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"We desperately need to inject new ideas, new voices, new formats and new approaches into our lifeless debate process," argues Eli Beckerman.

The country deserves presidential debates, not more reality TV

Beckerman is the founder of Open the Debates, a cross-partisan group that advocates allowing more third-party and independent candidates to participate in campaign debates.

In 1858, the country was divided. Abraham Lincoln opened his campaign for the Senate in Illinois with a powerful and controversial speech quoting Jesus: "A house divided against itself cannot stand." He added, "I believe this government cannot endure, permanently half slave and half free."

Incumbent Democrat Stephen Douglas engaged Lincoln in a defining series of seven debates focused on the issue of slavery and its expansion to the western territories. The debates jolted the nation, drawing crowds of tens of thousands and widespread national coverage. While Douglas won the Senate race, the debates catapulted Lincoln to the Republican nomination for president in 1860 — and the pivotal role in saving the nation.

As we seek to exit another dark period of disunity without fraying the "bonds of affection" and "mystic chords of memory" that Lincoln believed unite us, we would be wise to look to the nature of our political discourse and the political debates that shape it.

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There are steps we can take to open the presidential debates to candidates who want to change the system, writes Beckerman.

All politics, and all political transformation, is local

Beckerman is the founder of Open the Debates, a cross-partisan group that advocates allowing more third party and independent candidates to participate in campaign debates.

Are you sick of our political discourse yet? I know I am.

Are you tired of being trapped in a two-year vortex of nauseating presidential politics every four years?

For better or worse (okay, definitely worse), presidential campaigns capture the energy and attention of voters and leave us feeling powerless to fix a completely broken political system. Candidates that aim to fix the system — think John Anderson, Ross Perot, Ron Paul, Ralph Nader, Gary Johnson and Jill Stein — get shut out of the main conversation.

There have been countless efforts to hold the self-proclaimed Commission on Presidential Debates accountable to produce fair and inclusive debates. But it is a private corporation created by the Democratic and Republican parties, and it has the political establishment's blessing to maintain a duopoly on presidential debate participation. The courts, so far, have obliged.

If we are ever going to succeed at opening up the presidential debates to more voices and better choices, we need to do two big things that will take the decision-making out of the hands of some untouchable front-group for the two parties:

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