Non-Election Debates Worth Checking Out

Firing Line Debate Featuring George McGovern

I found another debate McGovern participated in. This is a great discussion, very lively and with some great participants including Kemp, William F Buckley, Gary Hart and more. There’s a great format with two teams of debaters with each individual taking a turn to speak their piece, then answering questions from the opposition. For anyone interested in politics,history, rhetoric or oration, I’d highly recommend these Firing line debates. There’s better diversity of subject matter as well as questions, and the participants can actually speak at length rather than give thirty second soundbites. The moderator is very funny too, as the icing on the cake.

If there’s any flaws in this particular debate it’s the subject matter. Rather than something that’s broad strokes or pertains to the future, this is about the now defunct Soviet Union. I also find the question pretty silly–if anything it’s our (relative) freedom of political thought that makes us better able to deal with the Soviets, than purely “the left” or “the right” false binary. That makes us better able to adapt. I was waiting for someone to say something to that effect but nobody did. Also, this debate ended up being rendered irrelevant just two years later with the self implosion of the Soviets anyway.

My favorite line is from George: “I’m glad you felt the need to point out I supported Harry Wallace when I was a college student, Bill. I also stole a watermelon when I was 14, let’s get it all out there.” He could be very folksy when he wanted to be, and that’s a quality he’s not given enough credit for. The weakest moment was from Kemp. McGovern points out the irony that Kemp is quoting (and claiming to speak for) dead Democrats like Truman, JFK and Humphrey only after they’re dead while sharply criticizing them in life. And Kemp says he looks forward to the day George venerates Reagan after he’s gone. Now, I’ve seen every McGovern interview, debate, speech or appearance I could possibly find online–many of which took place after this–so I can safely say that’s never happened. However, a throwaway line from Kemp about the need for a bipartisan foreign policy was great and something I wish the modern obstructionist GOP understood today, inviting Netanyahu to speak over the President’s head, or sending Iran a letter that belittles our own president. When our foreign policy does radical 180s every eight years we only make other countries wary of dealing with us in the future. We have to stand together as a united front when dealing with other countries.

Ralph Nader vs Howard Dean

Ralph Nader and Howard Dean’s debate the issues in 2004. I love it when I find random, non-campaign debates like this, they’re almost always the best. This is especially unusual because unlike McGovern v Buckley, Ferraro v Buchanan or Norman Thomas v Goldwater, there’s not a clear “Liberal v Conservative” dynamic going on here. We have instead a fringe reformer—in my estimation the most progressive candidate since McGovern—and a somewhat more restrained reformer in Dean. So with that in mind, I was surprised how hard Dean hits Nader not 10 minutes in, and the way Nader responds in kind. These guys aren’t fucking around, that’s for sure.

There is a mutual respect going on, but it’s clear Dean considers Nader a nuisance who’s harming the progressive cause by siphoning off support while Nader considers Dean and the Democrats something of a sellout. Both make valid points in this regard. It’s nice to see Dean acknowledge Nader’s past with consumer protection and acknowledge it’s not Nader’s fault he’s a spoiler and that we need instant runoff voting (as opposed to First Past the Post which we have now and makes third parties not viable.) It’s sad though seeing Dean have to defend Kerry in this debate. It should have been Dean as the nominee; Kerry was a return to the weak, boring, “me too!” right-wing Democratic candidates from the vein of Mondale and Dukakis. I think Dean would have come off a lot better at some points in this debate if he didn’t have to tie himself to a person even he knows is a weak centrist.

JOHN ANDERSON MAKES A CAMEO APPEARANCE!!!! And he challenges Dean to then fight to get Instant runoff voting and debate reform on the Democratic platform. I like Dean, I think he’s a good guy and I have no doubt that he personally supports those things. That said, it’s great to see someone call his bluff and ask why, then, the party he’s a member of does not officially support these reforms. Dean gives kind of a non-answer, saying there has to be a threshold. Even the moderator gently calls him on that. Personally, (assuming we even keep the electoral college in a scenario where we’re reforming national elections,) I’d say a reasonable compromise would be offering debate access ought to be determined by who’s on the ballot in enough states to get to 270. It really ought to be that simple. Around this point, the debate gets really heated as Nader goes off on a rant about how the Democrats are just as complicit as the Republicans for selling out the country and screwing over the populace at the expense of the military.

Later on, they’re asked who their favorite Presidents are. Dean says Washington and Truman, Nader says Lincoln and Jefferson. Truman is an interesting choice for sure, I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone call him a favorite before. For myself, I’d say the two Roosevelts with Lincoln rounding out the top three. It just struck me that this would be a good question to ask at the general debates, and I’m surprised it hasn’t been before. (I guess the Republicans would always just say Reagan though and make it pointless.) Nader is asked if he would take a cabinet position in a Democratic administration and he says no. I think it’s bullshit the moderator wastes time asking about their “worst photo out there” and I love the fact that Nader refuses to answer such a stupid question.

