How to Get a Ticket to the CNN Democratic Debate in Austin

a Golden Ticket to Willy Wonka's Chocoloate FactoryWilly Wonka's Golden Ticket

Willy Wonka's Golden TicketWilly Wonka's Golden Ticket

(A prized “golden ticket” to enter Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory)


So you wanna go see the big CNN Democratic presidential debate on the UT campus in Austin Feb. 21st? Information on tickets been a bit scarce? There’s a reason for that, and you’re probably not gonna like it. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but…

According to the Austin American-Statesman, attendance to this Thursday’s Barack Obama/Hillary Clinton debate at the University of Texas Recreational Sports Center will be by invitation only, said Hector Nieto of the Texas Democratic Party.

“There are no public tickets,” he said. “The majority of the people invited are going to be elected officials.”


OK, lots of people are clearly not happy about the news. But don’t take my word for it – read the hundreds of comments posted on the American-Statesman’s blog by readers.

By late in the week, so many public complaints had rolled in that organizers scrambled to change their story (although not necessarily their attendance policy) to something that at least sounded a bit more inclusive. The Statesman’s Corrie MacLaggan soon updated the blog report to read:

All of you who wanted to go have another option. The watch party sponsored by the Texas Democratic Party will be open to the public. But here’s the catch: it will cost $50.

The gathering will be at the Hyatt Regency, 208 Barton Springs Road, from 6:30 to 10 p.m., said Hector Nieto of the Texas Democratic Party.

Nieto said it wasn’t the state Democratic Party’s idea not to invite the public to the debate. CNN officials “were the ones doing all the logistics on this,” he said.

Nieto said Clinton and Obama have been invited to attend the watch party after the debate.

For the $50 entry fee, you get light food and drinks.

Or, if you have CNN or Univision, you can watch it at home for free.


Well, turns out that Plan B went over like a lead balloon with the general public, too. So organizers scrambled to come up with Plan C, under pressure from the citizenry, to explain why state residents are being shooed away from an event on a public campus their tax dollars pay to support.

It’s one thing to keep the general public (i.e. “riff-raff”) out, but hey, what about the students? Shouldn’t we encourage these young people to feel included and involved in the Democratic process? After all, their momies and daddies pay a hefty tuition, don’t they?

So the story changed again…now debate organizers say: 

The Barack Obama/Hillary Clinton debate at the University of Texas may be by invitation only, but that doesn’t mean students won’t be included, according to a school official.

“The audience will be made up of a very diverse population and a very diverse public, including a very strong representation of students,” said Susan Binford, assistant dean at the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs, which is helping to organize the event. “It’s a priority for us to have students and to have many, many students in the event.”

Although the LBJ School may insist that it’s a priority to have “many, many students” attend, they are still quite evasive when it comes to providing details as to how many students constitute “many, many” – and just exactly how the selection process will work.

At this point, the word is that tickets will be drawn by lottery. All current UT students are automatically entered in the lottery. Undergraduate and graduate students are eligible. No word yet on how many tickets will be available or when students will be selected.


The Texas Democratic Party then generously agreed to release 100 tickets to the great unwashed (this means you, the voters) through a drawing.

Those wanting tickets will need luck. Lots of luck. More than 10,000 people had entered the state party’s drawing by Thursday evening. By Friday, that number had jumped to an astonishing 26,000. Expect it to top 50,000 by Monday.

In other words, you have about as much chance of winning a “golden ticket” to this event as you have hitting the Lotto Texas Jackpot. But please do feel free to try, anyway.

Enter online or call (512) 478-9800. Only one entry per person. The deadline to enter the drawing is 5 p.m. Monday; winners will be notified Tuesday.

Oh, and forget bringing a date. Each winner gets just one “golden ticket”.


So why are the event organizers guarding tickets to this event like golden eggs? And who gets to issue those prized invitations, anyway?

The Texas Democratic Party, CNN, Univision, UT and the Clinton and Obama campaigns, of course. And they’ve got a lot of Very Important Friends. More Very Important Friends than can realistically be squeezed into a venue which only seats about 5,000 people nose-to-elbow. Out of that number, 100 tickets go to the general public by drawing, and an unspecified number (expect it to be a small token) will go to UT students by lottery.

So unless you just happen to be a party bigwig, a media mogul, a member of the UT Board of Regents, or are rather highly placed within the Clinton or Obama state campaigns, you’re most likely SOL (no translation necessary). Better stay home and see it on the telly.

Or, if you just love the local Democratic Party, you can always give them $50 to attend the official watch party with those deemed Not-Quite-Important-Enough-To-Get-Tickets.

By the way, that’s the same Texas Democratic Party who excluded Dennis Kucinich from appearing on the state primary ballot because he refused to sign a “loyalty pledge” to support the nominee without reservations or stipulations. So as you can see, this is truly the party of the people. We’re all about inclusion and a participatory voice for all, right?

LBJ and Sen. Richard Russell

LBJ gives Senator Richard Russell the infamous “Johnson Treatment.”


To be sure, this ain’t your father’s Democratic party. Or even your grandfather’s. Would the late great Ann Richards give the party a pass on this one if she were still our Governor?

How about LBJ? Would the old man be doing somersaults in his grave? You bet he would.

While Lyndon would no doubt be pleased that such a historic Democratic debate were to be hosted in his adopted hometown of Austin, he wouldn’t stand for the exclusion of UT students and the general public in favor of party elites. That line of reasoning flies in the face of everything his Great Society stood for.

No doubt, the former President Johnson would be using his considerable powers of persuasion to ensure the event was moved to a venue large enough to accommodate “damn near every man, woman and child” who wished to attend. He’d be leaning on state party officials and the candidates to surrender their golden tickets in favor of seating the public. In other words, he’s be telling them how the cow ate the cabbage. And he wouldn’t just be whistlin’ Dixie, either.


