History Of US Political Debates

When Abraham Lincoln and Stephen A. Douglas faced off against each other in the 1860 Presidential election the American people knew more about the candidates than they ever had before. Two years before they had competed for election to the Senate (Douglas won) and as part of that campaign they’d done something new and exciting. Illinois had nine Senate districts and they’d both already spoken in Chicago and Springfield, but they decided to hold public debates in each of the remaining districts. Unusually for political debates these drew in big audiences; slavery was the hot political issue at the time and people flocked in to hear the candidates’ opposing views. After the election Lincoln had the texts of all the debates published as a book, which was hugely popular and helped win him the Republican nomination for the 1860 election. As the American people prepared to vote they were able to read what their two candidates had said to each other about the issues of the day, and that helped them make their choice. Lincoln won.


Perhaps Republican hopeful Wendell Wilkie had the Lincoln-Douglas debates ñ and the GOP victory they contributed to – in mind in 1940, when he challenged Franklin D. Roosevelt to a debate in the run-up to the election. If so it seems Roosevelt hadn’t forgotten either, because he declined.

In 1948 Republican primary candidates Thomas E. Dewey and Harold Stassen faced each other in a radio debate. It wasn’t until two elections later that the Democratic Party decided to do the same, but when Adlai Stevenson and Estes Kefauver debated in 1956 it generated a lot of interest in the idea. Maryland seems to have been a hotbed of enthusiasm for a debate; the University of Maryland invited both presidential candidates to a face-to-face showdown, and the Baltimore Sun ran an editorial supporting the idea. Eleanor Roosevelt threw her weight behind it, too, and there were discussions about it in both parties. The debate never happened in the end; the time wasn’t quite right yet. It wasn’t long in coming though.

One of the highlights of the 1960 presidential election was a series of debates between Democrat John F. Kennedy and Republican Richard M. Nixon. This time there was a new element ñ television. A third of the US population tuned in to see the first debate, one of the highest audience shares in history. With images of the candidates to go with their words people had a whole new set of cues to pick up on, and Kennedy had grasped that. Nixon, apparently, hadn’t. Kennedy spent the weekend before the first debate hole dup in a hotel with his advisers, practicing how he’d answer difficult questions. Nixon, despite suffering from flu, was out campaigning. During the debate itself Kennedy kept his smile fixed firmly on the camera while Nixon looked at the reporters who were asking the questions. To the viewers it gave him a shifty look, with his eyes never meeting the gaze of the camera. Even his light gray suit was a mistake ñ it emphasized his pale complexion. The results were dramatic ñ after that debate Kennedy overcame the more experienced Nixon’s lead, and was the front runner for the rest of the campaign. It’s widely believed that those who watched the debate on TV thought Kennedy was the winner, while those who listened on the radio felt Nixon was the more competent and trustworthy candidate.

Maybe the obvious power of TV debates frightened off presidential hopefuls after that, because it didn’t happen again until 1976. Jimmy Carter and incumbent Gerald Ford agreed to a series of three debates that year. Carter had started the campaign with a big lead, but Ford was steadily cutting into it and after the first debate polls showed he had drawn level. Then, under pressure in the second debate, he claimed the Soviet Union didn’t dominate Eastern Europe and never would as long as he was president. That was seen as showing both complacency and a poor grasp of the facts, because there were a million Soviet troops in Eastern Europe at the time, and it put many voters off. Carter won the election and the debates have often been credited for his victory.

It didn’t go so well for Carter in 1980. His opponent this time was Ronald Reagan, who had a long acting career behind him and knew exactly how to win over a TV audience. The fact that his campaign team had managed to get hold of Carter’s briefing notes for the debates probably didn’t hurt, but with Carter’s administration in trouble and Reagan’s experience in front of a camera the outcome was never really in doubt.

