George Bush does not believe that the American people are interested in seeing Presidential debates this fall. His opponent, Michael Dukakis, wants to have four debates with the Vice-President. So, after numerous sessions between their respective negotiators, Dukakis and Bush will have only two debates, one on September 25th in North Carolina and the other around mid-October at a yet unspecified location.
The Bush camp wanted the two debates to be scheduled as far from the election as possible and during the World Series and Olympics. This sounds cynical and it is. The idea is that the television audience for the debates will be smaller when such popular sports events are on television at the same time.
Bush and his aides have repeatedly stated that Dukakis is an excellent political debater compared with Bush or almost any other politician. This ploy is to lower expectations for Bush by the audience so that if he does moderately well against the “champ”, a victory of sorts will be declared.
It is unfortunate that persons running for national office. do not think that trying to avoid debates and trying to diminish the audience for them will lose them votes. There needs to be a more highly perceived appreciation among voters of political cowardice. However, it is historically clear that Americans like Presidential debates. Eighty five million of them watched each of the Mondale–Reagan debates in 1984. And why not? Compared to little speech bites on the evening news for each candidate, debates are a huge public window on the thoughts and priorities of the two aspirants for the White House.
At this writing, the Bush advisers are trying to shorten the length of the two debates to one hour each, if there is a moderator, and ninety minutes if there is a panel of questioners.
All this is being decided upon under the threat of no debates by the Bush campaign if Dukakis does not agree to the Republicans ultimatums. So, Dukakis reluctantly agreed to Bush’s terms. And that is that.
But should that be the end of it? Where, after all, are the 150 million Americans eligible to vote on this subject? Who asks them their opinion? No polls have yet come out on this current event. Why isn’t the Democratic Party mobilizing the voters to demand more and longer debates closer to the election in November? Maybe it is because there is no grass roots mobilization capability by the Democrats (or the Republicans for that matter.).
Why don’t some of the voters speak up, petition and demand an opportunity to see more of the candidates face to face, deprived of their image handlers and public censors? Maybe, after all these years of being bystanders, people have forgotten what it is like to be part of the campaign’s direction and to help shape its quality.
I suggest that this omnipresence of silence be replaced with an outpouring of letters to George Bush, Vice President, The White House, Washington, D.C. Letters should be written to newspapers. Peaceful demonstrations should be conducted in front of the few remaining Presidential campaign headquarters in your city or town.
Such methods of communications should be accompanied by a list of topics you want debated. The media should be informed of your desire that they cover such debates on prime time, notwithstanding the Olympic volleyball tournament.
This election is expected to be close and the debates could decide the outcome, as they appeared to do in the Kennedy—Nixon election of 1960.
The outcome is not just a Bush or a Dukakis. It also embraces a wide range of differences as to which judges are appointed to the federal courts, what will be done about peace initiatives, a safer environment and workplace, the availability of housing and reasonable auto insurance and a host of other situations.
The Presidential debate issue is just one of many such campaign matters that voters and other citizens should consider spending time on this fall. After all, isn’t. that what the Marines and other soldiers were supposed to be fighting to defend in World War I and World War II? Democracy.