Politics

Gary Johnson Should Be In Debates

| by Nik Bonopartis
Republicans take the stage during a primary debate aired by Fox News in January of 2016.Republicans take the stage during a primary debate aired by Fox News in January of 2016.

Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson is right: The election system in the U.S. is rigged and corrupt.

Third-party candidates like Johnson and the Green Party's Jill Stein are stuck in a vicious cycle of the major parties' making, designed to keep anyone without an R or D next to their name in a political ghetto without a shot at making a real impact in the polls or participating in presidential debates.

The Commission on Presidential Debates, which makes the rules about who is "allowed" to participate in presidential debates, styles itself as a "nonpartisan" nonprofit.

But a look at its board of directors reveals an old boy network consisting exclusively of Republican and Democratic loyalists. They include former national committee chairmen, former congressmen and billionaire businessmen, all of them lifelong Democrats or Republicans.

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That board says third-party candidates must have 15 percent support in five national polls to debate with the major party candidates.

Yet most polling firms don't even ask voters about candidates like Johnson or Stein. The excuses are legion: They say third-party candidates don't have enough impact on elections to be worthy of mention, or complain that including third-party candidates in their polls would strain resources, or say that third-party candidates almost always do worse on election day than polls suggest.

That last part is a particularly selfish reason to keep third-party candidates out of the conversation, as Time magazine notes -- pollsters don't like to include third-party candidates because it can prove tricky to gauge their actual support. That can impact a poll's reputation for accuracy, so in their own interests, those designing polls decide to exclude anyone besides Republicans and Democrats.

In the end, we'll have three debates, with Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump presented as our only two choices. This, despite the fact that they're probably the two most-loathed presidential candidates of all time, despite historic disapproval ratings, despite the fact that one is spectacularly corrupt and the other just wings his way through life saying whatever pops into his head.

And, despite mounting evidence that Americans are tired of the binary, two-party political system and long for more choices. A USA Today/Suffolk University released in February found 53 percent of respondents wanted three parties or more, and only a third of voters thought the two-party system was sufficient. In July, GenForward -- which says it aims to capture the sentiments of voters younger than 30 -- released a poll saying 90 percent of millennials believe the two-party system is flawed.

Finally, there's the media's part in all this. Every day, all day, we see the same handful of talking deads popping up on cable news, and they're all hyperpartisans who scream over each other and reinforce the notion that Americans only have two choices.

Not only do they view political independents as some rare, possibly cryptozoological animal that's only occasionally observed in its own habitat, they carry on as if being an extreme partisan is normal, and being a reasonable person who evaluates candidates individually is somehow bizarre. Watch enough of it, and you start to think there's something wrong with you for not choosing a side and screaming about it.

There's no room for stories about candidates like Johnson or Stein on those programs, because they're entertainment, not news. A loud and obnoxious panel discussion about Trump's latest outrageous statement or Clinton's latest pay-to-play scheme is always going to draw more eyeballs than an informative story about a third-party candidate's positions.

The Commission on Presidential Debates should be disbanded, the threshold for presidential debate participation should be lowered, and the criteria for judging whether a candidate can participate should be based on honest data, not name recognition built up largely by circus acts masquerading as news reports.

And if Americans really want third-party candidates in the conversation, then they need to do their part and support those candidates on election day. It's simply not enough to say you want choices without backing it up with your vote.

Click here for the opposing view on this topic.

Sources: A Libertarian Future, Time, Red Alert Politics, The Hill, The Center for Public Integrity / Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

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