Democratic debates are anything but democratic


The Appalachian Online

Kevin Griffin

After enduring two inane, but admittedly entertaining Republican debates, there was perhaps some hope that tonight’s Democratic debate would be different.

At last, we would have a chance for the grown-ups to come into the room and talk about ideas.

Well, maybe not. Maybe the debate will surprise us, but even before the main event, we have been left with several indications that the Democratic debates might not improve much from the Republican debates.

For one thing, this debate will follow one of the main criteria set forth in the previous debates: a polling threshold which candidates must exceed to participate.

In the case of the Oct. 13 CNN debate, the magic number is at least one percent in three national polls.

With that formula, five candidates will be allowed on the stage and one will be excluded.

Harvard professor Lawrence Lessig entered the race just after Labor Day and has held a highly unorthodox campaign.

Lessig has pledged to be a one-issue candidate, with the issue being the role of money in politics. If elected, he says he will be a one-issue president whose sole objective will be securing elections reform.

Having accomplished that, he says he will resign and turn things over to his vice president.

Lessig will not be in the debate because of his poll numbers. However, another rule that allows candidates who pledge to file paperwork by Oct. 14 to participate, would allow Vice President Joe Biden to participate.

Using polling to determine debate lineups was ridiculous when used for the Republicans, and it is even more ridiculous with such a small Democratic field that has received little coverage.

Another bad sign is the number of debates set by the Democratic National Committee. There will only be six Democratic presidential debates in total, compared with 12 debates for Republicans.

That might work out if you figure that the Democratic debates will be so overwhelmingly substantive that one Democratic debate is worth two Republican debates.

I do not think that’s the case. What seems obvious is that this is an attempt by the Democratic Party to protect Hillary Clinton.

For the Democratic leadership, there is likely anxiety of how Hillary Clinton would appear in a national forum where she would be an obvious target for attacks from other candidates.

Perhaps the desire to protect Clinton comes from a perception that she is a more viable candidate. Maybe it’s the fact that Clinton is the most establishment based candidate and the DNC leadership agrees with her more than the other candidates.

This phenomenon of the political parties trying to tamper down problematic elements of their own parties, elements which they normally exploit for electoral advantage, is evident.

Donald Trump is perhaps the best example of this. Trump’s virulent anti-immigration rhetoric panicked Republicans.

This was not because being anti-immigrant was so antithetical to the Republican position. Rather, Trump ruined the Republicans’ attempts at superficial outreach to Hispanics.

In some ways, I think that is what is going on with the Democrats. Democrats love to pay lip service to the progressive wing of the party, but their record on pushing that agenda is spotty at best.

As much as conservatives like to say otherwise, the Democratic Party is a thoroughly mainstream party that benefits from the status quo.

This is the time in the campaign when voters should be given access to all of the candidates so they can think about what candidates appeal to them; what issues matter to them.

By structuring their debates in this way, the Democratic Party is behaving in a truly undemocratic manner.

Griffin, a senior journalism major from Madison, is an opinion writer.