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A lot more interesting presidential debate

An Opportunity to Open Presidential Debates.
The latest CNN/Opinion Research Corporation survey of registered voters nationwide puts Democrat Barack Obama at 46 percent.

Republican John McCain pulls 44 percent.

Is everyone else undecided? No.

A striking six percent of Americans who are likely to vote this fall back an alternative candidate: Independent Ralph Nader.

Another three percent back Libertarian Bob Barr.

Those are some of the highest percentages in years for independent or-third-party candidates. And they matter, especially Nader's six percent.

Google and YouTube are organizing a unique presidential forum in New Orleans for September 18. It is likely to be the first debate (or debate-like "event") after the major-party nominating conventions are finished.

A candidate polling at 10 percent in national polls -- just four points ahead of where Nader is now at -- earns a place in the forum.

As Nader's campaign says: "If we get on the Google sponsored debates, we're convinced Nader/Gonzalez will move toward 20 percent.

"At twenty percent, people see a three way race."

"When people see a three way race, everything is possible."

"And we believe that in this momentous election year, everything is possible."

Frankly, the 10 percent threshold is too high.

Presidential debates should include all candidates who have qualified for a sufficient number of ballots lines to accumulate the electoral votes to be elected president.

It is not all that easy getting on ballots. And those candidates who meet the standard -- usually no more than two or three beyond the major-party contenders -- deserve a forum.

Would that put too many candidates on the stage? Don't be silly. Both Obama and McCain came from crowded fields of Democratic and Republican contenders who debated frequently -- and functionally -- prior to and during the primary season.

In other countries, such as France, presidential debates are open not merely to the two most prominent candidates but to the nominees of all parties that display a reasonable measure of national appeal. The discussions are livelier and more issue-focused, and they tend to draw the major-party candidates out -- providing insights that would otherwise be lost in the carefully-calculated joint appearances that pass for fall debates in the U.S.

The corrupt Commission on Presidential Debates -- which was set up by former chairs of the major parties and their big-media allies to limit access to the most important forums for presidential nominees -- has made mockery of the democratic process. And some, admittedly very foolish people, have actually convinced themselves that one-on-one "debates" organized by party insiders to fit the schedules of friendly television networks are meaningful.

The truth is that America needs more and better debates. And Google and YouTube have taken an important step in opening up the process by establishing the ten-percent threshold -- a standard that is significantly easier for an independent or third-party candidate to meet than the CPD's overly-strict and anti-democratic regulations. (Among rules, the commission requires a candidate who is not running with the approval of the Democratic and Republican parties to attain a 15-percent support level across five national polls.)

Will any independent or third-party candidate reach the ten percent threshold this year? Nader appears to be best positioned to do so. Despite scant media attention, he has polled in the four- to six-percent range in several different polls. Getting up to ten percent will be hard. But as Obama softens his positions on civil liberties, political reform, trade policy, presidential accountability and ending the war -- issues on which Nader has long focused -- his prospects improve.

And one does not have to be a Nader supporter to hope, for the sake of democracy, that they improve sufficiently to earn him a place in the Google/YouTube debate and other fall match-ups. And if Nader gets in, why not Barr and likely Green Party nominee Cynthia McKinney?

An Obama-McCain-Nader-Barr-McKinney debate would be less crowded than most of the Democratic or Republican primary debates, and much less crowded than the debates in the last French presidential election. But it would still be sufficiently energetic and ideologically diverse to boost the quality of the presidential dialogue and give America something closer to a genuinely democratic discourse.