While making fun of H. Ross Perot is a standard feature of this column, there comes a time when Your Humble Scribe has to concede that yes, the eccentric billionaire (if Perot had to live on my budget, he wouldn't be considered eccentric, merely weird) has a point.

The movers and shakers who make up the Commission of Presidential Debates recently dusted off their criteria for inclusion in the 1996 media event, and decided Perot, founder, godfather and current presidential candidate of the Reform Party, did not qualify. Perot, not at all happy, decided to sue, with the intent of blocking the debates entirely if he is not allowed on the panel.

My first thought was "Good. If the debates are cancelled, that will be three fewer opportunities for political pandering by the Clinton and Dole teams." And while this still could be a plus factor, there's far more to it than cutting down the quantity of sound bites.

On the face of it, Perot may be facing an uphill battle; it's not as though the Commission wrote its official criteria specifically to exclude him — the rules were adopted over a year ago, long before most party nominees were in place. On the other hand, Perot can claim CPD bias toward major-party candidates, both of whom get an automatic free pass to the debates. And while yes, the last few dozen Presidents have come from these parties, "major" status can be fleeting: seen any Whigs lately?

On balance, I'm inclined to believe that if we're going to have these debates at all, they should be open to, say, the top six candidates (thereby eliminating fringe candidates who have, in the Commission's terms, less than a "theoretical" chance of being elected), which this year might include Perot, Harry Browne of the Libertarians, and the ever-popular Ralph Nader. But I must confess a sneaky desire here as well: I'd love to see Lyndon LaRouche get grilled on national television, once and for all, in front of 90 million people. To the extent that Perot's suit might make this actually possible — go get 'em, Ross!

The Vent

30 September 1996

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 Copyright © 1996 by Charles G. Hill