Since then debates have been a regular feature of presidential elections. Vice presidential candidates have had their own debates since 1984, although these haven’t had much effect on the campaigns. The first time a third party candidate took part was in 1992, when Ross Perot debated President Bush and Bill Clinton. The 1992 campaign is also noteworthy because Bush was reluctant to take part in a debate. Unfortunately for him it had now become an expected part of the campaign and he was widely ridiculed for trying to back out, and finally agreed. In the event most people thought he’d performed poorly, including looking at his watch as if anxious for it to be finished. Perhaps that contributed to Clinton’s victory.

Until 1988 presidential debates were sponsored by the League of Women Voters, but they finally withdrew their support in protest at the parties attempting to control the format too rigidly. They’re now run by the Commission on Presidential Debates, a bipartisan nonprofit set up by the two main parties. This has brought some criticism too, as it’s very hard for third party and independent candidates to take part unless they attract at least 15 per cent of the popular vote, and there’s pressure to make the debates more diverse. Still, even in their current format they’re useful. Presidential election campaigns in the USA are extremely long ñ they run for almost a year, compared to a maximum of five weeks in the UK ñ and voter apathy is a real issue. A high profile debate gives the public a chance to see the candidates away from the often byzantine dealings of the primaries, so it’s good news that they seem to have become a permanent feature of the political landscape.

Final goal of the Surveillance State

Great post from activistpost.com


Jon Rappoport
Activist Post

Surveillance is coming at us from all angles. Chips, drones, TSA checkpoints, smart meters, back-doored electronic products, video cameras, spying home appliances; our phone calls and emails and keystrokes and product purchases are recorded.

The government and its allied corporations will know whatever they want to know about us.

What then?

What happens when all nations are blanketed from stem to stern with surveillance?

Public utilities, acting on government orders, will be able to allot electricity in amounts and at times it wishes to. This is leading to an overarching plan for energy distribution to the entire population.

Claiming shortages and limited options, governments will essentially be redistributing wealth, in the form of energy, under a collectivist model.

Online Debating Forums

Debating is a civilized, structured form of arguing and it can be a lot of fun. It’s also a great way to learn more about an issue; in a good debate both sides will present a lot of evidence and explain what they think it means. It’s always helpful to have your own beliefs challenged, and whether you take part in a debate or simply spectate the chances are you’ll be forced to think a lot harder about your own opinions than you have done in a while. Unfortunately up to now the chances to get involved in a debate have been limited – outside of professional politics they mostly happen at universities or dedicated clubs. The internet has changed that, though – now you can easily get involved at an online debate forum.

Some online debating forums are run by universities; at first these were meant for their students, but many of them are now open to the public. Others have been public from the start. Some of these are run by governments or other political organizations, who often think they’re valuable tools; hosting debates can help them get their message across, but it can also give them feedback on what people are thinking and what they think of new policies. You can find forums dedicated to a specific subject area, like politics or religion, while many others will host debates on just about anything. The standard of debates is often very high, with arguments being thoroughly referenced, and sophisticated voting systems compare how people voted before the debate with how they voted after it. Most sites let you set up debates yourself; the result is that there is an incredible variety of debates available to read or participate in.

To find an online debate forum you can search for the topics you’re interested in, or just log on to one of the popular debate sites and start looking for debates you’d like to join. Most forums will ask you to register; bots and spammers interrupt the discussion, so they try to keep them out. Registration is almost always free, though. As well as specialist debate forums you can find lively debates in comment sections. These have a bad reputation but often some very high quality and well supported arguments are tossed back and forth. —- If you want to get an idea of what online debates are like you should start by checking out a few websites to get an idea of the different formats. Some, like Debate.org, are structured exactly like a traditional debate, with two opposing participants who post their arguments then respond to each other. Some are more free-form, allowing everyone to participate – Politics Online is an example of this.

