Presidential debates have become a pivotal event in elections. That's why, for the 2000 debates, the Bush and Gore camps argued for so long over how to conduct them. What they didn't argue about was the fact that only the two candidates would be allowed to participate.
The two major political parties control the highly bipartisan Commission on Presidential Debates, and set the rules that place an unreasonably high popularity threshold for allowing third-party candidates in. For voters, however, third-party candidates often have alternative views that need to be aired.
Just imagine if such an exclusionary approach prevailed in party primaries, such as the recent Democratic ones, in which minor candidates are prevented from providing refreshing views and needed honesty.
One challenge to the CPD's cartel-like practice is coming from a new group called the Citizens' Debate Commission. Formed in January, this group consists of 17 nationally recognized civic leaders from all points on the political compass who want changes in presidential debates. A key proposal is that any candidate be included who is able to generate enough voter interest to get public campaign financing. Since Ralph Nader only needs to get 5 percent of the vote in order to get such funding, then why should the CPD maintain its current cutoff point of 15 percent popularity in the polls?
Over the years, opinion surveys have shown that the public favors more inclusiveness in the debates. The GOP and Democrats need to listen to that popular call and remove their stranglehold on the debates.