freedom, the ability for every person to choose who will represent them, is treated with so much apathy and disregard? It makes more sense than one might expect.

Americans are fed up with having two candidates who waver away in moderate-land, a geo-political position with little appeal to the left or right. Voters are left to wonder whether voting makes a difference at all, given the striking resemblance between this year’s breed of donkey and pachyderm. How is it possible for the average person to distinguish between George W. Bush's never fully explained policies and Al Gore's ever-changing ones? And an even better question: Who cares at this point? Should I choose the ever-brilliant Bush, who proudly declares that he doesn't read, to run my country, or should I chose Al Gore, second only to Bill Clinton in the never-told-a-lie category? 

Maybe I’ll vote for the guy who writes Snickers commercials. He's obviously literate and seems pretty smart — he hit the nail on the head in his latest commercial/political cartoon about the recent elections. I don’t really know anything about him — I don’t even know name — but that's more than I know about some of the other candidates. On the day people collectively decided the next leader of the strongest nation in the world, a large segment of the population did not even know who some of the candidates were or what ideas and philosophies they represent. Is it that difficult to imagine someone standing in the voting booth perplexed, thinking, “Who the heck is Ralph Nader?” And if that is feasible, then what about Browne (Libertarian candidate), Hagelin (Natural Law Party), or McReynold (Socialist Party)?

Until I started researching this topic, I had no idea who they were. In truth, I still don’t have much of an idea — I don’t even know their first names, and that’s the point. How can voting be important if most people don't even know the options before them? And why don't people know all of the candidates running for office? Because of an organization called the Commission on the Presidential Debates (CPD), an organization no less corrupt than our current President's sexcapades and illicit financial dealings. This organization has for the last four years determined which candidates will be introduced to the American public and which will not be introduced.

Not surprisingly, the Commission on the Presidential Debates’ board consists of eleven members, ten of whom are deeply entrenched in the two major political parties and the corporate structure that supports them. There are no professors of electoral politics or political science, sociologists, polling experts or journalists; only former Washington bureaucrats, corporate representatives and politicians, many donning all three crowns, half of whom sit on the board of trustees of major corporations comprise this powerful group. Of course, it should come as no surprise that these are the very corporations that fund the CPD, demonstrating their support for the two-party system and the efforts the CPD has made in keeping it that way.

The CPD has claimed repeatedly that the “bipartisan nature and corporate funding of the debates makes no impact on the actions of the commission.” The truth begs to differ. When discussing his campaign's negotiations with the CPD in the 1996 election, top Clinton aid George Stephanopoulos stated: “The Dole campaign didn't have leverage going into negotiations. They were behind. They needed to make sure Perot wasn't in it. As long as we would agree to Perot not being in it, we could get everything else we wanted going in.” Stephanopoulos then recalled an ensuing conversation he had with the moderator of the debate, in which he was asked, “Why didn’t you have the debates when people were watching?” Stephanopoulos’ response: “Because we didn’t want them to pay attention. We wanted the debates to be a non-event.” The CPD not only stood by, but they approved this bit of backroom decision-making, a gesture long thought to exist only in corrupt Third World nations far, far away, but in fact, most prevalent in our own backyard.

By blocking third party candidates from the televised debates simply because they are not part of the “in-group” in the political machine of the CPD, they are preventing the voters from making an educated choice for the candidate they feel most comfortable with as their leader. The CPD recently declared that they would make an “objective, known, defined, concrete, and ascertainable” rule determining which candidates will and will not be invited to the debates. This rule stipulates that a candidate must have a fifteen percent national polling minimum in order to be a participant in the debates. The problem with this is that both Ross Perot and Jesse Ventura failed to meet that criteria by Labor Day, yet Perot managed a respectable nineteen percent of the vote in the general election while Ventura was ultimately victorious in his race for the Governorship of Minnesota.

That is the fear. If given a chance, third party candidates might win or secure enough exposure to do so in the future, thus spoiling the party for everyone, politicians and corpo- rations alike. As long as the electorate doesn't know who the candidates are, the two parties cannot and will not ever lose control.

So next time election day Comes around, and you are standing in the voting booth staring at two names you hate and five others that you've never seen before, maybe you should just pick from among the five. Why not give a vote for all the third parties out there? We'll call it rooting for the underdog, and there's nothing more American than that.