Lambasting the "duopoly" and "Tweedle Dum and Tweedle Dee" tone of the Obama/Romney presidential debates, a slate of third party candidates at the Hilton Chicago on Tuesday offered voters fresh and impassioned views about the economy, war on terrorism, war on drugs and election, legislative and educational reform. Participating in the debate, moderated by broadcast icon Larry King, were Green Party nominee Jill Stein, Justice Party nominee Rocky Anderson, Constitution Party nominee Virgil Goode and Libertarian Party nominee Gary Johnson.
Even though two candidates leaned toward the left and two toward the right -- according to Christina Tobin of the Free and Equal Elections Foundation, which sponsored the debate -- all agreed the two-party contest, which they say is swimming in corporate and special interest money, has stifled debate on issues of crucial importance to the public. In fact, Green Party nominee Jill Stein was arrested with another activist at the presidential town hall debate in Long Island last week for protesting the debate's lack of openness. She was handcuffed and anchored to a chair for eight hours, she told the Chicago debate audience.
When asked about U.S. military policy, Stein said repeated bombings of weddings and funerals in war zones "don't win us the hearts of minds," of civilians. Stein, trained as a medical doctor, also urged the abolish of drone programs both here and abroad, which drew strong audience applause.
The United States gives financial aid "to pump up foreign dictators," agreed Libertarian Party nominee Gary Johnson, touching on events since the Arab Spring. "We have not learned anything." Johnson, a favorite of the crowd, is former governor of New Mexico.
There are too many soldiers and "troopers scattered around," agreed Constitution Party nominee Virgil Goode, adding that no armed conflicts should occur that are not declared by Congress. Goode's conservative proposals of a moratorium on Green Card admissions to help U.S. job seekers and defunding Planned Parenthood did not warm the crowd. But his opposition to PACs and Super PACs accorded with the other candidates.
Raiding the U.S. treasury for "wars of aggression" is "wasteful" and "treason," charged Justice Party nominee Rocky Anderson, who also noted the urgency and peril of climate change. Anderson is the former Salt Lake City mayor.
Decriminalization of marijuana and the plight of college students, saddled with student loans but few job prospects, occupied much of the debate, which was attended by an overwhelmingly youthful crowd. (Chicago's Loop is home to several universities.) College-age students and other economically squeezed Americans are "indentured servants," Jill Stein observed twice. Colleges are "immune" to the market pressures that would normally bring costs down, remarked Libertarian Party nominee Gary Johnson, thanks to guaranteed federal loans.
All nominees agreed that term limits would solve the universal problem of politicians spending much of their first term seeking funding and courting special interests to be elected for a next term. Would elected officials vote themselves out of office, asked King rhetorically, by supporting term limits? The terms limits would have to be grandfathered in, replied the nominees.
Neither the nominees at the Chicago debate or the audience seemed in denial about the prospects of a third party candidate actually taking office. "Waste your vote on me," said Gary Johnson facetiously, noting that voting for "someone you don't believe in," is the real way to waste your vote.
For his part, Larry King reminisced about other third party candidates he has interviewed, from Ross Perot to John Anderson to Ralph Nader. "You are like Don Quixotes in a way," he told the nominees, but this debate is a way to "salute you."
Martha Rosenberg is a health journalist whose first book, "Born With a Junk Food Deficiency" was recently published by Prometheus Books.