On Thursday night the presidential nominees for the Libertarian and Green parties, Gary Johnson and Jill Stein, participated in the first ever online presidential debate. The two third-party candidates debated remotely on Google+ hosted by the Independent Voter Network. Johnson participated from Laramie, Wyoming, while Stein joined from Seattle, Washington. The debate covered five main topics: 1. Tax and economic Policy, 2. Energy, 3. Housing and Financial Regulation, 4. Foreign Policy, 5. One topic based on viewer response. The candidates were asked several questions submitted by viewers.
The debate was marred by technical issues, with Johnson's feed cutting out at two points, while Stein had some audio trouble. Nonetheless, the candidates and moderator stuck it out and had discussion that lasted for about an hour and ten minutes. It wasn't a "debate" in the sense that we have come to understand it; at no point did either candidate explicitly criticize the other's positions. Both candidates kept the discussion friendly, and advanced their policy prescriptions for the country.
The major areas of disagreement were of course economic policy. Johnson, being the Libertarian nominee, advocated a laissez-faire approach when it comes to the government's role in the economy. He proposed the abolition of the IRS and the current tax code in favor of a single "federal consumption tax" that he said would level the playing field. He also said he would end the federal Department of Education and get the federal government out of education completely, and leave it up to the states, which he called 50 separate laboratories of innovation.
Stein, meanwhile, proposed free higher education for all, citing the GI Bill that provided returning World War II veterans with free education that she said yielded huge dividends for the country's economy as a whole. She also called for the expansion of Medicare — a single-payer health care system — to cover all Americans. At several points she pushed her "Green New Deal," whereby the federal government would invest in the creation of green jobs that would simultaneously employ millions while helping fight climate change.
The major areas of agreement were bank bailouts, civil liberties, and foreign policy. Stein and Johnson both vehemently oppose bank bailouts, unlike Obama and Romney, who both supported the $700 billion Troubled Asset Relief Program in 2008. On civil liberties, Stein paraphrased Ben Franklin's famous quote that those who would sacrifice liberty for security would get neither. Concerning foreign policy, both candidates argued against drone strikes, and each cited civilian casualties resulting from drone strikes, and also military interventions in general as the main reason for the anti-U.S. sentiment in the Muslim world.
8:11pm: Stein loses her internet connection toward the end of her closing statement. As Rick Perry would say, "Oops."
8:10pm: Stein uses part of her closing statement to invite Johnson to another debate on Democracy Now! on Monday.
8:07pm: Johnson mentions the one-person handyman business that he grew to over 1,000 employees.
8:06pm: Two minute closing statements.
8:05pm: Stein is really pushing her "Green New Deal." Johnson says he would abolish the federal Department of Education.
8:02pm: Johnson says the U.S. has "become the bully" of the world and that drone strikes embody that. Stein says she can't think of any circumstance where she'd use drone strikes; cites civilian casualties. Says they're "basically war crimes waiting to happen."
8:00pm: Johnson and Stein are in agreement on civil liberties. Neither wants liberty sacrificed for the sake of some illusory "security."
7:57pm: Johnson says he would have never created the Department of Homeland Security after 9/11. Says he'd never sign the National Defense Authorization Act, which allows the executive branch to detain American citiznes indefinitely without due process.
7:55pm: Johnson says there are no real humanitarian wars we should engage in. However, he says, "never say never," and that he wouldn't want to stand by and watch a holocaust take place. But he doesn't think an intervention in Syria is wise. Says there is "no end" to consequences of U.S. military interventions, which enrage the people in those countries. Cites drone attacks that kill civilians.
7:54pm: Stein says what the U.S. is going through in Afghanistan is just like what the Soviets experienced with their invasion of Afghanistan in the 1980s.
7:52pm: Foreign policy question on whether the U.S. should engage in humanitarian intervention in places like Syria. Stein says interventions "breed very unpredictable and violent results."
7:50pm: Dr. Stein, not only did Tim Geithner "look the other way" as head of the New York Fed, he enabled the reckless behavior of the nation's largest financial institutions. Then he had the balls to insist that AIG's counterparties be paid 100 cents on the dollar with taxpayer money, which the insurance giant subsequently got.
7:48pm: Johnson is lamenting the lack of prosecutions of people who broke the law in the wake of the financial crisis. Fact: ZERO bankers have been charged in connection with the housing crash and subsequent financial crisis.
7:44pm: Gini coefficient map. The Gini coefficient measures income inequality in countries. A coefficient of zero would mean everyone in the country has the same exact income, while a coefficient of 1.00 would indicate a country where one person garners all of the income. The U.S. doesn't stack up well compared to other developed nations.
7:43pm: Stein still hasn't figured out how her audio situation works.
7:42pm: Johnson says, "We're going to be burning our furniture to stay warm unless we get our fiscal house in order."
7:41pm: Johnson says the biggest threat to the U.S. is our borrowing and printing of money. Warns of "monetary collapse."
7:39pm: Johnson says government can create a level playing that doesn't currently exist. Says all taxes should be replaced with a single "federal consumption tax," and that this will create a level playing field.
7:36pm: Gary Johnson climbed Mount Everest. What the hell have you done?
7:35pm: Ah, he's back.
7:35pm: Johnson's feed lost again! I guess this is what happens when you rely on a live-feed connection in Wyoming.
