The thing with minor party candidates is they always speak as though they're at an outdoor campaign rally. Tonight's debate in Chicago was no different as the candidates from the Libertarian, Green, Justice, and Constitution parties yelled back and forth on issues ranging from the War on Drugs to green jobs.
Unlike last night's foreign policy debate between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney in which they agreed largely but took pains to appear disagreeable, the candidates tonight appeared to respect each other. After all, they're all underdogs, and none of them will be the next president of the United States.
The candidates spent much of the debate discussing why that is so. The consensus is electoral rules are written to benefit the Democratic and Republican parties. This is also the viewpoint of the sponsor of tonight's debate, the Chicago-based Free & Equal Foundation, led by Christina Tobin who served as co-moderator along with former CNN personality Larry King. Free & Equal works to improve ballot access and election laws throughout the country, making it easier for voters to be presented with candidates from minor parties.
Each of the four candidates–Gary Johnson, Jill Stein, Virgil Goode, and Rocky Anderson–defended their views passionately. But only one had anything that amounted to a coherent policy approach: former Governor Gary Johnson.
Johnson ran for the Republican presidential nomination earlier this year but failed to get any traction, being ignored in all but the first of the GOP debates. Johnson is now running as the nominee of the Libertarian Party. He outlined his platform of ending the War on Drugs, limiting military activity to defense only, and permitting peaceful, productive immigrants to enter the United States. Like the other candidates, he also called for an end to corporate welfare and cronyism, the practice of giving taxpayer money to private businesses and organizations. Along with Virgil Goode, he also called for term limits.
Perhaps the most important exchange in the debate related to education. Green Party candidate Jill Stein is running on a platform that calls for forgiveness of student loan debt to which she attributes a form of "indentured servitude" among young people. This was one of the driving principles advocated by the Occupy Wall Street Movement.
Johnson interjected following Stein's calls for free public college education, explaining how government-backed student loans are the very reason for high and rising tuitions. Government insulates colleges and universities from price competition, allowing tuitions to increase as long as government money is there to pay for them. Were I on stage I would have asked Stein whether offering free college education also means college professors would educate students for free. As Gary Johnson mentioned, everything has a cost.
Each of the candidates in tonight's debate were earnest and deserve attention. They shouldn't find it so difficult to get their message out to the public. It would be a great thing to see any of them on stage with Barack Obama or Mitt Romney. But only Gary Johnson had a platform without contradiction that anyone seeking true reform of government, true separation of government and corporate interests should consider.
Update 10:30- You can use instant runoff voting to cast your choice of the two candidates who won tonight's debate. They'll debate next Tuesday on foreign policy. Vote at freeandequal.org.
Update 10:29- That's it, folks. Tobin's closing the event by announcing there will be a second debate in D.C. next Tuesday at 9 PM. Maybe Obama and Romney will show...
Update 10:27- King thanks everyone, saying he likes informing people and getting alternative views out. He calls all the candidates Don Quixotes and says "the windmills have a habit of stopping."
Update 10:26- All the candidates seemed to enjoy themselves although they were also all used to yelling at campaign rallies. They all seemed to understand how their views are not represented on the national political stage and respect each other to some degree.
Update 10:24- You can't disagree when Anderson rails against corporatism. Everyone on stage agrees government and business are in bed together. But what's the better approach to solve it? Enlarging government with more rules, legislation, and regulations, or limiting what government is allowed to do, reducing the opportunities for cronyism? One will work, and the other will not. This is why libertarians choose to limit government.
Update 10:22- Stein wants 90 million nonvoters to vote, especially 36 million young people she calls "effectively indentured students."
Update 10:21- Johnson: "Wasting your vote is voting for someone you don't believe in." He also says no one will regret him being president. Haha.
Update 10:20- Johnson says immigration policy separates him from the other three candidates. He says immigration is a good thing.
Update 10:19- Johnson: "I would not be standing here right now if I didn't think I could do a really good job as president of the United States."
Update 10:18- We're on to closing statements. Virgil Goode begins by repeating "jobs in America for Americans first" until unemployment is under five percent. He also hates PACs.
Update 10:16- Stein wants to have a constitutional amendment prohibiting corporate contributions to campaigns. If she's so afraid of a bunch of corporations, why isn't she more afraid of a single government corporation?
