“Democracy Now!” pulled off a broadcast first this week when it circumvented the anti-democratic structure that has formed around the election process and gave two third-party candidates the chance to represent the public interest during a national presidential debate.

For television viewers across the country, President Obama and Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney spent 90 minutes attacking each other’s positions on taxes, unemployment, regulations, Social Security, health care, education, congressional gridlock and other domestic issues. Progressive critics agree that debate moderator Jim Lehrer spent the evening lobbing softballs at the two men, losing control early on and failing to get much of substance from either. Peter Baker of The New York Times slobbered over the evening as “a fundamental choice about the future of America.” Truthdig Editor-in-Chief Robert Scheer countered that it was “nothing of the sort.”

Delinquent as the night was for those wanting a substantive discussion of the matters most menacing to the national well-being, a handful of people around the world were treated to a more edifying program in the livestream broadcast of “Democracy Now!’s” debate special. In real time, Amy Goodman and company hosted two alternative candidates for an expanded three-hour conversation, pausing to let Green Party candidate Dr. Jill Stein and Rocky Anderson of the Justice Party express views not endorsed by major corporations.

In Goodman’s own words:

President Obama made a good point in late 2011, when he told “60 Minutes,” “Don’t judge me against the Almighty; judge me against the alternative.” If only the public had a full range of alternatives against which to judge. In fact, most people do. They just don’t know it. The reason they don’t know it is because the media don’t report on third-party politics or campaigns. These campaigns also lack the funds to purchase television airtime, or to compete against the Democratic and Republican campaign fundraising juggernauts. This leads to less diversity of voices, and far fewer alternatives on the ballot.

As “Democracy Now!” made clear in a broadcast that preceded the debate, it wasn’t always this way. George Farah, founder and executive director of Open Debates, said that in the 1980s, the debates were run by a nonpartisan public advocacy group called the League of Women Voters. The league allowed independent candidate John B. Anderson to participate in 1980. However, the process was already slipping from its fingers by 1988, when candidates Michael Dukakis and George H. W. Bush drafted a secret contract that would dictate the debate format. The league refused to go along with it and released the contract to the public. But the major parties had already decided to usurp the league’s role. A year earlier, Democrats and Republicans had established the Commission on Presidential Debates, a corporate-funded entity that limits presidential debates to questions, themes and formats that serve the major parties’ interests. Since Ross Perot used his pocketbook to bully his way into the debates of 1992, no third-party candidate has been allowed into the forum.

The capture of the debate process has cemented the control that the numbingly establishmentarian major parties and their conservative corporate sponsors have over American politics. Their persistent hold on elections ensures that only policies OK’d by them will be permitted into American government. Aside from stories buried deep in libraries and on the seldom-read pages of the historically concerned quarters of the Internet, thoughtful independent media organizations like “Democracy Now!” represent the broader public’s only chance of discovering the many powerful, humane and fascinating alternatives to mainstream politics. For being a paragon example of that role this last week, we honor the entire “Democracy Now!” staff as our Truthdigger of the Week.

Watch “Democracy Now!’s” expanded debate coverage and their program covering the history of presidential debates below.

— Posted by Alexander Reed Kelly.

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