VA7 Debate: R-MC 1, Democracy 0

Randolph-Macon College, the liberal arts college where I work, is really a wonderful place. But sometimes we get it wrong.

The College just announced a debate between their faculty members/Congressional candidates. Dave Brat and Jack Trammell will meet on campus on October 28 for a one-hour exchange. Good news for those who want to see these two hash out their differences, as well as those who like great storylines and political theater. (Remember the breathless reports after the primary? "Two college professors face off - and they're from the same college!")

But the debate is bad news for one candidate: Libertarian James Carr. In a press release that was also posted on his Facebook page, Carr noted that the "College chooses to support its staff over principles of open-mindedness."

That's not exactly true, but the College is certainly looking out for its own interests. The attention brought by the election has been understandably welcomed by a small college with a largely regional profile. Carr has no place in the narrative that pits professor against professor and raises the local and national profile of the institution.

In his press release, Carr claims that Trammell asked that he be included, but that Brat nixed it. Certainly conventional wisdom suggests that the Republican candidate has more to lose from libertarian challengers in elections (although the evidence for this is mixed at best). Brat, the clear frontrunner in this race, has little to gain from debating Carr.

In fact, Brat has little to gain even from debating Trammell; he's been generally avoiding mainstream media and communicating directly with his district through social media, conservative talk radio, and local events. I have no inside info here, but my guess is that institutional loyalty played a part in making the debate happen. The truth is that the College needs Brat much more than he needs this debate. So if Brat doesn't want Carr, Carr is out.

Carr notes that the College pointed to longstanding "best practices" for inclusion in debates, which include a minimum $50k in campaign contributions. The effect, says Carr, is "further entrenching money as key to political success." As I've noted before, this is just one of many ways that the two main political parties prevent challengers from even getting a whiff of a fair shake in the electoral process.

So now my college is implicated in this cartel-like behavior. Carr asks:

How can a college claim ‘The Randolph-Macon College academic program is grounded in the liberal arts traditions of inquiry, critical analysis, and the synthesis of ideas across multiple disciplines’ yet restrict the views presented to it students in such a clearly biased way?

I don't have an answer. It's a bad call - Carr should be in the debate.