The U.S. electoral system is a farce. It is controlled with the same mastery with which Coke and Pepsi dominate the soda market. It is sold to the American public as if the free and open exchange of ideas is what’s inside, but the hidden ingredients are toxic to the body politic.
The story of Election 2014 will be how Libertarians (and some Independents) were, and will continue to be, a deciding factor in statewide elections despite the constant roadblocks. No longer polling at 1–2 percent, the jump to the 6–8 percent range looks to rewrite the political playbook that campaign workers have used for generations.
The Republican and Democratic establishment (yes, establishment, in the singular) is well aware of this sea change and are colluding to do everything in their power to quash this growing game changer. They may say they disagree on almost everything but they are 100 percent in agreement that no one other than themselves should ever be heard.
In the entire 2014 election cycle not a single high ranking Republican or Democrat took a principled stand and demanded inclusion of all eligible candidates on the debate stage. In states like Florida the legacy party candidates bickered about portable fans rather than civil liberty violations.
The background for this insidious miscarriage of representative government was established back when Ross Perot ran for office in 1992. The panic that spread through the Establishment fostered a call for a new way to combat any upstart — even those who are billionaires — from gaining access to the political arena. The weapons of choice were restrictive ballot access laws and unrealistic debate requirements employed to thwart anyone without very deep pockets and a network of followers cultivated over many years.
The magic 15 percent threshold for inclusion in any presidential debate is the establishment trump card. It was selected because it provides the illusion of fairness while effectively eliminating anyone but the Republicans and Democrats from holding office. It’s important to note that before being included in the 1992 debates Ross Perot was polling at only 7 percent and would have been excluded under current requirements. His inclusion in the 1992 debates rocketed his numbers higher in the final election total to 18.91 percent, the largest debate-to-final election percentage gain in history. Somehow, when he ran again in 1996 this billionaire did not qualify to appear in the presidential debates, being denied access by means of the 15 percent rule. This malicious exclusion was by design, not by chance.
In response to the growing corruption, the League of Women Voters dropped its sponsorship of the presidential debates back in 1988, labeling them “a fraud on the American voter.” Walter Cronkite referred to them as an “unconscionable fraud.”
The League of Women Voters is withdrawing sponsorship of the presidential debates…because the demands of the two campaign organizations would perpetrate a fraud on the American voter. It has become clear to us that the candidates’ organizations aim to add debates to their list of campaign-trail charades devoid of substance, spontaneity and answers to tough questions. The League has no intention of becoming an accessory to the hoodwinking of the American public.
—League President Nancy M. Neuman, LWV October 03, 1988
Unfortunately, the presidential debate model has been adopted by many states without any legal or legitimate public discussion. There has been no honest conversation about whom should be included in debates, whether high profile or not, reminiscent of the old joke likening Democracy to two wolves and a sheep trying to decide what to have for dinner.
Fast-forward to today and the shenanigans continue. In races like those in Kentucky, Florida, and Virginia debate guidelines were being rewritten and manipulated with the express intent of excluding legitimate and qualified candidates.
Take, for example, Rob Sarvis in Virginia. This Harvard and Cambridge graduate with an NYU law degree and married to a pediatrician did not qualify to have his message heard. After being excluded from the gubernatorial race debates in 2013 because he didn’t poll an average of 10 percent, his 2014 U.S. Senate race faced an expanded polling hurdle to that magic 15 percent number. In other debates where there were no polling requirements at all he was never even invited.
The highly covered Kentucky Senate race, which had been receiving national attention, included a Libertarian. David Patterson, a second shift working police officer, sued to be included in the one official debate on public television. At a time when Ferguson, Missouri, was a policing hot spot with many minority voters, why have on stage a police officer who was advocating for the demilitarizing of local law enforcement?
Patterson’s race saw the goal posts moved as the polling requirements went from being nonexistent, to 5 percent . . . to 10 percent. The judge who rejected his request for inclusion was none other than Greg Van Tatenhove, who “served as a legislative assistant for Senator McConnell prior to law school,” a man McConnell hired and who was a part of McConnell’s legislative staff. For Kentucky it appears the word “recuse” is not in their dictionary.
Adrian Wyllie, the Libertarian option for governor in Florida, ran into the same 15 percent hurdle and sued to be included in the Florida Press Association debate. In 2006 the requirement for inclusion was 7 percent. In 2014 — with the polls showing Wyllie just above 12 percent — it was curiously raised to 15 percent. Debates held by news organizations CNN and Telemundo refused to invite him.
Those following the Wyllie campaign closely saw a clear pattern of what could best be described as changing the rules in the middle of the game. Once one hurdle was crossed in the race another suddenly appeared in order to stifle the American ideal of open and free speech that the press is supposed to uphold.
A growing segment of the American public is now waking up to the fact that they are being herded like sheep. Libertarians and third party Independents are filling the void left by many who are fed up with two-party politics.
Political races across the country will, for the foreseeable future, continue to be in play in ways that can’t be as easily manipulated as in the past. After a certain point the dark pools of money and attack ads have little to no effect. The focus for Republicans and Democrats must then shift to how to peel votes away from the third man in the race.
Rather than admit defeat, the losing establishment party resorts to blaming the outsider for “stealing votes” that they felt they were entitled to rather than having to earn. This is the basis for the restrictive access laws. These laws serve to diminish choice and crush dissent, but are sold under the guise of maintaining order and vetting the proper individuals.
In three-way races factors like the issues being trumpeted become even more important, a dynamic which should only improve the overall quality of the political system . . . but what if that third person isn’t covered by the media?
Most Americans would agree that more choice is better, but don’t tell that to the Republicans and Democrats. In a country with over ten types of toilet paper, why is it so hard to accept that there are more than merely Left and Right solutions to life’s problems? Any real discussion on topics like marijuana legalization, civil liberties abuses, the ending of all corporate subsidies, and following a non-interventionist foreign policy are traditionally replaced with character attacks and innuendo when only two candidates are vying for a seat. Is it any wonder that half the population chooses not to vote?
The drop-off in consumption of print and TV media is a testament to the loss of confidence in those outlets. Could that be because many of them have been co-opted and merged into a strange 1984-ish Ministry of Truth? They are willing co-conspirators in silencing broad-based discussions of important issues. Instead of expanding coverage and arguing for diverse views they simply reinforce the existing power structures.
Alternative Media’s surge and the converging rise of non-establishment views on both the Left and the Right are playing out, despite the direct and indirect censorship. Polling agencies are in on it also by conducting skewed surveys that leave out candidates or restrict the responses to just A or B. Take the time to purview the collection of polls at Real Clear Politics and see firsthand how many races cited only two candidates when there were, in fact, three running. It’s been said that a tree falling in the woods makes no sound, but a candidate running for office and not included in polls is also never heard.
Fair elections involve more than 95-year-old old black women in Mississippi without photo IDs. Fair elections are about the free flow of information and choices. Just as soda companies pay off the grocery stores for shelf space — and radio stations have been caught in payola scams — the major political parties are hard at work buying access and restricting electoral options. For those who doubt this, just ask Ralph Nader about his experience trying to get on the ballot for president after Gore lost to Bush.
The Monday-morning political quarterbacks will come to realize that the rise of Libertarians to national status is now all but inevitable. Just as digital media has just about replaced print, the forces of expanding choice and access are working in favor of anti-establishment candidates, despite the blatant censorship. The third party genie cannot be put back in the bottle.