Time to Reflect on Last Night’s Third Party Presidential Debate

Third Party Candidates

Well, last night’s Third Party Debate on C-SPAN was certainly a breath of fresh air compared to the “debates” that we have seen between representatives of the bipartisanship this year.  We saw candidates with real alternative ideas of the direction in which our country should be heading speak fearlessly on topics that their political peers wouldn’t touch with a ten foot pole.  While there were some criticisms to be made, I was happy to see a discussion that was more than a rhetorical exercise in tiptoeing around the issues.

One of my complaints about the debate was with moderator Christina Tobin.  While her enthusiasm and passion are certainly appreciated, her inexperience in running this kind of event led her to come off as a bit over eager and to fit the part of the “giggling schoolgirl” at times, detracting from the seriousness of the debate.  Also, her opening question concerning “top-two primaries” seemed arbitrary and took up valuable time that could have been better spent addressing much more pressing issues.

My second gripe stems from the way in which the candidates approached their responses to the debate questions.  Answers from all of the candidates often strayed a bit from the issue in question and it was rare that anyone directly addressed another candidate or challenged their opponents’ responses head-on.  The candidates certainly each laid out their own unique policy ideas and, while I can appreciate their avoidance of the endless quibbling we saw in the mainstream debates, I have to say that I would have loved to have seen a bit more direct disagreement on stage.  I suppose it should be noted that, with the limited exposure these candidates have received from the media, they needed to take this opportunity to really lay out their platforms on stage, which likely contributed to the lack of confrontation.  That being said, there was certainly a lot more positive takeaway from the evening than negative.  Each candidate had something to offer that gave this debate a broad appeal for those who tuned in.

Jill Stein came into the night as one of the two candidates who provided the most draw to the event (the other being Gary Johnson).  She continued to bolster the ideals that garnered the support of the Green Party faithful and, while I personally think she is the most socialist leaning candidate in the race, she managed to make some good points.  My favorite moment from Stein in the debate came during her discussion of higher education.  I am not a supporter of federal bailouts, but I enjoyed the sentiment behind her suggestion that, rather than bailing out Wall Street for a 4th time with QE3 to the tune of $40 billion a month, maybe we should bail out students buried in debt so that they can invest their income back into our failing economy.  As far as bailouts go, I guess this one at least makes more sense than throwing money into a flaming barrel.  Her biggest shortcoming of the night was her inability to distinguish herself as being different from the man who stood to her left, Justice Party candidate Rocky Anderson.

Speaking of good old Rocky, where the hell did he come from last night?!  Wow!  He was the biggest surprise of the night to me, speaking with confidence and professionalism that likely made a lot of viewers take notice.  While his economic views sprang predominantly from a leftist stance, quite parallel to Stein’s socialist positions, his social views on curtailing government encroachment into our personal lives were great to hear and often aligned nearly seamlessly with the Libertarian platform.  While similar to Stein in probably 90% of his positions, Anderson set himself apart through his ability to clearly present his message in a succinct and proficient fashion that made him seem, dare I say, presidential.  However, I’m not so sure that the same can be said for the Constitution Party’s Virgil Goode.

Goode’s greatest success lay in his ability to distance himself from the rest of the pack by distinguishing his platform as radically different on many issues.  He openly instructed the crowd that, if they supported the legalization of marijuana or other drugs, they should not vote for him (a stance that garnered a fair amount of disapproving murmurs from the crowd).  Unfortunately for Goode, his efforts to differentiate himself from his opponents often came off as abrasive and snarky, ultimately negating much of the payoff that he might have gotten for being the alternative to some of the more liberal social platforms that were present on stage.  On the bright side, our friend Virgil’s thick, drawling accent and eccentricities made him seem quite likeable… In an I-wouldn’t-mind-having-a-beer-or-two-with-this-guy sort of way.  The other participant that I felt came across strongly as an “everyman’s” candidate, was Gary Johnson.

Now, I won’t address you as though you are oblivious to bias, and will therefore restate that I am a Libertarian, this is a Libertarian blog, and I am a Gary Johnson supporter.  That said, I had mixed feelings about Johnson’s performance, but felt that he was quite effective overall.  Apparently, the former New Mexico governor was quite sick during the debate, which showed at times through his somewhat subdued body language and clammy visage.  But at other times throughout the night, he seemed to be the most energized candidate on the stage, addressing the crowd with tangible passion and vehemently promoting the Libertarian platform of fiscal responsibility and social tolerance.  It should be noted that Johnson likely had the most supporters of the four candidates going into the debate, and the crowd response reflected this and seemed to aid in reinvigorating him in spite of his illness.  He spoke in no nonsense terms that really appealed to the audience and managed to slip in the occasional “zinger” without out-and-out attacking his opponents.  Perhaps the most well received retort of the night came in response to Stein’s suggestion that our country should provide a free college education, to which Johnson responded, “free comes with a cost”, in reference to the burden that would inevitably be shouldered by taxpayers to provide free higher education.  Johnson’s biggest shortcoming last night, in my opinion, was his somewhat tangential responses that attempted to showcase the Libertarian platform in its entirety even at times when it did not seem directly relevant to the current issue.  Also, of the four candidates, Johnson was the least compliant with the time restrictions, talking over moderator Larry King’s attempts to move forward in several instances.  Disrespectful or overenthusiastic, you can be the judge; either way, I think this was a solid performance for Gary Johnson and places him solidly in the top two of the night, if not as the overall winner.

I look forward to next Tuesday when the top two vote getters at freeandequal.org will square off in a head-to-head debate.  Most likely, this will be a debate between Johnson and Stein, who had the most momentum coming into the debate, but I would swap Anderson in for Stein in a heartbeat after his performance.  I think he is the more deserving of the two, but we will see how the viewers felt about that soon enough.

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