Insight. Antics.

The Other Debates.

In Media, Politics on October 24, 2012 at 9:45 am

The presidential campaign is firing on all cylinders. If it were a Chevy Volt, it might actually have to stop for gas. President Obama and Mitt Romney will hold events in battleground states for the next 13 days, now that that their final debate is complete. But Monday’s wasn’t the final debate of the 2012 campaign.

There was another debate Tuesday night. No Obama, no Romney. No Biden, no Ryan.

CBS didn’t preempt NCIS (way too big a ratings winner) to show it to you. MSNBC didn’t offer special coverage in lieu of The Ed Show (if only) to bring it to you. And Fox News didn’t give The O’Reilly Factor a night off (and not simply because we all know Bill likes to do it live).

Instead, third party candidates for the presidency held a debate in Chicago. The only way to see it was to stream it online at http://freeandequal.org.

Four candidates from outside of the two dominant outfits attended: Libertarian Party candidate Gary Johnson, Green Party candidate Jill Stein, Constitution Party candidate Virgil Goode, and Justice Party candidate Rocky Anderson. The discussion was moderated by Larry King, who despite being irresistibly easy to make fun of, is credible.

King’s rationale for putting on his suspenders Tuesday was simple: “It’s a two-party system, but not a two-party system by law.”

While none of the candidates in Tuesday’s debate is a threat to win the election, that doesn’t mean they don’t pose a threat, per the AP: “Democrats and Republicans are keeping tabs on Johnson and Goode, two ex-Republicans who could be factors in key battleground states.” The New York Times also reported recently on how Johnson, who is on the ballot in 48 of 50 states, may affect the results in some of the battlegrounds.

Coincidentally, Gary Johnson is being advised by the one and only Roger Stone, disgruntled longtime GOP operative. There were hints. As Stone told me two years ago:

RS: I can tell you who I’m not for: Mitt Romney.

Explain to me how you go to bed one night pro-abortion, pro-gay marriage, pro-tax increase, pro-more spending. And you wake up the very next morning, and you change your mind on every one of those issues. He’s a phony. I do think you can change your mind on issues over time because facts change. You learn new things. I do think people evolve. But when you cash in your entire belief system overnight, that’s not credible.

Plus, he’s got the Bushies around him. The same people that were interested in seizing the party machinery for Jeb are around Mitt.

BW: Do you have anyone in mind?

RS: I like John Thune, Senator from South Dakota. I like [former governor of New Mexico] Gary Johnson, though I don’t know if he is electable. Essentially, he divorced his wife and she went out and killed herself. Not a good narrative if you’re trying to get elected.

(For what it’s worth, I’m not sure that last part about Johnson’s wife is accurate.)

There is now a permanent link to Tuesday’s third party debate:

It’s disappointing that after some 27 primary debates for the major party with a contest for the nomination this year, most of which were televised on cable, and four general election debates simulcast on dozens of channels, that no network stepped up to give Tuesday’s candidates a wider forum.

I don’t have a dog in this fight. I’m not particularly familiar with any of the four candidates who were on the dais Tuesday night. I might agree with some of their issue stances, but would probably also find some of them bonkers, unrealistic, or a combination of the two. None of them has a viable chance to win the election. I’m also fairly certain that none of them would be a truly competent and acceptable choice to run the country.

And yet, it’s unfortunate that they did not receive wider exposure. With a few million people or more tuning in to this election cycle’s GOP primary debates, and an average of 64 million people watching the Obama-Romney debates this month, the head of a news division could have credibly stepped up and made a case for this third party debate.

But even King didn’t or couldn’t use his clout to get it on his old network, CNN, despite the fact that putting on a debate is not prohibitively expensive. It’s as cheap or cheaper than most reality TV. Perhaps the cable channels were worried about showcasing crazy or offensive views? They could certainly vet the candidates. Besides, third parties don’t have a monopoly on those.

For all those who normally tune out politics, this debate was an invitation. Most of us have friends and acquaintances in our daily lives, that together add up to millions of people around the nation, who eschew the current dynamic. Maybe they complain about partisan gridlock. Maybe they don’t feel either of the two parties meshes enough with their combination of views. Maybe they are bona fide centrists. Maybe they find themselves on the far sides of the spectrum. Maybe they say our elected officials are crooks, or are bought and sold by corporations. And so, for whatever reeason, they disengage. This was an opportunity to reach them.

Those same people who complain about the entrenched two-party system, who wish there were another way, are often quick to dismiss a third party alternative when it presents itself. They don’t give it a chance to get off the ground.

Those people say nobody will take the party/candidate seriously, it can’t win and isn’t viable, so why cover it? Those people often neglect to realize that movements grow gradually and gain influence over time once they are given some. (What is the Tea Party if not a microcosm of that?) A media outlet should have given these candidates that sliver of a chance to take flight.

The good news is that there’s still time. There will be a second third party debate (relish that wordplay) on October 30th between the top two candidates from Tuesday’s debate. Anyone can go online and vote (via instant runoff voting) for the pair they want to see here.

As I obsess about the outcome of this election, I know this is all just a solitary blip on the radar screen, but perhaps it shouldn’t be.

Maybe we’ll do a better job in 2016.

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