Update 10:14- My beef with term limits--especially from a libertarian perspective--is if we trust people to make their own best or rational (to them) decisions, why should we put term limits on elected officials? Johnson says term limits would allow politicians to become elected and "do the right thing." Why?
Update 10:12- Goode wants congressional term limits between 6-12 years. Johnson agrees, surprisingly.
Update 10:10- King asks candidates what constitutional amendments they would propose. Anderson says an equal rights/non-discrimination amendment is on his website, including sexual orientation and gender identification as protected classes.
Update 10:09- Johnson calls Ron Paul his "hero" before claiming the ACLU rated him higher than Paul in "liberty torches." Here's the ACLU's report.
Update 10:08- Anderson is really slamming Obama on NDAA. Rightfully so. Goode says he would have vetoed it were he president. Johnson says the same. All four candidates agree.
Update 10:06- Stein is answering a question about NDAA, which allows Americans to be detained indefinitely without trial. This is a horrible piece of legislation that undermines the ideals of justice. Anderson also says NDAA is the most "un-American" act in our lives. President Obama lobbied for it and signed it into law. "We're on the road to totalitarianism. That is not an exaggeration." Read up on it.
Update 10:02- Stein and Anderson disagree with the laws of economics while insisting the government needs to divert more money into education. How about making education more affordable by getting government out of the business?
Update 10 PM- Johnson: "Free comes with a cost."
Update 9:56- Stein may be a very smart physician, but she does not understand how government intervention affects prices. She wants college education to be free (does that mean we don't pay teachers?). If the government pays, there is only upward pressure on tuition prices (and health care). Everything has a cost, Jill.
Update 9:54- Next question is about rising tuitions. Johnson hits the nail on the head: Guaranteed government student loans are raising tuitions. "Institutions of higher education are immune" from the price system.
Update 9:50- Anderson keeps bringing up Eisenhower's term "military industrial complex." Ike was onto something. Read up on it. He agrees with Stein that the number one threat in the world is climate change.
Update 9:48- Stein wants an international treaty banning the use of unmanned aerial drones. Does she expect other countries to abide?
Update 9:46- Johnson suggests a 43 percent reduction in military spending, back to 2003 levels. Coincidentally, this is the exact amount the U.S. government borrows: 43 percent of every dollar. Here's Mercatus Center research on this.
Update 9:44- Goode is an interesting cat. He's socially conservative but does not align with Republican social conservatives on ever-increasing military spending.
Update 9:43- After Goode says he's not for legalizing drugs, he says, "If you want that, vote for one of them [other candidates], not for me." Someone in the audience yells, "We will!"
Update 9:41- 3/4 candidates are against continuing the War on Drugs. Anderson blames "moneyed interests" for the criminalization of marijuana and hemp. He wants pardons for those accused of drug-related offenses.
Update 9:39- Stein: "As a medical doctor...marijuana is dangerous because it is illegal."
Update 9:37- Johnson: "In no category is marjiuana more dangerous than alcohol, and yet we're arresting 1.8 million people a year" for marijuana. "This is not about advocating drug use. That's an issue that belongs with families, not the criminal justice system."
Update 9:36- After Goode says he wants to continue the War on Drugs, he launches into defunding Planned Parenthood, provoking loud boos. King reminds the candidates: "We're on drugs."
Update 9:34- We're back to the War on Drugs question. Anderson says it's been a total failure–I agree. "We don't need to just legalize marijuana. We need to end drug prohibition." He's mentioning that USA has the highest incarceration rate in the world: Five percent of the world's population and 1/5 of the world's prison population.
Update 9:33- Johnson wants to replace the income tax, etc. with the FairTax, a federal sales or consumption tax. Lots of applause in the house for Johnson.
Update 9:32- Johnson details his plan quickly: "The country is in really deep trouble. We should not bomb Iran. We should end the war in Afghanistan tomorrow. Marriage equality is on par with civil rights in the 60s. Let's end the drug wars: Legalize marijuana now! Let's repeal the Patriot Act."
Update 9:30- Goode is differentiating himself from Obama and Romney. "I have the courage to submit a balanced budget right after I'm inaugurated...I'm for jobs for Americans first." He's also calling for a "green card moratorium." Wow.
