First Presidential Debate Shortchanges The World

10/30/2008 05:12 am 05:12:02 | Updated May 25, 2011

While political pundits and pollsters have analyzed ad nauseam every grimace and eye blink of Friday night's first presidential debate, one important issue seems to have gone unnoticed. Someone switched the rules of the debate at the eleventh hour.

Prior to the conventions of the major parties, the Commission on Presidential Debates had proposed, and the candidates had agreed, that the first 90 minute debate would be devoted exclusively to foreign policy and that the third 90 minute debate would focus exclusively on domestic policy

Yet it took 40 minutes before an international question was asked at the first debate. During the remaining 50 minutes, the moderator, Jim Lehrer, and the candidates took their time in covering only four, albeit important, foreign policy related topics: lraq, Afghanistan, Iran and Russia.

Sorry, world. Now that the United States has its own economic crisis, we're apparently too busy to discuss issues like genocide, global poverty, AIDS and the vast array of problems that affect the majority of the global community.

Human rights activists, and the hundreds of millions of people around the world who depend on their work, were left disappointed by the many unasked and unanswered questions. What, for example, will be our next president's plan for helping bring a swift end to the genocide in the Darfur region of Sudan that is entering its sixth year? What will be his policy to address global poverty, climate change and the spread of AIDS, malaria and TB in the world's poorest countries? What will the United States, as the leader of the free world, do to help protect the rights of people around the world to health, dignity and justice?

Human rights organizations had advocated for this debate to address these crucial issues of our time. Genocide Intervention Network coordinated a letter-writing campaign to Jim Lehrer asking him to include a debate question on Darfur. Similarly, ONE launched a new campaign to get "just ONE Question" about the fight against global poverty asked at the 2008 presidential debates.

Human rights activists also called upon the candidates themselves to speak out regarding their position on Darfur. And NGOs like Physicians for Human Rights asked presidential candidates to pledge to make the investments required to fulfill U.S. global health commitments, including universal access to HIV prevention, care and treatment, and to support the health-related Millennium Development Goals.

However, these entreaties fell on deaf ears.

Many understandably believe that it was imperative for the current economic crisis to be addressed at this timely presidential debate. However, the Commission on Presidential Debates, together with the two presidential candidates, should now act quickly to rectify this eleventh hour change in the agreed terms for the debate. This can be easily done by allocating 40 minutes during the October 15 debate to a discussion on international policy concerns such as genocide, poverty, disease and climate change. A new e-petition at the Americans Against Genocide website calls on the Commission to do just that.

The American public, and the billions of people worldwide who are affected by US foreign policy, deserve nothing less.