Posted 7 months ago on Oct. 16, 2012, 5:40 p.m. EST by flip
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AMY GOODMAN: That’s Mark Halperin of Time, who released the contract between the Obama and Romney campaigns, George Farah, talking about the candidates’ concerns about the role Candy Crowley will play.
GEORGE FARAH: The town hall debate we’re going to see tonight is the most constrained and regulated town hall debate in presidential debate history. The first town hall debate was introduced in 1992, and no one knew what anyone was going to ask, none of the audience members were going to ask. The moderator could ask any follow-up questions. It was exciting, and it was real.
Well, President George H.W. Bush stumbled in response to an oddly worded question about the federal deficit, and the candidates—the campaigns have panicked and have attempted to avoid that kind of situation from happening again. In 1996, they abolished follow-up questions from the audience.
In 2004, they began requiring that every single question asked by the audience be submitted in advance on an index card to the moderator, who can then throw out the ones he or she does not like. And that’s why the audience has essentially been reduced, in some ways, to props, because the moderator is still ultimately asking the questions.
And this election cycle is the first time that the moderator herself is prohibited from asking follow-up questions, questions seeking clarification. She’s essentially reduced to keeping time and being a lady with a microphone.
AMY GOODMAN: It’s interesting you say that, because Carole Simpson was just on, from ABC, talking about the role of women in these debates. You had Martha Raddatz, who was the questioner of the vice-presidential candidates, not the presidential candidates, and then Candy Crowley holding the microphone. Now, of course, she can choose the questions this morning, as she’s going to be reviewing them. And the person who’s called on, I suppose, doesn’t have to ask that question, who—
GEORGE FARAH: We don’t know, exactly. Who knows what kind of spontaneity is going to happen? But there is something ugly about having the League of Women Voters losing control of the presidential debates to the commission, co-chaired by two men who then reduce all female moderators to kind of sideshows and trivializing their role in the actual presidential debates. AMY GOODMAN: Our guests are George Farah of Open Debates and Glenn Greenwald, who just wrote a very interesting piece about how—who gets to ask the questions. He is author of the book, With Liberty and Justice for Some: How the Law Is Used to Destroy Equality and Protect the Powerful. But his piece in The Guardian is the one we want to talk about. Let’s turn to a question on—by moderator Martha Raddatz during the vice-presidential debate, when she asked the two candidates, Paul Ryan and Vice President Joe Biden, this question.
MARTHA RADDATZ: Let’s talk about Medicare and entitlements. Both Medicare and Social Security are going broke and taking a larger share of the budget in the process. Will benefits for Americans under these programs have to change for the programs to survive?
AMY GOODMAN: Glenn Greenwald, can you comment on the question?
GLENN GREENWALD: Well, the question is grounded on an assumption that is not just dubious but very vociferously debated among the nation’s leading economists, which is the idea that Social Security and Medicare are going broke. In the case of Social Security, it’s almost impossible to make that case that it actually is going broke. The Social Security actually makes money. To the extent that it is burdened with that, it’s because other government programs, whether it be military spending or all kinds of corporate cronyism, create all kinds of debt that Social Security essentially ends up funding.
And with regard to Medicare, the same thing. Lots of economists have pointed out that Medicare, with a few minor alterations, will be economically sound for many decades. This notion that it’s going broke is something that lots of right-wing millionaires have promulgated as a way of pressuring Americans into feeling like they have to give up their basic entitlements.
And so, to watch Martha Raddatz, posing as an objective journalist, embracing what is an extremely controversial premise in her question, and then watching both candidates accept that assumption rather than challenge them, sort of is the microcosm of how these debates work, which is, they pose as objective, neutral moderators designed to have this wide-ranging debate, when in reality it takes place within a very suffocating, small confine of ideas. And as George has been detailing, that’s what it’s designed to do.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, I want to turn, Glenn, to another question that was raised during the debate, and this one on foreign policy. This is again moderator Martha Raddatz asking the candidates about Iran.
MARTHA RADDATZ: Let’s move to Iran. I’d actually like to move to Iran, because there’s really no bigger national security—
REP. PAUL RYAN: Absolutely.
MARTHA RADDATZ: —this country is facing. Both President Obama and Governor Romney have said they will prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon, even if that means military action. Last week, former Defense Secretary Bob Gates said a strike on Iran’s facilities would not work and, quote, "could prove catastrophic, haunting us for generations." Can the two of you be absolutely clear and specific to the American people, how effective would a military strike be?
NERMEEN SHAIKH: Glenn Greenwald, your comments on the Iran question?
GLENN GREENWALD: Right. Well, there again you see the core assumption of her question, the idea that there is no greater national security—it’s unclear if she said "issue" or "threat." I think she just left out the word, but what she was clearly asserting was that, in terms of the array of national security challenges America faces, Iran is the most important, at the top of the list. This idea is ludicrous; it’s laughable. Iran has a minuscule military budget when compared to the United States. It is surrounded militarily, has been encircled by the United States for a decade. It has no capability to attack the United States and demonstrated no propensity to do so and would be, as Hillary Clinton once infamously said, obliterated, instantly destroyed, if it tried. So this idea that they pose any kind of national security threat to the United States is one of those myths that has been used to keep fear levels high and to justify continuous military spending and all sorts of abridgments at home to get the Americans to think we need to be in endless war. And here is the neutral moderator embracing that premise, though it’s not even debatable, as what will shape the entire Iran discussion.
Moreover, the question that she asked, if you noticed, was strictly about the efficacy of military strikes. Will a military strike on Iran advance American interests, or will it achieve a strategic goal? Whether the United States has the legal and moral right to attack Iran, whether it will create all kinds of havoc in the world, whether this will cause millions and millions and millions of Muslims to hate the United States even more is something that is just never considered, because the assumption that the United States has the legal and moral right to attack Iran is something that both the Republican and Democratic parties agree on and don’t even debate. By excluding third-party candidates, you ensure that that’s not even in question.
The same is true for the sanctions regime. Both parties, both candidates competed to say who supported a stronger sanction regime, which of course is causing extreme suffering for the Iranian people, the way the sanctions regime in Iraq for a decade not only caused suffering but killed hundreds of thousands. That, too, is completely excluded from the debate. So you don’t just have third-party candidates being excluded by—as a result of these rules; what you have is the vast bulk of political opinions and political facts being excluded because these moderators are chosen very specifically to ensure that they will embrace only the orthodoxy shared by both parties while posing as objective, neutral and non-ideological actors.