Television is a powerful medium. Richard Nixon learned this better than anyone. The 1960 election, in which he faced Kennedy, was the first to feature televised debates. Famously, Nixon looked haggard and appeared to be on his deathbed. By contrast, Kennedy was a golden statue with a silver tongue. But unlike 1960, none of the 1964, 1968 or 1972 elections featured televised debates. It took until 1976 to bring the tradition back. Is it then just a coincidence that Nixon handily won in 1968 and 1972?
Televised debates are far from an antique tradition incapable of flexibility. The Commission on Presidential Debates didn’t even take over the process until 1988. Prior to that, the League of Women Voters moderated the 1976, 1980 and 1984 debates. The 15 percent requirement is a farce. Most pollsters don’t even bother asking about anything except Romney and Obama. At the very least, Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson and Green Party nominee Jill Stein should be allowed in the mix this time. Both have their name on ballots in enough states to ensure they could conceivably garner the 270 Electoral College votes needed to win.
The two major parties know the grand influence of the medium, and want nothing left to chance. Outsiders shake up the paradigm and keep the Democrats and Republicans on their toes.
And why would they want that?
Rob Burgess, Tribune night editor, may be reached by calling 765-454-8577 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.