7:32pm: Stein advocates Medicare for all and free higher education. Says the GI Bill is a model because the federal government invested in the education of returning WWII veterans and that the program paid big dividends.
7:30pm: Johnson is citing guaranteed government loans as the big reason for the high cost of college tuition. Says states can be innovative when it comes to providing higher education to its citizens.
7:28pm: Johnson is speaking on the difficulties of facing a "stacked deck" in terms of getting third party candidates for president on state ballots.
7:27pm: Johnson's live feed is back up.
7:21pm: With Johnson continuing to have technical issues, this is becoming just a straight interview with Jill Stein. But it's still better than the verbal diarrhea that spews from the mouths of Obama and Romney.
7:19pm: Stein is attempting to discuss taxes on capital gains and dividends, but she's not doing a very good job explaining them.
7:18pm: We lost the Gary Johnson feed!
7:18pm: Stein slamming the Fed's decision to enact QE3, which involves $40 billion per month in purchases of mortgage-backed securities.
7:15pm: Stein says Obama is backed by Wall Street and Big Pharma. Duh!
7:14pm: Either Stein or Johnson needs to turn town their mic since there's feedback is quite audible.
7:12pm: Stein proposes a "Green New Deal" that would create Green jobs to deal with climate change that would boost employment and and economic growth.
7:11pm: Stein says she and Johnson agree on fundamental freedoms, although she notes that they disagree on economic and social policy.
7:09pm: Ok, it looks like we're going to be all good from a technical standpoint.
7:07pm: We're on. Johnson and Stein get three minutes for opening statements. Stein is having an issue with her microphone. Come on, people!
7:06pm: Where is the live feed of this debate? As Vince Lombardi would say...
7:03pm: Still no feed. The suspense is killing me!
7:01pm: The live-feed of the debate hasn't started streaming yet. Hmm....
6:59pm: This debate hasn't even started yet and it's already better than the last Obama-Romney presidential debate.
6:54pm: A recent Zogby poll shows Romney leading Obama, but not when Gary Johnson is an option. This is exactly why the Republican Party fears the former New Mexico governor.
6:47pm: Clip from the 2010 Massachusetts gubernatorial debate where Stein defends third-party runs to moderator Charlie Gibson:
6:09pm: Politico is reporting that Johnson's campaign was $400,000 in debt at the end of September.
6:04pm: No doubt many or perhaps most of the supporters of Ron Paul will throw their support behind Johnson. It's difficult to imagine any of the Ron Paul die-hards holding their nose long enough to cast a vote for Romney in November, especially when they see so little difference between the former Massachusetts governor and the president.
5:33pm: Tonight's debate will be moderated by Steve Peace, a former California state senator and Director of the California Department of Finance. Peace is the co-chair of the Independent Voter Network, which is hosting the debate.
5:13pm: Footage of Stein being arrested at Tuesday's presidential debate at Hofstra University. Stein was protesting her exclusion from the debate.
4:57pm: USA Today featured responses to Tuesday's presidential debate from both Stein and Johnson. They're worth reading, and aren't responses you'd hear in a debate between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney because those debates are all about staying away from specifics.
This will not be the only minor party presidential debate. On Tuesday October 23, Johnson and Stein will participate in an in-person debate along with Constitution Party nominee Virgil Goode, and Justice Party candidate Rocky Anderson. That debate will be held in Chicago and moderated by Larry King and his famous suspenders. None of these candidates have come close to polling at the 15% level that is required for inclusion in the debates held by the Commission on Presidential Debates, which for all intents and purposes, is a monopoly.
That does not mean that these minor party candidates will be unimpactful. Johnson in particular could pose a serious problem for Mitt Romney, as the small government libertarian may succeed in siphoning enough votes away from Romney in key swing states to help swing the election in Barack Obama's favor in what will undoubtedly be a close race. Goode's candidacy could also spell diaster for the Republican nominee, especially in Virginia, where Goode's time as a U.S. Congressman gives him a fair amount of name recognition. He is yet another conservative alternative for right-wing voters who may be reluctant to cast a vote for Romney, whose conservative credibility is suspect for some.
Both Johnson and Goode have been the targets of intense Republican efforts designed to expunge the candidates from state ballots. The Republican Party of the state of Virginia unsuccessfully challenged Goode's inclusion on the presidential ballot there. Virginia and its 13 electoral votes could prove critical in a race where Obama and Romney are likely to be separated by no more than a few percentage points on election night.
It is not believed that progressives Stein and Anderson pose a threat to Obama's reelection prospects, a la Ralph Nader in 2000, where the Green Party candidate was blamed for taking enough votes away from Al Gore — particularly in Florida — to swing the election in George W. Bush's favor.
Thursday's debate between Johnson and Stein should prove to be a breath of fresh air, and is likely to be far more substantive than the rhetorical bullshit contests that Obama and Romney have been participating in. It will be interesting to note the areas of agreement between Johnson and Stein. For example, whereas support for the PATRIOT Act, a "tough" stance on Iran, and unconditional support for Israel are unassailable orthodoxies in Republicrat ideology, the two candidates are like to find themselves agreeing in direct opposition to this prevailing wisdom.
Tune in right here at 7pm, as PolicyMic will be live-streaming and live-blogging the debate right here.