U.S. Gov’t Advises Other Countries to Include Minor Parties in Debates

United States Does Not Practice What It Preaches About Political Debates

by Aya Katz

The US government seeks to impose on other countries, through the guise of humanitarian aid, a series of ideals concerning equality and fairness and democracy. But what the United States government practices is different from what it preaches. While we encourage inclusion of third parties in national political debates, we certainly do not practice this at home. The Libertarian and Green Party candidates are shoved aside in our national debates, but we might not look kindly on another country under our thumb that would seek to do the same with their minor party candidates.

The United States Agency for International Development, USAID, is a government entity in charge of administering civilian foreign aid. In the process of “administering” this aid, the Federal government tries to pressure foreign governments to accept and adopt certain practices which often fall under the descriptive label of “democracy.” These are ideals our government gives lip service to, though we do not by any means adhere to them ourselves.

One such practice is holding an all-inclusive national debate in which candidates of minority parties are allowed equal time to express their own opinions and concerns. According to “Organizing and Producing Candidate Debates: An International Guide”, a document published by USAID: “With an inclusive debate, the sponsor sends the message that all candidates have a right to be heard.” Though the document also discusses the downside of including too many candidates — constraints of time and space — it cautions that there might be accusations of political bias if all candidates are not included:

Limiting the number of candidates allows voters to hear in more depth about the policies of the front runners, who are more likely to actually gain office and govern. However, excluding a number of candidates can open up sponsors to public accusations of discrimination and political bias against the aspirants (or even legal action) from smaller parties that do not receive an invitation.

The document then goes on to note that the more candidates that are on the stage, the more cumbersome the staging becomes, but this can be remedied by inviting lesser candidates to separate debates. In the case of our own recently televised national presidential debate, the failure by the Commission on Presidential Debates to include the Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson and the Green Party candidate Jill Stein could not have been motivated by the lack of space on the stage or by time constraints. Nor there will there be a nationally televised debate for only the minor contestants in the race for the presidency, as advised by USAID.

As noted by an article in the The Intercept, our own debates do not allow for followup questions, while the USAID encourages them.  However, to be fair to USAID, their document recognizes that there are many different ways to organize debates. In a foreword, the US agency notes:

This guide is intended to serve as a resource for organizers around the globe seeking to hold candidate debates for elected offices. It is based on the premise that there is no one best way to carry out these forums. Civic activists in each country should hold debates that reflect their culture and political system. As such, NDI has endeavored to present a menu of approaches in this guide from a range of countries. The contents reflect ideas and lessons that NDI has learned working in partnership with debate groups to organize more than 300 debates at all levels of government in more than 35 countries. This work is often carried out in close collaboration with the Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD), the nonpartisan, nonprofit organization that has sponsored and produced all U.S. general election presidential and vice presidential debates since 1987.

The Commission for Presidential Debates is precisely that entity in the United States whose mission seems to be to keep all but the candidates of the two major parties off the national stage. But as the CPD is a private, nonprofit organization — though hardly nonpartisan — it is not in  reality a government entity. What seems perhaps more troubling is that in spreading its government propaganda abroad, USAID seems to rely heavily on a unholy alliance with the  CPD.

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