approach we announce today is both clear and predictable,"
the co-chairs of the Commission averred in their press release
– and surely it was both all-too-clear and all-too-predictable.
"The CPD . . . requires that the candidate have a level of
support of at least 15 percent of the national electorate
as determined by five selected national public opinion polling
organizations, using the average of those organizations’ most
recent publicly reported results at the time of the determination."
What polls, taken when? Selected – by whom? The Commission
was mum on these vital points, but the intent was clear enough.
The two co-chairs of this "nonpartisan" Commission
none other than the two past chairs of the two "major" parties
J. Fahrenkopf, Jr., and Paul
G. Kirk – have decided to effectively exclude all third
parties (and specifically Patrick
J. Buchanan, probable Reform
Party candidate) from the debate. Are we supposed to be
shocked – shocked! – that these two old warhorses of the Establishment
would rule in favor of maintaining the status quo? How predictable
can you get?
ARE THESE GUYS?
story of the Commission and how it came to be is part of the
history of the elites’ attempt to control the political dialogue
in this country and rein in all forms of dissent, whether
from the right or the left. Its’ aim, from the beginning,
was to "institutionalize" the quadrennial debates, just as
the two-party system has been institutionalized, not only
in custom but in statute. The Century
Foundation, formerly the Twentieth Century Fund, the nonprofit
voice of big investment bankers and their corporate satellites,
was the initiator of the project, and the campaign kicked
off with the publication of For
Great Debates: A New Plan for Future Presidential TV Debates,
by Newton N. Minow and Clifford M. Sloan, and two
studies conducted by the Fund, which treated "third" parties
as basically diversions away from the main business of providing
a platform for the two "major" parties:
question of third-party candidates should not undermine the
goal of institutionalizing debates between the Democratic
and Republican party candidates. (That question can be considered,
in all its complexity, in the context of a guaranteed minimum
of debates between the major party candidates.)"
TO THE SIDELINES
the vision of Minow
– the former you may remember from the sixties as the FCC
chairman who denounced commercial television as "a vaste wasteland"
and called for extensive government involvement and regulation
of content – the "minor" parties would be relegated to the
status of a sideshow. Something could be arranged, perhaps
"such as free television time for candidates" to get around
this privileging of the two "majors."
great irony of the Commission’s decision is that it verifies
and underscores the very point that Buchanan has made the
signature theme of his presidential campaign: an unelected
elite is running this country, and the interests of ordinary
people are not even a factor in their policies and decisions.
The Washington-New York axis around which the country is expected
to turn dominated the make-up of the panels that eventually
formed the Commission on presidential debates: the
list is a veritable Who’s Who of the Washington Establishment,
Jordan, Fahrenkopf, John
Bentsen, Charles Black, and co-chairs Melvin
Laird and Robert
even more indicative of the character of the Commission –
and illustrative of Buchanan’s anti-elitist campaign theme
– is the
list of corporate sponsors of the Commission. In 1996,
a major sponsor was Anheuser-Busch
Corporation, which has one of the most extensive lobbying
efforts in Washington. Another sponsor was Sheldon
S. Cohen, a top official of the powerful law firm, Morgan,
Lewis, and Bockius, Lucent
Morris, the Sara
Lee Corporation, a couple of Rockefeller-connected
do-gooder nonprofits, as well as the omnipresent Twentieth
Century Fund. Past sponsors included AT&T,
Dun & Bradstreet,
Richfield, and others, with the same coterie of corporate
lawyers, Beltway bureaucrats, special
interests, and self-appointed media mavens lurking in
VISION AT ODDS
elites, in business, politics, and the media, have a vision
that is in large part at odds with the popular view of America’s
role in the world. In the realm of foreign policy, the elites
are notoriously contemptuous of ordinary folks for their seemingly
inborn ‘isolationism’ and indifference to events overseas.
Americans have had to be coaxed, prodded, pushed, and tricked
into war – from the series of Wilsonian machinations that
got us involved in World War I, to FDR’s successful scheme
to provoke the Japanese into attacking Pearl Harbor. The internationalist
elites, however, know what is best for the ignorant masses,
and have worked tirelessly to prevent the natural "isolationism"
of the American people from taking its course. Aside from
the endless propaganda that pours forth from their twenty-four-hours-a-day
publicity machine, the War Party has managed to rig our presidential
"elections" once every four years.
A CHOICE, ALWAYS AN ECHO
struggle of the Eastern wing of the GOP to retain its iron
grip – or, at least, a veto – over the party, and its success
in preventing the "isolationist" Senator
Robert A. Taft from claiming the Republican presidential
nomination, has often been told: this was the theme of Phyllis
Schlafly’s 1964 manifesto, A
Choice Not an Echo, the title of which became the
battle-cry of a whole generation of GOP conservatives. I will
not repeat that history here, except to point out that the
pattern, since 1936, has recurred virtually every four years:
the American people never get to vote on their country’s
foreign policy. As the Old Right pamphleteer and editor Garet
Garrett put it:
government in the republican meaning, that is, Constitutional,
representative, limited government, on the one hand, and Empire
on the other hand, there is mortal enmity. Either one must
forbid the other or one will destroy the other. That we know.
Yet never has the choice been put to a vote of the people."
major function of the Commission on Presidential Debates is
to ensure that things stay that way. Our bipartisan foreign
policy of internationalism, of endless intervention and outright
empire-building, profits ordinary people not at all.
But it enriches exporters, investment bankers, transnational
corporations, and the war industries (including journalism)
that feed at the public trough and profit from war. What do
we call this system of exploitation, plunder, and mass murder?
That depends on what end of the traditional left-right axis
you’re coming from: leftists call it "capitalism," rightists
call it "socialism," and political scientists call it social
democracy, the mixed economy, or even "the managerial state."
I call it cronyism, which can be defined in terms of its exact
opposite – laissez-faire.
RICHNESS OF THIS MOMENT
that’s another column. For the moment let us just observe
the richness of this moment, which dramatizes the essence
of Cronyism in America, and is expressed in the pontifications
of our esteemed Commissioners as the would-be arbiters and
gatekeepers of American politics. They are even now congratulating
themselves on their cleverness at having put one over on the
American people, who sit narcotized in front of their television
sets, mesmerized by Oprah
and hypnotized by Jerry
COUNT YOUR CHICKENS . . .
they should at least wait a decent interval before they break
out the champagne and celebrate their victory. The hypocrisy
and absolute foolhardiness of this attempt to smash all dissent
in the name of "informing" the electorate could boomerang,
and badly. The
elites miscalculated in Seattle, when the people unexpectedly
rose up against their unelected rulers, and were caught off-guard
and knocked off balance. Blinded by their own arrogance, America’s
self-appointed best-and -brightest are stumbling into another
dark alley, blissfully unaware of the dangers, and practically
begging for trouble. Here’s hoping that they get what’s coming
to them. I can hardly wait.