Yesterday, Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Chris Dodd (D-CT) reacted to the idea being floated by Hillary Clinton and John Edwards that the number of participants should be limited at candidate debates and forums to only “serious candidates.” After speaking to the convention of Utah Democrats, Dodd told reporters, “Celebrity and money are not going to decide this race. People take some offense at it in these early primary and caucus states.” Dodd then took debate organizers to task for only giving candidates enough time to offer “bumper sticker answers” to important issues. “My problem is you’re insulting me and the American public when you give 30 seconds to talk about Darfur and Iraq,” he said. Dodd is right. The debates are set up to reward candidates like Clinton and Obama who are long on style, but short on substance.

On Tuesday before the Clinton, Edwards flap even started, Gov. Bill Richardson talked about what should be the determining factor in this election. “This should be a race about who’s got the best plan for this country, who’s got the credentials to lead this country. Not who’s the biggest rock star or who has the most money or the most political legacies.” Still it has been fellow Democratic candidate Rep. Dennis Kucinich who has led the fight against any potential exclusion of candidates. “This is a serious matter, and I’m calling him (Edwards) on it,” Kucinich, said in a telephone interview Friday with CBS. “Whispering, trying to rig an election, then denying what’s going on and making excuses. It all reflects a consistent lack of integrity.”

I think that the media furor caused by this story has put a stop to, at least for a while, any attempt to exclude the lower tier candidates from debates and events. People can criticize Edwards all they want for his statements, but everybody knows that Hillary Clinton holds the real power in the Democratic Party. If Clinton wanted the lower tier candidates excluded all she would have to do is have her campaign discreetly notify debate and event organizers that she won’t be attending if all eight Democratic candidates are invited. Clinton is already a household name with a ton of money, and the Democratic frontrunner. These events and debates need her more than she needs them. Events that include Clinton get better attendance and media coverage than those that don’t.

The other problem for the Democratic Party is that only 3 of the 8 candidates are breaking double digits in the polls. Only Clinton, Obama, and Edwards have more than 5% popular support. For example if the debates start imposing a 5% poll threshold before candidates can participate, there will be only the top three candidates at every debate for the next 6 months, which sounds pretty boring to me. In my opinion, it is ludicrous that this is even an issue half a year before the first ballots are cast. Most voters aren’t even paying attention yet, and some candidates already want to thin the field.

The changes made to the primary system in the post-Watergate era were meant to open up the system to more participation, but today we find ourselves returning to an era of back room politics where special interests matter more than the public interest. What has been built in the place of democracy is a system where style matters more than substance, and sound bytes are valued more than ideas. I am surprised that more candidates haven’t joined Kucinich in being outraged over this. I don’t think that candidates like Biden and Richardson realize that they are on the chopping block too. It is a sad commentary on our democracy when candidates are chosen based on money and name recognition instead of experience and ideas. In conclusion, I’ll leave you with this question. Is a democracy without ideas still a democracy?

Richardson quote

Kucinich quote

Chris Dodd quotes 

Jason Easley is the editor of the politics zone at  His news column The Political Universe appears on Tuesdays and Fridays at

Jason can also be heard every Sunday at 7:00 pm (ET) as the host of The Political Universe Radio Show at


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