Why America’s “Third-Party Airline” Shouldn’t Sponsor The Debatesby Brad Warbiany
The Commission on Presidential Debates has been coming under a lot of fire for their exclusion of third parties this year, due largely to the fact that Gary Johnson is polling at 6% nationally and happens to be suing them* at the moment. As Reason points out, they’ve already lost three national sponsors, and are currently at a lower overall sponsor number than any previous debate.
But they still have seven national sponsors, one of which is Southwest Airlines. Southwest Airlines seems like a strange company to participate in an exclusionary political sham**, given their history as a minority carrier in the market, and the fact that they so clearly buck industry trends.
So I’m sending them the below letter. Southwest is, IMHO, opposed to the very sort of exclusionary pull that the CPD is trying to push. I’d recommend that others write, call, etc to let them know how you feel***. If you’d like, feel free to use the below as your own template (although I note that it’s too long for their email submission form, so I’m sending it by US mail).
The CPD is perpetuating a sham, and has lost three national sponsors. Let’s try to make it four.
Dear Southwest Airlines,
I am writing today to express my surprise and dismay to learn that you are a sponsor of the Commission on Presidential Debates. While I understand your goal – to create an informed electorate in American participatory democracy – I don’t believe that the CPD’s practices are beneficial to the national dialogue. Further, I don’t believe that their exclusionary policy towards third-party candidates is consistent with the ethos of Southwest Airlines, the very successful “third-party” airline.
Southwest was a beneficiary of airline deregulation – of ending the system that said that every bit of air travel should be controlled by the Civil Aeronautics Board, including fares and routes of service. Southwest was forced to defend their right to fly even intrastate flights without submission to the CAB in court, an action that rose all the way to the US Supreme Court. Southwest was unable to expand into interstate routes until deregulation occurred and the CAB was dismantled. Of all enterprises, Southwest Airlines should be especially sensitive to the abuses of monopoly/oligopoly powers.
Today, the Commission on Presidential Debates is akin to the CAB. It is a body wholly run by, and for the benefit of, the Republican and Democrat Parties. Its goals are to keep third-party candidates (and by extension, third-party ideas) out of the public eye. It’s no different than the CAB only allowing approved airlines to fly interstate routes, with one exception: it’s a field far more important than air travel – the very decision of who will exert political power over American citizens.
Two minor-party candidates will be on the ballot in enough states to have a mathematical possibility of winning 270 electoral votes; Gary Johnson of the Libertarian Party and Jill Stein of the Green Party. While I certainly think it’s unlikely that either has a credible chance to win, I find it deplorable that Southwest Airlines would support a debate organization that won’t even offer them the chance to stand on stage and offer an alternative to the major parties.
I personally believe that Southwest Airlines continues to exist in the marketplace because you are different; you have more efficient business practices that allow you to streamline operations, offering lower-cost flights while still remaining profitable. Your very existence also forces the major carriers to change their practices to meet your competition. Free competition – the competition that CPD is insulating the major parties from – causes all players in the market to improve.
You offer your customers a choice, yet by your sponsorship of CPD you support a debate organization that hides choice from Americans.
I don’t believe Southwest Airlines would appreciate a monopoly action by American and United determining which airlines were entitled to land US airports. Nor do I think Southwest Airlines should sponsor a debate organizer who determines which voices are entitled to reach the ears of the American voter. As a business traveler, I fly Southwest several times each year. I do so because you offer me a compelling product not available from the major carriers. I humbly ask that you reconsider your sponsorship of an organization that won’t allow a compelling non-major product a platform in America’s most competitive product arena – our very governance.
* Note: At TLP, we have some internal disagreement over whether an antitrust suit is a legitimate tactic to fight the CPD. The CPD is a natural, not a coercive, monopoly. It comes down to the question of whether you support using the tools of your enemy to defeat that enemy, even if you think those tools are illegitimate. I raise this point because I think it’s irrelevant to the question at hand, that Southwest Airlines still has no reason to sponsor the CPD. Thus the question of Johnson’s antitrust suit is an academic / philosophical debate for another day.
** I note that Anheuser-Busch is a national sponsor as well. And those of you who know I’m a homebrewer and beer drinker might wonder why I’m not similarly attacking them. The reason, of course, is that Anheuser-Busch is exactly the sort of company that wants to limit choice and keep anything but “big industrial beer” away from the consumer. If Samuel Adams [or any other craft beer company] were sponsoring the CPD, you can rest assured that I’d have similar vitriol for them.
*** Note: as with anything, if you want to have an impact, be respectful. I sincerely mean it when I say that I believe Southwest’s goal is to support these debates so that we have an informed populace. The key to winning this battle is not to impugn their motives, but to show them that the CPD is NOT the right vehicle to educate and inform the public. The goal is to make Southwest realize that they’re participating in a sham, and to realize that it’s beneath them to continue their association.