In the Tuesday night third party debate, the candidates took some very important positions on issues such as drones, military engagement, and climate change. This format, along with the low level of risk, provided a freer discussion of critical issues than the major presidential debates. Unfortunately, not every topic offered an opportunity for differentiation as the candidates agreed with each other on a number of proposals. Both Gary Johnson and Jill Stein started confidently, while Rocky Anderson really picked up momentum as the debate progressed. Virgil Goode diverged from the pack on a number of issues and proposed some unpopular ideas unapologetically. Larry King had great moments as a moderator by keeping people on time and on topic. Follow-up question from Larry King would have made a good debate great.
After discussing and agreeing upon the importance of changing the electoral system, the second question was about the war on drugs. All of the candidates, sans Virgil Goode, agreed with the legalization of marijuana. They also took time to discuss the incarceration rate with Rocky Anderson even proposing a complete pardon of all those in prison for drug charges only.
There was significant clash on the topic of student debt. Jill Stein proposed free college and Gary Johnson pushed back, saying that free college simply adds to the increasing deficit. Once again, Virgil Goode stood out by saying he does not support Pell Grants and Rocky Anderson went against both Goode and Johnson by saying that everyone needs the opportunity for education.
These candidates touched on a significant number of issues that the major party candidates avoided or just simply weren’t asked. What was missing from this debate, as with all of the presidential debates, was the discussion of impacts. When it came to the discussion on drugs, Rocky Anderson proposed a pardon and that would have been good opportunity to discuss the impact of the pardon and the necessity of systematic help with drug addiction. Similarly, the discussion of impacts was non-existent during the dialogue on post 9/11 legislation. It would have been nice to hear their proposals on fighting terrorism. Also missing from the debate was a discussion on health care, Medicare, Welfare, and Social Security. However, despite the absence of those topics, the time of the debate was well spent.
Highlights of the Debate (both good and bad)
1) Legalizing marijuana
2) The discussion of drones which was avoided in the last presidential debate
3) Virgil Goode saying he does not support funding Planned Parenthood or PBS
4) The pushback on post 9/11 legislation
5) Gary Johnson’s statement on bringing the troops home tomorrow
This debate was significant not simply because it was organized and broadcast, but because we witnessed the exploration of ideas that don’t often get coverage. Whether or not the ideas presented are popular they fuel a public discourse on creating change both domestically and internationally. The clash and candor was refreshing, especially following last night’s foreign policy debate. With a little polishing and more public support, these debates can grow and make a significant impact on American politics. I look forward to the debate on international issues that will take place next week.
For more information on next week’s debate check out the Free and Equal site.