Update 9:27- Anderson is also striking a populist tone. He wants to bailout student loan debt just like Stein. "Our poverty rate hasn't been so high since 1965." He's criticizing "Obamacare" from the left. He's also criticizing the expansion of executive power, particularly war powers.
Update 9:25- Stein's opening statement is populist and antagonistic toward wealthy people. (Who are wealthy?) She wants a "peaceful, just future." Can't argue with that!
Update 9:23- Next question is on the War on Drugs...Never mind! They're back to opening statements.
Update 9:22- Johnson: "Candidates should be required to wear Nascar-type jackets with the logos of their sponsors." Transparency is the best approach. He got some applause. I agree. Voters can make their own minds up and information is key. He also got a lot of applause criticizing drone warfare.
Update 9:20- Each of the candidates is now railing against the two major parties. They're trying to get their talking points in between.
Update 9:18- King: "People have asked me why I'm doing this. I like asking questions."
Update 9:17- Johnson describes how the Republican primary process in New Mexico (where he was a two-term governor) was more open than the national presidential process. "I've been pro-choice about everything!" He calls Obama and Romney "tweedle-dee and tweedle-dum."
Update 9:15- Goode doesn't appear to like "top-two," "corporate personhood" or public funding. He got some tepid applause on that last line.
Update 9:14- Anderson: "I've had it with the Democratic Party!"
Update 9:13- Rocky Anderson also dislikes "top-two." He accuses the GOP and Dems of "degrading" the electoral system. He's pointing out how "constricted" the main debates are, where the candidates are "trying to outdo each other" on military spending and energy extraction. He got some applause when he talks of ending the War on Drugs.
Update 9:09- Tobin is asking the first question about "top-two" voting systems in Louisiana, Washington, and California. Only the top-two vote getters in primaries are allowed on the ballot. Stein says it "confuses things more." She wants to "get money out of politics with public financing and opening up the airwaves." She also wants to strike "corporate personhood."
Update 9:08- Gary Johnson gets the most applause by far as he comes on stage.
Update 9:07- King is describing how the debate will happen: Opening statements, six questions, and closing statements. He's now introducing the candidates.
Update 9:05- Tobin: "Ultimately, we the people are responsible for our government." She's talking about asking "who's benefiting" from the current political system.
Update 9:03- As Tobin introduces the debate, one notices Larry King is missing his trademark microphone.
Update 9:00- Larry King, the moderator of tonight's debate, is joking about the severity of the Chicago Police as he is learning where is to look when the debate begins. Also, Christina Tobin has decreed audience members may applaud.
Update 8:58- OK! Things are quieting down. Here comes the real debate.
Update 8:55- The discussion has moved to a campaign contribution limits. But don't limits favor the incumbent (i.e. Republicans and Democrats)?
Update 8:51- They're discussing the Electoral College and what happens in the case of a tie. I wish they would see how the Electoral College protects the voices of minorities, making presidential candidates pay attention to states besides California, New York, and Texas. It's an ingenious system. They're now discussing interstate compacts, essentially treaties between states. I like this idea. It's being tried to overrule the recent federal health insurance legislation.
Update 8:46- Rob Richie of FairVote.org recommends an end to the Electoral College (i.e. popular vote for president) and proportional representation in legislatures.
Update 8:45- Panelist Thom Hartmann (who mentions the commons constantly) pines for the days of the Fairness Doctrine (ending in 1987). Hartmann likes making companies that use the airwaves lose money on producing news programming.
Update: 8:41- Moderator Christina Tobin credits both the adoption of the "Australian ballot" and the Federal Election Campaign Act (which legislated campaign contribution limits) for the two-party duopoly.
Update 8:37- Speaking of federalism, there is a great column in the Wall Street Journal today on the notion, authored by Elizabeth Price Foley and David P. Rivkin Jr. Check it out.
Update 8:33- Hartmann asking Goode whether the government should take over the presidential debates. My question: Why federalize it when competing debates like tonight's happen? Goode suggests we can pressure the Commission on Presidential Debates' corporate sponsors to allow minor parties to participate.