Taking part in online debates is a great way to understand an issue better; if your opponent is seriously challenging your opinions you’ll have to find evidence to back yourself up, so you’ll walk away from the debate knowing more about the subject than you did before. You might even find your views changing, or have the satisfaction of your opponent saying “Oh, I think you’re right about that.” Best of all is when before the debate polls say everyone disagrees with you, but after you’ve presented your arguments there’s a swing in your favor. Just like its face to face equivalent online debating isn’t just a good intellectual exercise; it’s fun too!

History Of US Political Parties

US politics is so dominated by the two big parties that it’s hard to imagine it ever being any different. In fact the current system, with a centrist Democratic Party opposing a more right- wing Republican one, only goes back to the 1930s. Over the previous 140 years the party system went through a number of changes, some of which are quite surprising today.


The United States Constitution doesn’t mention political parties, and there’s a simple reason for that ñ the founding fathers hoped they wouldn’t be formed. The background to that was the British political system, where the reformist Whigs competed with the conservative Tories. Both parties were right-wing by modern standards and the drafters of the Constitution, heavily influenced by the French revolutionaries, hated the system. Even so it didn’t take long for parties to form. Alexander Hamilton created the pro-British Federalist Party, which argued for a broad interpretation of the federal government’s powers, in 1792. Thomas Jefferson and James Madison had founded the Democratic-Republican Party, which argued for states’ rights and individualism, a year earlier. After the War of 1812, which the Federalists opposed, the party collapsed and until about 1828 parties played almost no role in government.

In 1829 the Democrat-Republicans split, into Andrew Jackson’s Jacksonian Democrats and Henry Clay’s Whigs. The right-wing Democrats supported presidential supremacy and opposed a central bank, while the Whigs wanted Congress to dominate the government and, like their British counterparts, pushed for social reform. This system lasted until the 1850s, when the Whigs split over the issue of slavery. Pro-slavery Whigs defected to the Democrats; the remnants formed the Republican Party, which took on most of the Whigs’ policies including nationalizing railroads and other large industries. The Republicans built a lot of support among African Americans and other minority groups, and in the growing industrial cities.

From the 1890s to the 1930s the Republicans dominated American politics. On most issues the Democrats were still the right-wing party; for example the Republicans supported Prohibition while the Democrats championed individual freedom and the rights of businesses. The Progressive Movement, dominated by Republicans, criticized industrial monopolies and Republican presidents pushed to reduce the power of the business elite.

Then, in 1933, everything changed. The Great Depression brought Franklin D. Roosevelt into power and, although a Democrat, he pushed through the activist policies that became the New Deal. The Republicans, losing support rapidly among their traditional Catholic, Jewish, African-American and industrial working class supporters, repositioned themselves as a classical liberal party and moved steadily to the right, until finally the two parties swapped sides of the political spectrum.

The current parties have now dominated the political scene for over 150 years, but other parties do exist. The most significant is the Libertarian Party, which mixes right-wing economics with social liberalism, followed by the pro-environmentalist Greens. The only other ‘third’ party that attracts more than minimal support is the Constitution Party, which ironically wants to replace much of the Constitution with a Christian theocracy.

Political commenters have been predicting the collapse of the present party system since the 1930s, but so far it’s been remarkably stable. It’s not likely that the political landscape will change much in the near future.

Public Criticism Of The Current Administration

The current US administration is a landmark in the nation’s history , the first time an African- American has made it right to the top of the government. It’s also been one of the most radical, signaling changes in strategic outlook away from Europe and towards the Pacific as well as trying to modernize the way Americans access health care. As a result it’s no surprise that it’s one of the most controversial administrations at least since the Second World War and possibly in the country’s history. That’s led to a lot of criticism.


Of course any administration attracts criticism; it’s pretty much inevitable that the party that lost the election will try to score points off the party that won, to demonstrate why they should get a chance next election. The details vary but the basic story is more or less the same. This time round the criticism has been harder than usual, though. Why is that?

