Next Tuesday, October 23rd, 9 p.m. ET, there will be a different sort of presidential debate. It’ll be in Chicago, hosted by Free & Equal and I’ll be there in Chicago covering it for Al Jazeera. Six candidates have been invited to participate, and four have accepted: Jill Stein, Rocky Anderson, Gary Johnson, and Virgil Goode. The moderator will be Larry King. You can submit questions here.
I know we’ve all thrilled to the body-language and tone analysis that has followed the debates between the guy who favors 12 more years in Afghanistan, imprisonment without trial, lower corporate tax rates, for-profit health insurance, assassinations, corporate trade pacts, imprisonment without trial, oil and coal and nuclear power, charter schools, a military budget outpacing the rest of the world combined, and an ongoing “war” on drugs, . . . and the other guy who favors all of those exact same things.
I know it’s been tantalizing, in a grotesque I-can’t-stop-staring sort of way, to watch debates that don’t mention climate change or drone victims or poverty or the possibility of prosecuting mortgage fraud or torture or war, or the alternatives that exist to military spending and tax breaks for our oligarchs — alternatives like free education, green energy, infrastructure, transportation, and housing.
Yes, yes, there are differences between Romney and Obama. But imagine if, when you’d finished cheering Obama for accusing Romney of opposing coal pollution (gotcha!), your brain had to wrap itself around a third candidate — someone with a serious proposal to stop burning coal? Sure, Obama is less enthusiastic about massive cuts to Social Security and Medicare than Romney is, but imagine if the two of them had to answer to someone who spoke for the rest of us, pointed out the advantages of lifting the cap on payroll taxes so that the wealthy could start funding Social Security at the same rate as the rest of us, and advocated expanding Medicare to all who want it — someone who swore not to allow any cuts — even backdoor cuts — to these successful programs?
A relatively small number of us have seen a facsimile of that kind of debate by watching the coverage on Democracy Now! But the non-corporate candidates have not had the same amount of time to speak as the two participating in the corporate-sponsored Debate Commission self-parody. Nor have the locked-out candidates been able to address the two moneyed candidates directly. And they’ve been asked the same alternate-universe questions asked by the corporate moderators: “What will you sacrifice on the altar of deficit reduction?” Et cetera.
I know. I know. Larry King is no Amy Goodman. But if Larry King is given good questions to ask, he’ll ask them. And his approach of avoiding knowing anything before an interview actually works well for an audience — if, as I hope, there is one — that has never before heard of the Works Progress Administration and doesn’t know that military spending lowers employment.
There should, in fact, be far more debate among the four candidates taking part than there is between the two media-approved gentlemen.
Jill Stein is a fantastic candidate. I’ve spoken with her a number of times during this campaign, and am more impressed each time. She stands with majority opinion against wars and waste and corporate welfare, for green energy, education, nonprofit health coverage, and full-employment. She tried to enter the corporate debate this past Tuesday and was arrested for her trouble. She was handcuffed to a chair for 8 hours, and if you hear how powerful and popular her proposals are you’ll have a good guess as to why.
I’m hoping that Stein pushes Rocky Anderson a little on his limited acceptance of militarism. He’s no Bush-Obama-Romney. He’d cut the military significantly (at least half the Pentagon’s budget) and scale back the global cowboy killing, but that’s a very low hurdle. Without a clear vision of why war is never acceptable, we won’t move our nation and the world decisively away from it. That being said, I know Rocky and consider him a tremendous candidate with courage, integrity, and experience. He’d make an excellent president, especially if we had a Congress, and a media.
Gary Johnson will be the newest to me. He’s a Libertarian and tends to agree with me by opposing every horrible thing governments do and to disagree with me by opposing every useful thing governments do. I’m eager to see that worldview go up against Stein and Anderson. I’m hoping for something more enlightening than the he-said / he-said squabbles between Romney and Obama in which we are asked to choose between someone who blames anti-U.S. sentiment on a stupid movie and someone who blames it on unfathomable ingratitude for our benevolent invasions and occupations. There’s truth in Johnson’s opposition to centralized national control of schools and many other things, just as there’s truth in Stein’s desire to provide schools with adequate funding currently wasted on prisons and highways and weapons.
All four of these candidates will be less imperialistic than Obama or Romney, but not all of them will be less exceptionalistic. My former congressman Virgil Goode will bring the racism and the xenophobia full throttle. It’s his answer to every question. I’d love to see one of the other candidates ask if Goode understands the history of U.S. wars generating immigration and U.S. capitalists demanding more immigration. Goode will try to play the Libertarian, but those of us in his district who kept asking him in vain to stop funding wars know different.
Of course, Goode was bumped out by Tom Perriello riding Obama’s ’04 coattails, and Perriello funded every war he could, only without any public opposition to speak of due to his being a Democrat. He lasted one term, and peace protests of his Republican successor Robert Hurt have been minimal since the wars are either now Obama’s and therefore good or are imagined not to exist at all. This district in South-Central Virginia has been swept by the same wave of ignorance that is washing over the rest of the nation.
Not everything will be on the table on Tuesday. All four of these candidates, like virtually everyone else in the country (and even the New York Times now), will oppose some truly crazy ideas, like more years in Afghanistan. We leave those to the “good” and “bad” pair of often indistinguishable candidates that we so cherish our right to choose between.
I’m not asking anyone to think their way out of lesser-evil voting in swing states — at least not anyone who truly understands and acts on the understanding that independent activism around policy changes is far more important than electoral campaigning for personality changes. But I do encourage watching this alternative debate. And if you watch it on Al Jazeera, I promise not to devote my commentary to the candidates’ body language and facial expressions.