You might think I've made a typo here. That I mean the October 23
, 2012 Presidential Debate, the one where Mitt Romney
and Barack Obama
squared off on foreign policy
(meaning that Romney mindlessly mimicked all of Obama's positions while both Obama and Romney pretended they'd carry out foreign policy completely differently). But, no, the following night there was another debate, and indeed a much more thoughtful and grown-up debate.
The candidates were Libertarian Party
nominee Gary Johnson
; Green Party
nominee Jill Stein
; Constitution Party
nominee Virgil Goode; and Justice Party nominee Rocky Anderson. The ninety-minute debate was moderated by a sometimes cantankerous-about-the-clock Larry King
. But, although participants tended to trip a few seconds over their time, there was almost no interrupting of the candidates by one another, no clever lines by one aimed at diminishing another. The exchanges were at all times respectful, and elevated the political dialogue to a point lost from the Republicrat fray.
This was, it must be noted, a highly unusual gathering in the history of third party politics. "Third Party" debates have been held for decades, but almost always feature an eclectic cast of characters, often businessmen or preachers or community organizers who'd never held an office higher than a town council seat, and some of whom are so unserious as to make the entire exercise seem silly. Often, none have had the sort of experience usually taken to be credibly cast as a potential president. The candidates who consider themselves to be more serious have sometimes even skipped these events for just this reason. But this debate was very different....
* The Libertarian candidate was a former two-term governor of New Mexico
, with more actual executive experience than the Republicrat candidates combined
* The Constitution Party candidate had served twelve years in the United States House of Representatives, from Virginia
* Even the candidate of the newly minted Justice Party had the experience of being mayor of a large metropolitan area, Salt Lake City
for eight years.
* And lastly, well it turns out that the highest office the Green Party candidate has held was indeed on the Town Council, but Jill Stein -- a Harvard-educated medical doctor with two-and-a-half decades of practice, did not seem at all out of place in this group. Interestingly, Stein has a unique bit of experience qualifying her for this candidacy. A Massachusetts
resident, she had previously run for governor of the state in 2002. Against Mitt Romney.
For the most part, the entire group, from ultraliberal to moderate left to highly conservative, agreed that both Romney and Obama offered recipes for disaster, and excoriated many of the positions upon which the 'major party' candidates (who, by the way, were invited, but declined to attend) agreed. All four were appalled by the NDAA provision which Obama signed and Romney approves of which would allow the government to indefinitely detained citizens supposedly suspected of terrorism. All expressed disdain for the notion that the US ought to police the world (which Obama and Romney had embraced in the previous night's debate), and all especially criticized the use of drone strikes (which Obama has used extensively, and which Romney, when asked if he would use them, agreed so excitedly that he seemed sexually aroused by the prospect).
But they had their differences as well. Three of the four would legalize marijuana
immediately (and, likely, end other drug prohibitions -- Governor Johnson even indicated that a group of Oregon judges had proposed to him that legalizing cocaine
would eliminate the demand for domestic manufacture of the more harmful methadone
). Congressman Goode would keep marijuana illegal, but quixotically would further his desire to balance the budget by spending no federal money pursuing it. By contrast, Obama -- who has admitted high school marijuana use -- waves off questions about legalizing it (while his administration seems to waiver on how much attention they would give to prosecuting offenders, insisting they won't go after legitimate medicinal users), while Romney, who won't even drink coffee
for being a "drug" has promised to "fight tooth and nail
" to prevent marijuana legalization for any
All agreed that defense spending ought to be cut to only what is needed to actually defend our nation. The sharpest divide arose on economic issues, where Stein and Anderson championed expanded federal government (free college for all, and universal healthcare), while Goode proposed to balance the budget by eliminating virtually all federal spending, and Johnson promised to eliminate the income tax
and the IRS
, replacing them with a national consumption tax. On Stein's proposal for free education, Johnson countered that "free" would end up costing an awful lot, and would only incentivize the colleges and universities to charge higher and higher fees, knowing the government would pay them whatever the cost. On immigration, Johnson would give a work visa to anybody who wanted to contribute to the US economy, while Goode would close immigration entirely until Americans were better employed.
Lastly, the candidates were asked what one amendment they would add to the US Constitution if they were guaranteed its passage. Anderson noted a proposal posted on his website for an Equal Rights Amendment
covering both gender and sexual orientation/identity. Goode touted term limits, and Johnson echoed that, each citing to their own experience with reelection concerns. Stein thought term limits wouldn't be enough, since corporations would simply buy candidates for shorter periods, and instead proposed preventing corporate money in elections, to restore the notion that corporations aren't
And, it must be noted, the candidates made a compelling argument for 'wasting' a vote on a third party. They noted, for example, that though sixty million might turn out to vote for Obama, and another sixty million might vote for Romney, that meant that ninety million people wouldn't bother voting at all -- but if that ninety million would turn out for one of the candidate on that stage, it would dwarf the results of the other two. And Governor Johnson pointed out that if people nationwide would "waste their vote" on him, then he'd be the next President of the United States.
But whether or not it may realistically be imagined that any third party candidate has a chance to win in this cycle, we can at the very least catch a glimpse of hope in the proposition that, this event as an example, presidential debates can in fact be both mature and informative, can avoid canned answers and offer real and unvarnished truths and hard solutions to the same.
For Election 2012: An Unofficial Quest Announcement