Back in the day, when Lyndon B. Johnson got in your face and told you to do something, you By Gawd did it. And he didn’t give a damn who the hell you were – or thought you were. By the time he was finished with you, your knees would be knockin’ so hard, you’d have to leave the premesis on a stretcher. Love him or hate him, that’s the way Lyndon got things done – in Texas, in the United States Senate, and as President of the United States.

Furthermore, not only would Lyndon insist upon a venue large enough to seat everyone, he would have demanded that admission to the event be FREE and open to the public. Come one, come all…that was the motto of the Texas Democratic Party in the days of LBJ.

Remember that the very same LBJ Library which bears his name (and who is a sponsor of this debate) is the ONLY Presidential Library in the entire United States which charges no admission fee. This was at the insistence of the late President before his death, and it shall remain ever so.

Lyndon Johnson was certainly no saint, but one principle he always held onto was that one’s economic or social status should never be a barrier in their ability to participate in their own government. This strongly-held belief came from being a small town farm boy himself, from coming up through the political ranks during the Great Depression, and from being a protege’ of Franklin Roosevelt in the New Deal years.

LBJ and John F. Kennedy

(At times, LBJ’s fighting style could be a little too over-the-top even for the cool, reserved President Kennedy, as this photo tellingly illustrates. From the look on Johnson’s face, it seems he might be holding up the wrong finger.)


Of course, LBJ’s late wife Lady Bird Johnson (who survived him by more than 30 years) took a very different approach to influencing important people. Her style was always softer, sweeter – but no less effective.

Where Lyndon’s bullying failed (although it rarely did), Lady Bird’s gentle persuasion nearly always did the trick. She had this marvelous way of getting people to Do The Right Thing, while never making them feel as though they were at fault.

If dear Claudia were with us today, you can surely bet that she would be appalled by the Texas Democratic Party’s exclusion of the public from this important presidential debate, even more so that it was being done in her late husband’s name.

Without raising her voice, without shaming anyone, and without calling any particular person on the carpet to answer for this boneheaded decision, Lady Bird simply would have placed a few cordial courtesy calls to party leaders, letting them know of her displeasure at the very idea of public exclusion. 

In her gracious, genteel Southern manner, she easily could have made sure that every student of her old Alma Mater was allowed entrance to the debate as well, even if the whole kit’n’kaboodle had to be moved out to the LBJ Ranch in order to accommodate every last person who wished to attend. And that, my friends, would be that.

Less than a year after her passing, it seems that Austin, her beloved University of Texas, and the Texas Democratic Party have already forgotten the legacy of Lady Bird Johnson and Lyndon Baines – if they ever understood it to begin with. Which means it is up to us, the people of Texas, to remind them.

And so, my fellow Americans – get on the horn this week. Call UT, CNN, the candidate’s headquarters, and your local party leaders – and give `em the “Johnson Treatment.”

We shall overcome.

All men are created equal…Those words are a promise to every citizen that he shall share in the dignity of man. This dignity cannot be found in a man’s possessions; it cannot be found in his power, or in his position. It really rests on his right to be treated as a man equal in opportunity to all others. It says that he shall share in freedom, he shall choose his leaders, educate his children, and provide for his family according to his ability and his merits as a human being.”

 — President Lyndon B. Johnson’s landmark Civil Rights Address to Congress, “The American Promise,” March 15, 1965





Filed under austin, election 2008, hillary clinton, jackie kennedy, JFK, John F. Kennedy, lady bird johnson, LBJ, lyndon b. johnson, media, politics, president kennedy, RFK, RFK Jr., robert f. kennedy, robert kennedy jr., senator robert kennedy, texas, the kennedys, Uncategorized

3 responses to “How to Get a Ticket to the CNN Democratic Debate in Austin

  1. Pingback: Culturally Conscious

  2. chrisy58

    Somehow this doesn’t surprise me. Somewhere along the way we went from being the party of the people to a party of the elite who don’t really care to listen to the voice of the people. It only isn’t the Democratic party where this is happening, but in our places as well. There is one standard for the rich and another standard for the working and poor in this country.

    Do the elite have any real idea of what the average American is going through these days? Do they even really care? Do they care about the problems the little guy faces? I don’t think they care one bit about the little guy. They may come out every 2 to 4 years come election time and say how much they understand our problems, needs, and are going to change things, but election after election we find those were just words and were not spoken by the heart with the intent to really change things for the better.

    Republican or Democrat is doesn’t really matter because they are both a party for the elites to run and have forgotten about the most important element and that is the people who vote for them. They expect us to vote for them, but they shut us out of the process. That is wrong!!!

    What would happen if they held an election and the little guy didn’t show up to vote? Republican or Democrat the little guy stayed home and didn’t vote. Would the elite within the Democratic party get the message and start including the people in the debates? Would they start to listen to all Democrats who have a voice and something to say and not just those special interest groups who send them large sums of money?

    Even if someone gave me one of the golden tickets I wouldn’t go, because of all the others who are being shut out of the process. When are we going to have a real town hall meeting where we as the average person can ask on the issues that are important to us and not have those issues ignored because the elites within the party don’t want to talk about them?

    Maybe this will be the year for a third party candidate? I hope so, maybe the Democratic party needs to be reminded of their roots and being a party for the people and not for the elites.

  3. James Patrick

    This was a great read. Laughed my ass off!

    I’m still looking for my candidate, still havent found him/her. got a feeling i probably won’t have a real choice this year, like milions of Americans. you’re right – we DO suffer in silence. We don’t have a voice that speaks for us.

    I wish RFK JR. would run and give the american people a REAL choice in November!!!!!!

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