I love that older woman challenging them to repeal the PATRIOT Act, FISA Courts, cut the military budget and on and on. It was a real take no prisoners question and unfortunately Dean doesn’t give a satisfactory answer. I did like Dean saying that the way to win elections, and the Democrats haven’t learned this, is to energize their base and not try to appeal to the other side. Democrats briefly learned this lesson in 2008 and have since took a massive step backwards, especially with regards to 2016. Nader advocates for a binding “none of the above” answer on the ballot and if that wins, the candidates are thrown out and new elections held. This is a suggestion I took to heart and included in my Constitutional Reforms project.

Dean seems to really care about gay rights, and I bring this up because it’s touching and I respect him even more for it. He mentioned it a few times in the ’04 Iowa primary debate, and mentions it a lot more often here.

Overall, this is a great little debate. I think Nader edged out Dean overall, especially in the beginning, but that’s not to say Dean did bad by any means or that it was one-sided. Nader is just a no-nonsense champion of the people, and doesn’t deserve the “spoiler” attacks which get thrown at him. Dean I think is a lot more progressive than he’s allowed to say here since he was stuck in the unfortunate position of having to defend the Democratic Party, which even he must know is corrupt on some level. There is something to be said for his practicality as well, and I hope in the future we’ll see a Sanders-esque merging of the two strategies, with progressives hijacking the Democratic party and dragging it kicking and screaming back to the left where it ought to be.

Nader vs Gingrich

Another Nader debate, this time against Newt Gingrich about the direction America should go in the new millennium. I don’t have a whole lot to say except I agree with Nader (big surprise, right?) and while I hate his positions, Newt surprisingly got a few good points in himself. This is actually a much more civil debate than the one against Dean, surprisingly to me. It’s pretty weird seeing these older speeches and debates and watching many a GOP politician get more and more unreasonable as time goes on. You see Newt now, as Trump’s lackey, acting disgraceful on Megyn Kelly’s show, and his ridiculous ideas at the 2012 debate. Then you go back in time to see him just ten years earlier and he’s actually kinda sorta reasonable (but was still an asshole in his private life—see how he treated his wife.)

An interesting policy proposal Nader mentions here, which I’d never heard of or considered before, is a tax on stock market purchases. I think that’s a fantastic idea and another great way we could raise money. As he states, it makes no sense that buying food or clothing requires a 5% or 6% tax, yet buying millions in GM stock is not taxed in any way. He says even a penny of tax would generate a ton of revenue.

After seeing this third debate I can say without a doubt Nader is one of if not the best debaters I’ve ever seen. He doesn’t pull punches, and he knows exactly what he’s talking about. He doesn’t need to resort to ad hominems or anything else, all he does is point out how devastating the effects of corporate favoritism are and the way they exploit people and the planet. There’s no way the other guy can respond because Nader is merely telling the truth. Anyone who boils Nader down to a 2000 spoiler candidate isn’t giving him nearly the credit he deserves. He’s the greatest voice against corporate power and domination of the last 25 years, and maybe the greatest EVER. If he wants to run for President we should be honored to have such a great choice to get behind for once, not shame him because the lackluster Democrat candidate, whether it be Clinton or Kerry or Gore, has to actually acknowledge their party’s progressive wing and our goals for once. Don’t blame him that Al Gore ran such a flawed campaign.

McGovern vs Buckley

Another wonderful debate I strongly encourage you all to watch. William Buckley was a very influential Conservative writer and idealist who helped inspire the modern Conservative movement. George McGovern is…you ought to know by now if you read my blog…but the most outspoken and no-compromises progressive to ever be nominated by the Democratic Party since FDR.

Now, in this case, I feel pretty comfortable saying McGovern won. Obviously I’m incredibly biased, given I’m a Liberal and McGovern is my personal hero as far as politics goes. But the reason why I say that is because Buckley spends a good deal of time taking pot shots and “gotcha” moments at McGovern. Criticizing votes he made decades ago (which, in his rebuttal, McGovern provides the context to that admonishes him) and again, implying he’s weak or careless towards the troops for wanting to scale back military spending. I consider the latter an especially cheap shot considering McGovern’s esteemed military record. On top of that, Buckley refused to answer some of the questions at the following Q&A and then at the last minute adds a few points to his earlier rebuttals when McGovern was not given that same opportunity for more time. In contrast, McGovern earnestly answers each question asked him and admits he himself used to be a Conservative and Christian fundamentalist. McGovern was also the only one to say both ideologies have a place in the world: that Liberal policies are always the ones moving society forward but they need to be held in check by Conservatives.

Overall, McGovern just made a stronger argument and came across as more respectful of his opposing debater than Buckley did. With McGovern I got the sense that he’s considered both sides and made an informed choice, where Buckley says “I never was a liberal” with a smug grin, implying he made up his mind decades ago and never even considered the other side. (For the record, I was a conservative myself until college.)

But dont take my word on it. Watch for yourself.

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