Lets Debate Basics
July 4, 2000
1968, major-league pitchers, led by Bob Gibson and Denny McLain,
were so dominant that the team owners feared that the health of the game
(read: paid attendance) was in danger. Hitting was correspondingly anemic:
Carl Yastrzemski won a batting crown with a measly .301 average. Since
fans pay to see hitting, the owners changed the rules to favor the batter:
the strike zone was shrunk, the pitching mound was lowered, and
designated hitters sprang into existence.
Today, of course, the batters are
going ape. No home-run record is safe, and as of this morning a dozen
players are hitting over .350.
The lesson is that the outcome of a
game depends not only on the performance of the players, but on the rules
they play under. To control the rules is to control the results.
This applies to politics too.
Thats why we have a Constitution: a set of fundamental conditions
that limit outcomes. No matter what party wins an election, there will be
no total concentration of power, no massacre, imprisonment, or
expropriation of the losers. As James Madison put it, our Constitution is
established by the people and unalterable by the
government. Thats the theory, anyway. (Nobody told the
crucial events in our elections are often battles that occur long before
election day, battles in which the voters have little to say. This year the
presidential election may be decided by the ground rules for televised
debates. Will the debates be confined to the two major
candidates, or will they include such minor candidates as
Ralph Nader of the Green Party and Pat
Buchanan of the Reform Party?
Nader and Buchanan are both excellent
speakers and both would insist on discussing issues George Bush and Al
Gore would much rather avoid. Naturally, the two giant parties dont
want to give any dwarfs the chance to embarrass them.
The big media agree with Bush and
Gore. They are hostile to participation by smaller parties. This seems odd,
since the media usually profess sympathy for underdogs, protestors,
minorities, and dissenters. They usually promote new ideas,
inclusiveness, pluralism, and
But not this time. Two parties seem
to be quite enough, thank you. The New York Times, the
pompous pipe-organ of the Establishment, has called for excluding minor
parties from the debates, sniffing with disapproval at Naders
Nader responded with a letter to the
editor denouncing the two lookalike parties and the
Timess own disdain for genuine
competition. A front-page headline in the Times that
same day underlined his point: Gore and Bush Agree on Basics, But
Differ Sharply on Details. Maybe its those bipartisan
basics that need to be challenged.
Bipartisan is not a
synonym for unanimous. Its more like a synonym for
duopoly. If two giant corporations dominated an industry
the way the Democrats and Republicans dominate politics, colluding to
exclude smaller competitors from the market, there would be federal
antitrust action in a flash.
In the marketplace, the consumer is
sovereign, choosing among countless options for most products. But in
politics, the voter is supposed to be content with only two options, less
and less distinguishable. Just when Mexico has finally achieved a
two-party system, under American supervision, the United States is
moving toward a virtual one-party system, with two
lookalike parties agreeing on basics while
squabbling about details.
The presidential debates would
obviously be much more exciting if they were opened to real competition.
Not only Nader and Buchanan, but Howard Phillips of the Constitution Party
and Harry Browne of the Libertarian Party should participate. They, too,
are both forceful debaters who would challenge the corrupt premises of
the two-party system and convert the campaign to a discussion of
Nader, Buchanan, Phillips, and Browne
have other things in common: they are self-made men who dont
need others to write their speeches and feed them punch lines. They
arent candidates because their daddies were politicians, but
because they have their own philosophies and principles. They want to talk
Maybe the new Mexican government
should send a delegation to supervise this election, ensuring that the
American voter has some real choices.
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