Update 8:29- Constitution Party's Virgil Goode (pronounced "Gooooooode") is now on the roundtable with a true Southern drawl. He's discussing better ballot access and how it "would enhance democracy." He's not a fan of "federalizing" ballot access laws.
Update 8:26- Stein's Green New Deal sounds like it uses a block-grant model to give localities federal money to spend how they like. Interesting how this progressive likes block-grants here but probably doesn't like it for Medicaid.
Update 8:25- Stein is describing being detained in "a dark room" for eight hours after trying to get onto the grounds of the first GOP-Democratic presential debate. A scary thought.
Update 8:21- Jill Stein is here! She's discussing her "Green New Deal," which is an emergency plan to halt climate change, put an end to wars for oil, and employ everyone. She says it costs "$600 billion or so." My question: What's the true cost beyond money?
Update 8:18- Panelist Thom Hartmann has decided to begin the debate against Johnson early, asking about the commons. Paraphrase: "Should schools be part of the commons or taken over by private interests." Lay off, dude. Johnson is discussing how the strings attached with federal funding for schools cost the states more than the money they get.
Update 8:17- Johnson is asked how his campaign is luring former Ron Paul supporters. He's also explaining how most Americans are "fiscally conservative and socially accepting." I agree.
Update 8:15- The Libertarian Party's nominee Gary Johnson has now joined the roundtable. He's sick.
Update: 8:14- One of the panelists suggests "federalizing" ballot access laws to have some uniform rules for the way in which minor party candidates get their names on the ballot. I'm not sure how I think about that...
Update: 8:12- Rocky Anderson floats the idea of runoff voting to help minor parties to get into the national conversation. I'm pretty sure he means instant runoff voting.
Update: 8:10- Rocky Anderson is on the pre-debate roundtable. It's worth mentioning three of the four candidates debating tonight are apostates from one of the two major parties. Only Jill Stein does not appear to have been a member of the GOP or Democratic parties before her current affiliation.
Update: 8:07- The panelists are discussing how the two party duopoly writes the rules that keep competing parties out of the televised debates. Moving on to more info on the other debate participants: the Justice Party's Rocky Anderson. He is a former Democratic mayor of Salt Lake City. The Justice Party has a progressive platform.
Update: 8:03 PM- Debate begins at 9 PM Eastern. Sorry for the confusion.
Update: 8 PM- False alarm: A panel discussion is beginning now. Christina Tobin of Free & Equal is leading a conversation between some journalists and talk show hosts. It's playing live here now: http://live.freeandequal.org/stream.html
Update: 7:58- Constitution Party nominee Virgil Goode is a former Republican member of the U.S. House from Virginia. He lost against Democrat Tom Perriello in 2008. Goode later left the GOP.
Update: 7:56- Times listed for the debate tonight are confusing. Some sources say 8 PM Central and others say 7 PM Central. The stream online suggests they are getting ready to begin in four minutes (7 PM Central).
Update 7:54- Further research has revealed Jill Stein is not a fan of coal. She's protested against coal energy, mines, and companies for years. Her "Green New Deal" plan sketches how anyone willing or able to work would be employed in developing green energy in a Stein presidency.
Update 7:50- The Green Party's Jill Stein is an environmental activist and physician. She ran for governor of Massachussets (where she resides now) on the Green-Rainbow Party ticket in 2002. She garnered 3.5 percent of the vote in 2002. She received the endorsement of author and activist Noam Chomsky in her current presidential bid.
Update: 7:42- It's important to know Free & Equal invited Barack Obama and Mitt Romney to participate in tonight's debate, but they have either not replied or have declined.
Update: 7:36 pm- I'm getting ready for the Free & Equal presidential debate! While I do some last-minute research on the candidates, I want to share this great ad with you. It's for Jill Stein, the Green Party's candidate for president. Stein comes across as genuine, and like a person I'd like to have a conversation with, especially at the end. But the ad generally is weird. I hope someone asks Stein tonight how her presidency would bring an end to unemployment as she promises. I dig the end to corporate rule.
Check back here on Tuesday, October 23 for a live blog from a libertarian (small-l) perspective. It'll be fun!
PolicyMic will be covering the presidential debate live. For live updates, bookmark and refresh this page.
The debate is being moderated by Larry King and is being hosted by Free & Equal Elections, a group dedicated to improving voters' choices in elections.