Not surprising, but disappointing nonetheless:
When presidential debates are in the news, it is usually because of something a candidate says. But the omission of New Orleans this week from the roster of four cities that will hold the 2008 debates raised the question of whether politics was behind the site-selection process.
Many in New Orleans were stung by the decision and said the bipartisan Commission on Presidential Debates, which chooses the sites for the general-election debates, had unfairly sent a signal that New Orleans was still not ready for prime time. And they said politics had been at play because Republicans in particular did not want to have to confront the severe challenges that New Orleans poses.
"Members of the Commission on Presidential Debates continue to come up with preposterous excuses -- some of them contradictory -- as to why they snubbed New Orleans as a debate site," an editorial in The Times-Picayune of New Orleans said yesterday. "No wonder New Orleanians think the process was rigged and three presidential candidates have criticized the decision."
The commission, a private organization unaccustomed to being publicly second-guessed, has been slow to respond. Frank J. Fahrenkopf Jr., the commission's Republican co-chairman, said the decision was based on technical criteria, not politics. Paul G. Kirk Jr., the Democratic co-chairman, said New Orleans "did not measure up."
The process of selecting and running presidential debates is in desperate need of reform. For instance, I know that I have a bias towards the Left Coast of this country having lived here (and continuing to, as well) for the vast majority of my life. But it's at least a bit quizzical that there is not a single general election debate significantly West of the Mississippi (the Vice Presidential debate will be held just to the West of the river in St. Louis).
More to the point of this article, it's rather amazing that there will not be a debate in New Orleans next year. While the commission offers a few potentially cogent arguments as to why there will not be a debate in the city this cycle, the fact is that had they wanted a debate there, such a debate would have occurred. It's that simple.
This organization may be bipartisan, but it smacks of everything that is wrong with the type of faux-bipartisanship that too often permeates in Washington. Insiders come together and decide, behind the cloak of darkness, just where these debates will be held. Simply because the Republicans don't want to address the immense failure of the Bush administration to deal with either the lead up to or the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and the Beltway Democrats on the Commission are unwilling to call out their fellow members we're not going to get a debate in New Orleans.
I don't think it's likely that there's going to be much change -- but perhaps a true outcry from the American people would change that. So if this decision, as well as others made by the Commission in the dark of night, offends you, send a message to the Democratic National Committee and you'd like to see things done differently. Nothing's going to change unless people speak out, frankly, so get involved if you're interested.