Some of the most eccentric complaints , sometimes veering off into conspiracy theory , are about president Obama’s eligibility for his job. There’s a small but vocal minority who claim that he isn’t a US citizen and so shouldn’t be president. Moderate followers of this position say that because his father was Kenyan he isn’t a ‘natural born’ citizen. This case isn’t helped by the fact that there’s no clear definition of what a natural born citizen actually is, but as anyone born in the USA is a citizen that’s the definition most people go by. Others deny that Obama himself was born in the USA. This is where conspiracy theories come in, because if he was born in Kenya as some say then his mother was thinking far enough ahead to have birth announcements placed in two Hawaii newspapers. Obama has also been accused of being a secret Muslim by some groups.

More reasonable criticism is aimed at the Obama administration’s policies. Most of the policies implemented have their supporters, but they also have their opponents. Some have infuriated special interest groups and others have faced opposition from large sectors of the general public. These cover the full range of foreign and domestic policy as well as economics.

Starting at home, by far the biggest controversy has been over the Affordable Care Act, often called Obamacare. The goal of this legislation is to reduce the number of Americans who don’t have health insurance, and to ensure that policies provide a reasonable level of cover. It’s been attacked from multiple directions. Many libertarians resent being forced to have health cover, believing this is a matter of personal choice. There is also pressure on religious grounds from employers who want to control the medication their employees can get under company plans; most of this controversy is related to birth control tablets, which the law says can’t be excluded from policies. Some employers say it’s a violation of their religious freedom to be forced to provide cover that lets female employees get birth control; the government say it’s a violation of employee rights to have their access to treatment decided by their boss.

The National Security Agency‘s surveillance programs have also been a hot topic. Various leaks have revealed that the NSA has been automatically gathering a lot more information than most people suspected. In fact almost every electronic message sent , emails, texts, phone calls , is intercepted and automatically scanned by the NSA or its British and Australian counterparts. Messages that contain certain keywords or text patterns are flagged up for attention from a human analyst. This is an extremely valuable tool for counter- terrorism, but many people see it as a gross violation of privacy.

Foreign policy has also attracted criticism as a result of the war on terrorists. One particularly contentious issue is the use of armed UAVs , commonly called ‘drones’ , to target the leaders of al-Qaida and the Taliban. Some complaints concern the targeting of US citizens , most notably Ayman al-Awlaki , without any legal process. The administration defend these actions by pointing out that military operations aren’t court cases and anyone who willingly enters a terrorist training camp is running certain risks. Others are concerned with the civilian casualties caused by strikes in Pakistan and to some extent Afghanistan, as these are often perceived to be relatively high (although military reports suggest they aren’t).

Since the mid-1960s the USA has had a uniquely close relationship with Israel, and some Americans believe President Obama has damaged this relationship. He has certainly taken a tougher line with Israel than any president since Ronald Reagan and this is often seen as hostility. On the other hand many Israelis are loudly criticizing their own leadership for irresponsibly damaging their relationship with the USA, so it’s not a clear-cut issue. It is undeniable that President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu don’t get on personally, and their meeting shave often been tense.

The Obama administration has been accused of being soft on America’s enemies or not being prepared for security threats. The Benghazi embassy attack attracted particular criticism, but there have also been complaints about indecisiveness following the revolutions in Egypt and Syria. Most of this has come from the political right; at the same time many on the left believe he has expanded the scope of the war in Afghanistan after delaying the withdrawal from Iraq.

On a more general level the administration has been accused of valuing style over substance. The president’s political skills are almost universally acknowledged, but not quite as popular. There are frequent claims that he acts out of political expediency rather than true conviction. It’s a claim that most politicians attract sooner or later, but Obama gets it more than others.

It’s natural that different people will have different opinions about an administration, and equally natural that many of these opinions will be negative; Americans’ political views cover a broad spectrum and it’s impossible for anyone to keep every point of that spectrum happy. One thing’s for sure though. This administration has two years left to run, but it’s going to be a lot longer than that before the debate over its performance fades away.