Why League of Women Voters calls presidential debates "frauds"

Photo: cygnoir

I'm listening to the CNN-Youtube GOP debate right now and I'm pretty disgusted. This is not a debate, this is a media sham. How did we get here, I wondered. What happened to the tough debates hosted by the League of Women Voters?

Apparently, LWV saw this coming a mile away. Check out their press release from 1988 explaning why they bowed out of the process (bolded emphasis mine):

October 3, 1988



WASHINGTON, DC —"The League of Women Voters is withdrawing its sponsorship of the presidential debate scheduled for mid-October because the demands of the two campaign organizations would perpetrate a fraud on the American voter," League President Nancy M. Neuman said today.

"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 honest answers to tough questions," Neuman said. "The League has no intention of becoming an accessory to the hoodwinking of the American public."

Neuman said that the campaigns presented the League with their debate agreement on September 28, two weeks before the scheduled debate. The campaigns' agreement was negotiated "behind closed doors" and vas presented to the League as "a done deal," she said, its 16 pages of conditions not subject to negotiation.

Most objectionable to the League, Neuman said, were conditions in the agreement that gave the campaigns unprecedented control over the proceedings. Neuman called "outrageous" the campaigns' demands that they control the selection of questioners, the composition of the audience, hall access for the press and other issues.

"The campaigns' agreement is a closed-door masterpiece," Neuman said. "Never in the history of the League of Women Voters have two candidates' organizations come to us with such stringent, unyielding and self-serving demands."

Neuman said she and the League regretted that the American people have had no real opportunities to judge the presidential nominees outside of campaign-controlled environments.

"On the threshold of a new millenium, this country remains the brightest hope for all who cherish free speech and open debate," Neuman said. "Americans deserve to see and hear the men who would be president face each other in a debate on the hard and complex issues critical to our progress into the next century."

Neuman issued a final challenge to both Vice President Bush and Governor Dukakis to "rise above your handlers and agree to join us in presenting the fair and full discussion the American public expects of a League of Women Voters debate."

Source: League of Women Voters

It's me again. This problem is obviously not specific to the Republicans. Anyone following the Dem's debates will see the same "controlled" conditions.

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Myscha Theriault's picture

This situation has been ticking me off for years. Good for you for giving it a voice ans some exposure. Any ideas on further addressing the issue?

Guest's picture

Seems to me that if you can convince just one person to join a debate, you can kind of embarass anyone else into it. For the most part. Maybe emphasize that the debate WILL happen, even if its just the one person alone... That way other candidates would be more likely to agree to things they don't like rather than let an opponent get more time alone in front of voters.

Based on what I've heard and read, it seems like Ron Paul and Governor Huckabee would be the easiest to get into something like that, if you were doing a Republican debate.

On the Dem side, I have no idea.

Myscha Theriault's picture

I think you might be on to something with that strategy . . .

Guest's picture
Joe Hinkley

I wish the LWV would take back their role in hosting the debates. THe country has had enough of these clown acts that are purported to be informative debates. I believe the country is hungry for legitimate debates. Too much depends on an informed electorate to get our country back on track.

Myscha Theriault's picture

I'm no political expert, but I would think that if LWV or another org / individual (Michael Moore? I know not everyone agrees with him, but  . . . ) could put enough press behind this debate being "for real" and only for those candidates with big enough samosas to participate, it might be just enough to guilt the rest of them in to it. I have my ideas about who I think is strong enough to do it, but I'll keep that to myself for now. Hmmn . . . OK, now who should we pitch, and who should pitch it?

Guest's picture

There's only two candidates among the Democrats and Republicans I'd like to see running against one another and that's Ron Paul and Dennis Kuchinich. Otherwise, its the same old same old stuff.

Guest's picture

I totally concur!

Will Chen's picture

"it seems like Ron Paul and Governor Huckabee would be the easiest to get into something like that"

Hey, you just named my two favorite Republican candidates.  They're on totally different spectrums in terms of their stance on the war and big government, but they seem relatively sincere about their convictions.

"Any ideas on further addressing the issue?"

I think the Internet is the answer.  Internet is the great equalizer.  This is why I'm SO disappointed by the Youtube debate.  Youtube could've done this completely differently and without CNN's "American Idol" format.  

I think if a big site like Digg, reddit, Youtube, Yahoo or /. call for an honest, confrontational debate, many of the second tier candidates will take the chance.



Guest's picture

Thanks for the article. I've felt for years now that the debates were messed up.

A real debate could be formed for sure. It's just getting the politicians to be brave enough to be involved that would be the challenge.

Too many people are too afraid to take a stand and back it up.

Guest's picture

Most Startling Admission in the CNN YouTube Presidential Debates

30 seconds says it all: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mALpnSTGAQs