- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 22, 2000

Votes against the power of the debate commission

The Demopublican duopoly is at it again. They are pursuing the only agenda item on which there is broad, bipartisan agreement: holding on to power.

This time, the Commission on Presidential Debates is striving to limit the voices heard in televised presidential debates to two establishment candidates, who will argue over the proper rate at which to increase the size of government ("Panel names presidential debate sites," Jan. 7). The commission has decreed that a third-party candidate must demonstrate an average of 15 percent support in five national polls. In making this decision, the debate commissioners argued that a more achievable standard might lead to a "free-for-all" in the debates, with up to 100 candidates involved. This claim is patently absurd: The fact is that if every candidate on enough state ballots to theoretically win the presidency in 1996 had been allowed into the debates, only six candidates would have qualified fewer than appear in many presidential primary debates.

Some of the best ideas in American history have come from outsiders who challenged the political establishment. Such people have no chance of winning a major party nomination, and under the commission's guidelines, have no chance of being heard by millions of Americans. The commissioners know this, which is why damming up the streams through which new ideas can flow into the political mainstream seems like such a good idea to them. But it is a bad idea for our country.

TOM RAY

Punta Gorda, Fla.

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I am appalled that the Commission on Presidential Debates would consider silencing candidates running for the presidency of the United States that do not belong to the Democrat or Republican party. Clearly, the commission has exceeded its authority by believing it can determine who the American people will hear and who they will not.

To begin with, the commission should be made up of representatives from all recognized parties, not just Republican or Democrat. In the name of equality, this should be corrected immediately.

Second, it is ridiculous to propose that candidates permitted to debate will only be those registering 15 percent or better in the polls. Does this mean the commission only recognizes the rights of minorities that make up 15 percent or more of the population? At best, this is discrimination and at its worst it is censorship.

Third, polls are not 100 percent accurate, nor will they ever be. Polls can be manipulated and made to support a pollster's agenda.

Furthermore, it was not until after Ross Perot was heard in the 1992 presidential debates that his numbers rose above the 15 percent margin. Obviously, the American people need to hear from the candidates before they can decide who they will support.

The election is still some time away, and today's polls do not reflect who voters will support when we near the November election. Many will change their minds, and others will be making up their minds about the candidate they will support.

It is preposterous not to include the Reform Party candidate in the presidential debates. The Reform Party candidate has been included in the past. Who is the commission to decide against a precedent that has already been set?

This nation reflects fairness and equal opportunity. One of our core philosophies is freedom of speech. It is not for a few elitists to decide the presidential election for the entire country. Nor is it for Republicans or Democrats sitting on the Commission for Presidential Debates to decide who will be silenced.

MARIA SUMANSKI

Scotch Plains, N.J.

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After seven years, and multiple scandals involving the Clinton administration, the average American is more skeptical than ever about the integrity of its leaders and the sanctity of its governmental institutions. Now, on the eve of another election, the Commission on Presidential Debates has decided to arbitrarily squeeze out the Reform Party candidate unless he can reach an average of 15 percent support in five national polls.

Inasmuch as the third party designee will receive $12.5 million of taxpayer money, how can the commission tell the public that the recipient of that money is forbidden to face his opponents in public debates? Let's suppose that the Republican or Democratic nominee were to fall below 15 percent in the polls. Would that mean that the presidential debates would be called off? I doubt it. The American people would still want to see and hear from those who aspire to lead them, pollsters' conclusions notwithstanding.

Furthermore, it seems to me that this whole idea of polling is headed inexorably toward a time in which elections become a fraudulent exercise, subservient to a government that has predetermined the outcome through a continuous bombardment of propaganda that serves to select and eliminate candidates according to the latest "scientific" survey. The criterion for the debates should be whether the participants are eligible for public funding. To paraphrase Ronald Reagan: We paid for this microphone. Let them speak.

BOB WEIR

Flower Mound, Texas

Look for results, not jokes, from a politician

It was nice to see Hillary Rodham Clinton take a seat with David Letterman on "The Late Show." As Mrs. Clinton pulled out her own top 10 list, she intentionally and strategically blurred the line between entertainer and politician.

Her pollsters surely made her aware that many voters choose candidates based on their charisma and sense of humor rather than on any stance on the issues. Aware of this, candidates with a bit of charm can easily harness the electorate.

Our system, however, entrusts the electorate to keep the reigns on the politician. As voters, we must keep distinct the roles of candidate and comedian.

Do we ever go to the movies expecting to return home with a better health care plan or lower taxes? Do we watch late night television so that our children will receive a better education or to keep Social Security solvent? So why then are we looking for political leaders who can entertain us? It is true that this year's presidential campaign is chock-full of candidates who make a two-by-four seem animated.

I, however, don't plan to tune in to the State of the Union address looking for a chuckle. A candidate's ability to portray humor to the voters has about as much to do with governing as that two-by-four has to do with baking. I'm looking for results from a political leader, not a joke.

I'll crack a smile when the political promises become reality. Meanwhile, I'll be watching late night television.

DAVID BERGER

Washington

The long history of the term "born again"

Thank you for reprinting, from the London Telegraph, the fascinating vignette on William Franklin Graham III, son of Billy Graham, and heir apparent to his father's ministry ("Graham's successor rides on a Harley, has a gun collection," Culture et cetera, Jan. 19). I would like to offer, in addition to my sincere appreciation for your selection of that piece, an etymological observation.

Referring to the younger Graham's conversion, the reporter ascribes the term "born again" to "the language of American evangelicals." Although evangelicals in America do not shy away from the phrase, a writer for the London Telegraph might have taken notice of its British, and scriptural, origins. "Born again," in fact, made its way into the American idiom via the King James Version (also known as the Authoritative Version) of the Bible, which has been in circulation since its first publication in London in 1611.

"Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Jesus said, in response to the inquiry of the Jewish leader Nicodemus, "Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again." (John 3:5-7) The most literal reading of the original Greek is "born from above," which, in the context of the chapter, unequivocally includes the concept of "born again."

The point here is not strictly academic. The imprecise characterization of a biblical phrase as "the language of American evangelicals" suggests that it is limited to a peculiar sect of Christianity in America. According to Jesus himself, however, being born again is a universal prerequisite for all Christians, regardless of nationality, regardless of denomination. The failure to acknowledge the scriptural origins of "born again" perpetuates an unwarranted division among Christian denominations, and, as such, blocks the ecumenical commission of the Church.

ROGER BANKS

Washington

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