For Release Sunday, Nov 4, 2012
© 2012 Washington Post Writers Group
Should radical action be taken to relieve America’s “young people with crushing record tuition debt?”
Or consider this: Should we “stop being the policeman of the world,” including the drone attacks that often go askew, “dropping bombs on weddings and funerals”?
And there’s campaign finance: Should the American people move to curb the “disastrous,” “corrupting” influence of big money on elections, including a constitutional amendment to “clarify that money is not speech, and corporations are not people?”
Agree or disagree with those recommendations, they clearly deserve full public debate.
So why weren’t they raised at any of this autumn’s official presidential debates, sponsored by the Commission on Presidential Debates?
The reason is simple. Formed in 1987 by Democrats and Republicans, the commission sets a ridiculously high threshold – 15 percent – that any minor candidate must achieve in national polls to be allowed on the nationally televised debate stage with the major party candidates.
Since then, only Ross Perot in 1992 has been able to participate. The system is clearly an exclusionary act the major parties want to keep in place. It lets their candidates stick with limited, constantly reiterated messages aimed at wavering viewers in electoral battleground states.
Moderators’ unwillingness to bring up new or uncomfortable issues makes the situation even worse. The only significant break in this year’s debates occurred at the Obama-Romney debate when a town hall attendee named Nina Gonzalez asked the candidates about their positions on gun control. (President Obama, in response, did mention his support for a ban on assault weapons; Mitt Romney said he opposes any new gun control laws.)
But that was a lonely exception. Limited to the top two parties, today’s debates miss a broad array of nationally significant issues that millions of us clearly care about.
By contrast, I discovered a cornucopia of targeted, relevant issues by checking the full (and quite colorful) transcript of the Oct. 23 debate in Chicago of four minor party candidates, moderated by Larry King and sponsored by the Free and Equal Elections Foundation. (Sadly, only RT, a relatively unknown television channel, broadcast the actual debate, and news reports provided only fragmentary coverage.)
The quotes atop this column all come from that debate, which included Gary Johnson (Libertarian Party, former governor of New Mexico), Jill Stein (Green Party), Rocky Anderson (Justice Party, former mayor of Salt Lake City), and Virgil Goode (Constitution Party, former U.S. House member).
Goode, the only avowed conservative in the group, broke with his fellow debaters on economic and social issues. But he echoed them, and to some degree Rep. Ron Paul in last spring’s Republican debates, in declaring:
“I support a strong defense, but we need to retrench, rather than trying to be the policeman of the world. … Our bases need to be reduced around the world.”
Said Johnson: “The operative word” should be “defense,” not “offense.” He argued for reducing military spending by 43 percent, to 2002 spending levels. Stein chimed in: “A foreign policy based on militarism and brute military force and wars for oil is making us less secure, not more secure.”
OK, the rest of us may say: “How do we then stop al-Qaida from blowing up U.S. targets?” The presidential election season should be highlighting – not suppressing – this debate.
The same is glaringly true of other issues surfaced at the Chicago debate but ignored by Obama and Romney. One example: Anderson’s assertion that “catastrophic” climate change could threaten the U.S. future more than terrorism. Isn’t it high time for a level-headed national conversation on that issue?
Or Johnson’s argument for a “federal consumption tax” applicable to all transactions, which he argues could replace personal and corporate income taxes, even let us abolish the IRS. Used successfully in Britain and other nations, it’s often called a “value added tax,” with a low rate, but applicable to all transactions. Would it, as Johnson argued, “reboot the American economy”? Shouldn’t the next president weigh in on the discussion?
Or what do all candidates think of ending the decades-old, clearly failed U.S. war on drugs? It’s time to legalize marijuana, tax it, stop arresting 1.8 million Americans a year on drug issues, Johnson asserted, adding: “Fifty percent of kids graduating from high school have smoked marijuana. That’s an issue that belongs with families, not the criminal justice system.”
And as hundreds of thousands of drug cases clog prisons, Anderson asserted that the chief executive should pardon every federal prison inmate being held on drug charges alone.
Ending corporate bailouts, taming the “industrial military complex” that President Eisenhower warned of, instituting Medicare-like health benefits for all Americans, a new Equal Rights Amendment for gender projection – the “minor” party candidates raised even more credible proposals on issues the “majors” ignored.
Maybe in 2016, we should invite them onto the big stage.
Neal Peirce’s e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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