As of today, The Commission on Presidential Debates has announced that there will be three presidential debates this year: Sept. 29, Oct. 15 and Oct. 22, where Vice President Joe Biden and President Donald Trump will have their live forums to argue their positions on the most controversial issues of our time. Only one vice presidential debate will take place on a date to be determined one month out from the 2020 presidential election in November.
It is widely accepted that this election may be one of the most important in our nation’s history, or at least since the 1860 election of Abraham Lincoln which set the United States on a course to a civil war. But the United States is not the same as in 1860. Lincoln had only seven cabinet members with a government that was much smaller in size and scope. The federal government spent $16 per person in 1800, $27 per person in 1850, $109 per person in 1900, $1,544 per person in 1950, $4,760 per person in 1990 and a whopping $10,548 per person in 2019 (Source: usafacts.org). Plus, the true size of the domestic, non-defense workforce is as “large,” “immense,” and “vast” as the military-industrial complex that Eisenhower warned us of in 1951. With this immense machine spending our hard dollars each day, I personally no longer think of the presidency as a one man show, but rather as an administration that manages a huge business run by 23 cabinet members. It is for that reason that I feel it is time to change how someone runs for president against an incumbent who already has vetted, selected and put into place those key managers who essentially run our government.
The tradition adopted today is that the candidate running against a sitting president picks their running mate just before, or at a late summer convention and then continues the campaign as a two-person ticket. Also, keep in mind that the position of U.S. Vice President has been described by Thomas R. Marshall (the vice president under Woodrow Wilson) as being “comparable to ‘a man in a cataleptic fit;’ he cannot speak; he cannot move; he suffers no pain; he is perfectly conscious of all that goes on, but has no part in it.” Senator John McCain said the role of vice president has two duties : “One is to inquire daily as to the health of the president, and the other is to attend the funerals of Third World dictators. And neither of those do I find an enjoyable exercise." However, my favorite descrption of the post is from our first vice president, John Adams: “The vice presidency is the most insignificant office that ever the invention of man contrived or his imagination conceived.” (Sources: Politico.com)
It's time to change the rules! But wait, there are no rules. Nowhere in the constitution does it specify and mandate how a candidate runs for president. So perhaps it is up to us in media to help create change and some new presidential traditions, for this year and the many elections to come.
Wouldn’t it be interesting if we in media urged Joe Biden to not only announce his running mate, but spend the next few weeks searching and vetting, then also announcing his picks for his key cabinet posts: Attorney General and Secretaries of Defense, Homeland Security, State and Treasury? And then pressure through the Commission on Presidential Debates to add to the schedule, that we in media moderate, debates for these key positions as well. Based on the cogent questions we ask at these additional forums, the electorate can then compare and contrast those key players who currently manage these major branches of our government, against those from the opposing party who might take control next January.
And what better time to do that searching and vetting than now? After all, most of us (along with Trump and Biden) aren’t going anywhere during this pandemic, so there is much more time for both teams to perform the process, since they won’t be “on the trail” holding rallies, kissing babies and eating deep fried foods at small town restaurants in swing states. The time away from the road offers both sides the ability to plan their talking points properly, so the current cabinet members and those that may take their place can be prepared for this additional vetting, that should be part of the election process.
This election is important. Not just for us, but for generations to come. If these additional debate forums were created now, I am confident that we Americans will take the time to watch and gain more perspective prior to making our vote for the leader of the free world. And, isn’t that part of our job as the news media? To help the American electorate make the most informed decision possible?