Debating Democracy

November 1, 2012 Op-Eds, Opinion

 

You may think that the presidential debates are over, and I assume that you did not even watch one of the most important presidential debates of this election: the Free and Equal Third Party debate that occurred on Tuesday, Oct. 23. This debate was held at the Hilton Chicago hotel and gave third party presidential candidates the chance to speak openly about their platforms to the public.

The Chicago-based non-profit Free and Equal Elections Foundation sponsored the debate and, according to Founder and Chairwoman Christina Tobin, serves to “bring power back to the people.” The foundation strongly criticizes the Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD), which requires a candidate to have at least a 15 percent representation in the polls to participate in their elections. This, Free and Equal argues, creates a two-party “duopoly” and limits the options that Americans should receive for their candidates.

The top six third party candidates were invited to speak, with Jill Stein (Green Party), Rocky Anderson (Justice Party), Virgil Goode (Constitution Party) and Gary Johnson (Libertarian Party) attending. Barack Obama and Mitt Romney declined to attend. Larry King moderated the debate.

The audience was often reminded of the debate’s “grassroots” background- King initially forgot to allow each candidate an opening statement, and the entire night felt more like an informal discussion. All questions were collected from the public via social media. The candidates were fair and friendly to each other, and while this was probably due to their low prospects of winning the election, it still was a refreshing alternative from the cutthroat Democrat and Republican bickering.

The debate covered topics that were avoided in the mainstream debates, like the “War on Drugs.” Except for Goode, all the candidates supported the legalization of marijuana. Citing from her previous experience in clinical practice, Stein announced, “Marijuana is not illegal because it is dangerous, it is dangerous because it is illegal.”

When asked about the ongoing drone controversy, all candidates strongly disapproved of Obama’s and Romney’s foreign policies. “We are the policemen of the world,” Goode said, while Johnson added that we should focus on “defense, not offense.”

The state of young people and higher education also sparked concern in the candidates. Stein called college students “indentured servants,” and she and Anderson maintain that higher education should be free. Johnson wants all college graduates to be pardoned for their loans. “We should be bailing out our students, not Wallstreet,” he said.

This debate left me with mixed feelings. At first, I was extremely frustrated. These candidates are seen as “radicals,” yet the discussions that occurred reminded me of common conversation among my peers. Knowing that these candidates were barred from mainstream media and will not win the election makes inspires within me cynicism towards our whole political system, which seems to be full of paradoxes and funded by corporate machines.

However, this debate was a step, no matter how small, in the right direction. The mass prevalence of the Internet and social media in our everyday lives allows more dissent to be heard regarding our current politics. While this debate was not broadcast on any major cable network, it was streamed live via Youtube, OraTV and the Free and Equal Elections Foundations website, freeandequal.org, and can still be watched on those sites.

As more and more Americans, particularly the younger generations, become disillusioned with the existing two party system, I believe that third parties will continue to gain support. We should not be satisfied with voting for the “lesser of two evils.” Instead, like Johnson proclaimed, “Wasting your vote is voting for someone you don’t believe in.”

Watch the second third party presidential debate between Jill Stein and Gary Johnson on Nov. 5, at 9 p.m. E.T. via freeandqual.org/live and RT America’s YouTube channel

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