Sept. 11, 2004
The trend toward political independence is not altogether new, but it is reaching a critical mass.
According to a report by the Committee for the Study of the American Electorate, the number of Americans registering as independents has increased 800 percent in the last three decades.
Polls show youth leading the trend with 41 percent of those ages 18-29 identifying as independents. Among blacks 25 percent consider themselves independent. Among 18- to 29-year-olds in the black community, the number climbs to 35 percent. A recent poll conducted by the American Association of Retired Persons and Roper ASW showed that 56 percent of U.S. "baby boomers" would like to see a strong third party in the political mix.
Though the two parties frame virtually every aspect of our elections, more people of voting age consider themselves political independents (35 percent) than either Republicans (32 percent) or Democrats (31 percent), according to a CNN poll.
Clearly, there is a strong attraction to political independence. Yet the Commission on Presidential Debates - assembled and run by the Democratic and Republican parties to manage the televised candidate encounters - have precluded independent presidential contenders since 1992.
This is part of a generalized pattern of election regulation that depresses public interest in alternatives to the main parties and impedes the development of a third party and a national independent political movement.
After years of litigation against the CPD, by independent presidential candidates such as Lenora Fulani, Ross Perot, Patrick Buchanan and John Hagelin, a federal court judge recently ordered the Federal Election Commission to investigate the CPD's apparent failure to act in a nonpartisan manner. This intervention is long overdue.
Much is made about the need to nurture and cultivate democracy in Iraq and elsewhere. But American democracy is treated differently.
The exclusion of Ralph Nader from the debates is more than a bureaucratic manipulation to limit participation to George Bush and John Kerry. It is designed to delegitimize the public thirst for new political players.
If our democracy institutions are not proactively responsive to new developments in the body politic, our democracy will itself degenerate. Indeed, it already has. Fully 50 percent of eligible Americans do not vote in national elections.
The historical record makes clear that when independent candidates are included in national presidential debates, viewership and voter turnout go up. Moreover, polling in 2000 and 2004 show that a significant majority of Americans - as high as 75 percent in some cases - support the inclusion of Nader regardless of whom they plan to vote for.
Ralph Nader has been a hugely significant figure in American political life for a generation. He has now become a political independent, providing a visible presence for the undeniable movement toward a new paradigm that is more varied and more representative of America than the two-party system.
The hysterical reaction to Nader's candidacy by some - which has gone a step beyond wanting him excluded from the debates to wanting him removed from the ballot altogether - is as much an anti-democratic reaction to the movement as it is to the man.
A vibrant, forward-looking and responsive society must always choose the path of democratic development. The conduct of the 2004 presidential debates is a defining choice in this regard. Ralph Nader must be included in the presidential debates.