After all, by October 2008, it had become clear that whoever won would, as Yale Law professor Jack Balkin observed, “inherit more constitutional and legal power than any president in U.S. history.” President Obama would go on to expand those powers still further, with a secret — but apparently expansive — interpretation of the Patriot Act and targeted killing of American citizens, among other innovations.
Gov. Romney doesn’t present much of a contrast to Obama on the foundational issue of whether it’s the president’s job to “rule the country.” Libertarian Party candidate Gary Johnson, a former two‐term governor of New Mexico, does. He’s against targeted killing of Americans, he supports repeal of the Patriot Act and an end to the War on Drugs.
Johnson’s on the ballot in some 47 states, and he’s registered more than 5 percent support in a couple of national polls. But he’s locked out of the debates.
It’s “a rigged system designed entirely to protect and perpetuate the two‐party duopoly,” charges Johnson lieutenant Ron Nielson. Nielson is biased, of course, but he’s not wrong. The major party organizations created the CPD — its first co‐chairs were the chairmen of the Republican and Democratic parties — in order to seize control of the debates from the independent League of Women Voters. The scam worked: The League pulled out in 1988, decrying “a fraud on the American voter.”
The CPD set an enormously high bar to third‐party participation, and its nominal independence protected the major parties from a public backlash. “We were able to hide behind the commission,” and exclude Ross Perot from the 1996 debates, Scott Reed, Dole’s campaign manager commented.
The Johnson campaign filed suit against the CPD two weeks ago. Irony of ironies, its claim invokes the Sherman Antitrust Act. Gov. Johnson’s antitrust suit hasn’t got a prayer, but he does have a point.
Why shouldn’t the American people get at least one debate that includes third‐party candidates? We needn’t include the “Rent Is Too Damn High” guy — though that would be interesting — but why not make room for third parties with sufficient ballot access to have a chance at winning? (Jill Stein of the Green Party would also qualify, by that criteria).
Public pressure — which has cost the CPD three sponsors in recent weeks — may work where litigation fails. Make it interesting for once — it would be healthier for our democracy and for our livers.