HLS Student Takes on the Presidential Debates

Rather than providing insight into the candidates’ views, the presidential debates are intentionally designed to limit the danger to the major party candidates, according to a new book from second-year Harvard Law student George Farah. In No Debate: How the Republican and Democratic Parties Secretly Control the Presidential Debates, Farah alleges that the Commission on Presidential Debates is failing in its responsibility to provide a forum that allows a free and fair examination of the candidates and their positions.

“The CPD is not the honorable institution it claims to be,” writes Farah. “In fact, the CPD is a corporate-funded, bipartisan cartel that secretly awards control of the presidential debates to the Republican and Democratic candidates, perpetuating domination of a two-party system and restricting subject matters of political discourse.”

Viewership has declined in each of the four election cycles since the commission first began hosting the events in 1988. The drop, from an average of 66.2 million viewers for the two presidential debates in 1988 to 40.6 million for the three debates in 2000, is the direct result of the commission’s failures, according to Farah. Among the problems he cites are decisions to exclude third-party challengers and limit candidate-to-candidate interaction and cross-examination. Farah concludes that the commission is controlled by the major parties and is intended to take the political hit that would otherwise be directed at the campaigns for the debate limitations.

Farah is the founder and executive director of Open Debates, a Washington-based nonprofit that seeks to reform the presidential debate process.