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Why I am boycotting the presidential debate

| Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Tonight, I have decided to sit a stone’s throw away from South Quad and write this article. I have made the decision to forego tonight’s entertainment in favor of more worthwhile endeavors. I could walk outside to hear the rambling voices from the loudspeaker. But tonight, I will hear from neither Donald Trump nor Hillary Clinton. I have developed across the 21 years of my life an aversion to being lied to. I do not know if I am unique in this, or if I am simply more affected, but I refuse to sit in a quasi-celebration of the hate-filled propaganda that has become the hallmark of this election. Anyone who knows me knows how much I enjoy political debate in all its forms. I do not believe, however, that this debate will really be about politics. I know that political participation is a right that people fight for every day. I do not mean to belittle the idea of the electoral debate or anyone’s efforts to become more informed about our two major candidates. I simply will not take part.

“I am a firm believer in the people. If given the truth, they can be depended upon to meet any national crisis. The great point is to bring them the real facts.” – Abraham Lincoln

My main reason for boycotting this debate is that, like Abraham Lincoln, I have strong pride in the intelligence of the American people and the utmost trust in the democratic system. And this debate is decidedly and unapologetically undemocratic in how it favors the major party candidates. The Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD) describes itself in this way:

“The Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD) was established in 1987 to ensure that debates, as a permanent part of every general election, provide the best possible information to viewers and listeners. Its primary purpose is to sponsor and produce debates for the United States presidential and vice presidential candidates and to undertake research and educational activities relating to the debates. The organization, which is a nonprofit, nonpartisan, 501(c)(3) corporation, sponsored all the presidential debates in 1988, 1992, 1996, 2000, 2004, 2008 and 2012.”

I would like to point out a few crucial ideas here. First, they say that they were established to make sure that the debates “provide the best possible information to viewers and listeners.” I welcome any explanation of this statement that justifies excluding a candidate that is polling the highest of all candidates amongst 18 – 25 year olds and amongst military personnel, is polling above 10 percent nationally, is polling above 15 percent in some battleground states, and is the only other candidate present on the ballots in all 50 states.

Please let that sink in for a second. Gary Johnson, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are the only candidates whose names appear on every single ballot in the United States. Yet, only one was excluded from the national debate. That is not providing “the best possible information to viewers and listeners.” That is a direct choice to keep the American people in the dark.

It would be nice if people all did their own research and decided on the candidates after careful consideration and discussion of all the facts, but that is simply not the case. Millions of people will be swayed by tonight’s debate and the subsequent ones. The reason Governor Johnson has been excluded is in direct conflict with the second idea from the CPD’s self-description that I want to highlight. It is the word ‘nonpartisan’.

The CPD appears to be confused about the distinction between ‘nonpartisan’ and ‘bipartisan’. The former describes an institution with no affiliation with any political party, the latter describes an institution that gives no preference for Republicans or Democrats but can show both equal favoritism over any other party. The latter also describes the CPD which is made up of current and former Republicans and Democrats. Of course they would object to letting someone else crash their debate. Even Wikipedia recognizes the CPD as “a nonprofit organization controlled by the Democratic and Republican parties.” Which makes it all the more terrifying that they have controlled every single debate since 1988.

The intention of this article is not to promote voting for Gary Johnson. I am in favor of that choice, but I am not so naive as to think that I can properly express in this piece the various nuanced positions that he holds. All I can say is that he is a legitimate candidate for the President of the United States with real experience as an executive and with real beliefs on how to empower the American people, not just himself. He will be on each person’s ballot when they go to vote and the citizens of this country deserve to hear what he has to offer.

It is not simply a slight against Gary Johnson to exclude him. It is an insult to the American people and a violation of the principles of American democracy.


Ben Swanson 


Sept. 28


The views expressed in this Letter to the Editor are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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