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Last week, the Committee for a Unified Independent Party filed a
lawsuit challenging the Federal Election Commission’s regulations which
allow the exclusion of independent and minor party candidates from the
presidential debates this fall. While I am a Republican, and expect to
remain a Republican, I believe that the lawsuit should succeed and I
strongly support it.

Constitutional self-government must not be sacrificed to merely
partisan goals. Certain matters of political process are accordingly
real litmus tests of the commitment of our parties and our politicians
to preserving the substance, and not just the forms, of self-government.
Reasonable access to the ballot and the public eye for independent
candidates and alternative political parties is such an issue.
Self-serving attempts by political parties or politicians arbitrarily to
restrict the public’s awareness of the choices available to it on
Election Day are simply un-American. It is crucial that we judge the
inclusion or exclusion of presidential candidates from this fall’s
nationally televised, “non-partisan” debates according to truly
non-partisan criteria.

Our political elites may be inclined to forget it, but the reason we
have elections is that we believe that the judgment of the people on
Election Day is the fundamental act of sovereignty on which the
government is based. Our confidence in the good sense of the people,
however, presumes that the people are aware of what their choices are.
Falsifying the list of choices we put before the people on Election Day
is every bit as treasonous as royal advisors lying to the king about the
real options he has for action. Government is the instrument of the
sovereign and lying to the sovereign about his governmental options is
theft of sovereignty — it is treason. In America, the people are
sovereign. Attempts to conceal from the people the range of choices
they have for the government they have established as their instrument
are treasonous.

Today, this treason takes the form of a particular fiction of
“viability” that the media promotes and the established parties
encourage. The process by which certain individuals become “viable” and
begin to receive the attention of the media depends largely on the murky
business of polling. The American people are confronted with
manipulated polling data and informed that only certain individuals or
policy positions have significant support and represent the range of
possible choices. Sure enough, people and issues on that list do better
in polls than the ones that are not on the list — and this, in turn,
constitutes fresh evidence of their superior viability.

It has reached the point that the range of political choices the
typical voter is aware of is substantially restricted by the judgment of
media bosses as to who belongs on their polling lists and who doesn’t.
This censorship can be fatal to the electoral prospects of the
candidates the media bosses don’t put on their lists. But, more
important than the threat to particular candidates is the potentially
fatal threat to the integrity of the judgment of the American people and
of the electoral process.

There should be no reliance, whatsoever, on public opinion polls.
The incorporation of polls into the mechanisms of our public political
process is perhaps the most dangerous thing we are doing in American
political life. Most Americans don’t understand how these polls are
conducted and are not in a position to detect whether they are
manipulated and rigged. As soon as we grant polls any role in our
political process, we are turning the electoral system over to forces we
can’t control, do not understand and which may some day turn against us
and manipulate the system in a way that is adverse to the integrity of
the outcome.

A similar threat to our political integrity arises when the
Republican and Democrat Party elites attempt to suppress the visibility
of candidates and political movements outside their respective folds.
Reasonable arguments can be made for and against the so-called “two
party system.” But whether or not the American people would in fact be
wise to apportion their political support principally to two major
parties, this result cannot be pre-determined by manipulation. The
two-party system can legitimately be preserved only by consistent
electoral success by the two major parties in an environment that
provides a fair test for the judgment of the people. If the two-party
system cannot defend itself on a truly fair playing field, then it does
not deserve to exist.

Today the two-party establishment is increasingly tempted to
establish corrupt and limiting mechanisms in order to try to defend
itself against that true test. Such manipulation ultimately feeds a
cynical sense on the part of many people that our elections are a sham
without significance — resulting merely in manipulated outcomes
dictated by those who already have the power and the money. That sense
of cynicism will destroy our political system precisely because it
discourages our people from exercising their best judgment on Election
Day. We are moving toward the worst possible situation — one in which
a false set of possibilities is voted on by a people increasingly
convinced that manipulation of the process makes their own deliberations
irrelevant.

In the face of these twin threats to our political integrity, we need
to work for a restoration of the people’s confidence that their
electoral choices are real choices and that their deliberations must be
correspondingly thoughtful and serious. The presidential debates are a
crucial opportunity to encourage this confidence. The debates mark the
moment of intensified national attention to the campaign. Until the
debates, most Americans are too busy with their jobs, raising their
families, and otherwise keeping the country going to indulge in the kind
of rapt, ongoing attention to national politics that most of the media
and political class indulge in. Most citizens can devote only part of
their time to their vocation of citizenship and they husband this time
for the crunch, the last two or three weeks before an election. And,
just when the election comes into focus for most Americans, the
presidential debates serve as punctuation marks that command the
attention of millions of busy but diligent citizens. The debates mark
the only times before the actual election when a massive audience of the
electorate gathers in order to make its judgment.

At this point of intense citizen attention, it is most destructive to
permit an arbitrary and duplicitous exclusion of candidates duly
qualified under the rules established to guarantee an orderly electoral
process. All Americans, of whatever party or affiliation, are harmed by
the attempt to exclude legitimate candidates from presentation to the
national electorate in the allegedly non-partisan, educational forum of
presidential debates.

The objection that we can only allow the Republican and Democrat
candidates to participate in the debates because otherwise we open the
doors to an unintelligible multitude of minor candidates is a red
herring. The challenge of setting a reasonable threshold is faced by
every state in establishing its procedures for presidential ballot
access. Access to the presidential ballot requires meeting a high set
of ballot qualification standards that vary state by state. Access to
the non-partisan national debates should defer entirely to this state
ballot process. This can be done by adopting a simple, clear, and
constitutional criterion for participation in the national debates;
anyone who has qualified for the presidential ballot in a combination of
states sufficient to make winning a majority of electoral votes a
theoretical possibility would automatically be admitted to the
nationally televised debates. If there is a general opinion that this
produces too crowded a field, state ballot requirements can be tightened
by the people through their representatives.

It is essential that the standards for political consideration be
publicly established; once anyone has played by those rules and
qualified as a candidate at whatever level, they should not be excluded
from presentation to the people. This is a prerequisite of freedom –
something we were, perhaps, more aware of when we were fighting against
the communists. We recognized their elections as phony precisely
because the candidates were chosen by back room elites, by apparatchiks.
Now, we are slowly letting our political system slide into a similarly
repressive sham and, thereby, risking that our freedom will be reduced
to a myth. In the end, without vigilant preservation of real electoral
choice, we will develop such distaste for the false myth of freedom that
we will give-up whatever remains of its substance. To avoid this
tragedy, we must all work together to restore the system to full
integrity. Whoever qualifies, as a candidate under public and fixed
rules must be presented to the American people. In no other
circumstance is this clearer than in the simple question of
participation in the presidential debates this fall. Any candidate who
has qualified for the ballot in states representing a potential
Electoral College majority must, by that fact alone, be permitted to
take part in those debates.

An electorate that fails to insist on this simple standard is unjust
not to the excluded candidates who seek to serve it, but to the dignity
of its own sovereign responsibilities.

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