Saturday, October 4, 2008

Bread and Circuses, Part 2: A Giant Sucking Sound

OK, now we're going to fast-forward to 1992. Ross Perot comes in and wants to debate Bush and Clinton. Bush thinks Perot's just antiwar enough, pro-choice enough, and environmental enough to steal votes from Clinton; Clinton thinks Perot's fiscal conservatism and views on drug policy will lure Bush supporters. It turns out they're both right, but of course Republicans feel burned more by the loss. When Perot runs again in 1996, Republican Bob Dole insists Perot not be allowed to debate; the Clinton camp agrees, as long as they're allowed to set other key terms of the debates. So the CPD creates this stipulation that candidates must show at least 15% in the polls to be allowed to debate. Perot doesn't have that, so he's out of luck.

Now, Perot wasn't even polling 15% back in 1992, before the debates started, but he ended up getting 19% of the vote and being a factor in the election (even though he didn't really affect the outcome). Jesse Ventura wasn't polling that high in Minnesota before he was elected governor; fortunately for him the CPD wasn't in charge of organizing the gubernatorial debates. Nader's doing almost as well in the polls as Perot was (better, in some places), but he almost got arrested last time he tried just to watch one of the debates!

Usually, "bipartisan" has a positive connotation in politics, but even the CPD realizes that when the majority of people want to see third-party candidates debate the two majors, it's best to call your organization "nonpartisan" instead. So that's what the CPD calls itself, but it really means bipartisan--which, in this context, of course, means "partisan."

Well, there you have it. I know I've been a little longwinded, especially in the previous post, but it's fascinating in a way to see a system corrupt itself. There's a kind of perverse satisfaction in watching something inevitable happen, even when that inevitable thing is awful. When you look at it, it seems as if it couldn't have ended up any other way; once the two parties had enough power between them, they were naturally going to work to consolidate it.

Coming up in part 3: what this means and what we can do about it.

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