Third Party Debates: 1992

I was combing over CSPAN to find primary debates and at some point during that process I found a 2012 Third Party Debate. I decided to see if there were others from previous cycles and there were—going back to 1992 in fact. So I figured, what the hell, I’ve come this far, might as well get the complete picture of modern US politics. Maybe there’ll be some hidden great candidates of the past worth studying from this pool too. And maybe we’ll see the Third Parties trying to learn and adapt through the years to be more successful (and obviously failing or it not making a difference…but still). Or, and this is my guess going in, they won’t learn a damn thing and keep fielding shitty candidates (with the exception of Nader, who is one of the all-time greats.)

Seeing how fantastically Stein and Johnson have failed to take advantage of the once-in-a-lifetime chance to make a splash against two historically unpopular candidates in ’16 has caused me to lose any expectations I may have had for third parties to one day become viable. I never expected either to win, but I was expecting Johnson to make it to 15%, possibly with Stein making it to 5% at the same time. At this point, I think the only hope we have to overthrow the duopoly is either an enlightened, self-funding rich man like Perot jumping in and taking the election by storm—this is Nader’s own theory. Unfortunately Perot blew his own golden opportunity by not listening to his advisers and his own erratic behavior. The only other possibility I see to break the duopoly will be a one-time coalition from all sides, fielding a candidate whose sole platform is election reform. The President alone couldn’t do that, but they could use the bully pulpit to force Congress to act and just the very campaign itself would bring attention to the issue.

The Debate

It’s interesting to hear the story of our moderator for this particular outing, Len Umina, about the circumstances which caused him to leave the Republican Party. It really is a tragedy that a principled guy like this is forced to either compromise decency or else be locked out of the system entirely. It seems this debate is actually for the nomination of one party—the Independent Voters Party—which exists purely to give independent candidates a chance to get their voice heard. They don’t even have a party platform. Interesting.

Aside: This seems to disprove my earlier theory that a coalition party focused solely on reform and process would be viable, since that’s what these guys did and they obviously failed since I’ve never even heard of them before in all my research. If these guys can’t fill even a quarter of their already small audience chamber, and weren’t relevant enough for me to read about, that’s not exactly hopeful.

So, the most famous non-major party candidate of the ’92 cycle, Ross Perot, is missing, but let’s take a look at who we do have participating. First there’s Bo Gritz (Populist Party), Quinn Brisben (Socialist Party), Eric Thompson (Independent), Earl Dodge (Prohibition Party), Mike Levinson (Independent, who’s wearing a ridiculous fur hat), and Howard Phillips (US Taxpayers Party). Perot himself probably didn’t join this proceeding because it meant competing for an actual nomination which he didn’t need and which may have harmed public perception of him, lumping him in with the no-hopers of the Third Parties.

First question is incredibly broad—and I like that—where they’re asked what the biggest problem is in America and what they’d do about it. This is the perfect question for a debate like this since we don’t know any of these people, anything about their parties and we don’t know what they might believe in. But for reference, I also think the main party debates could benefit from a little more broadness at least in the first debate too. In those debates, too much emphasis is placed on the parties and not enough on the candidates’ unique priorities, in my opinion.

  1. Anyway, Erik Thompson says it’s our militarism/military industrial complex. He’d cut the defense budget by 150 billion, reduce the troops count by half, and cut R&D. He’d then pay those thrown out of work a severance until they could be trained and relocated into the private sector for employment. Put solar panels on every government building. I dig, I dig.

  2. Howard Phillips says its the “decline of the American Family” and the economy. Sounds like a typical Republican. He even goes on a rant about the debt and taxes (hey, its his party’s name). He wants to reduce taxes and government spending. I’m personally not a big fan thus far seeing as how his plan amounts to typical fiscal conservative platitudes. Don’t get me wrong, its the kind of right-wing party we need as opposed to the neocon, neoliberal and now white nationalist GOP. But this certainly isn’t the kind of progressive idealist I’m on the lookout for.

  3. Earl Dodge says it’s a decline of moral values in government. We lack moral leadership—and he also cites the debt as an example of that. He wants us to elect people of “high morals” into office. This guy’s a joke, pure and simple. No real solutions or plan, and only a vague “people in government are bad” answer to the question. I think this guy proves why this noble experiment of the Independent Voters Party is doomed to fail. Giving a platform for anyone to run and voice their ideas is great in theory. But as a result, you inevitably give a platform to legitimate kooks or vacuous, feel-good empty suits like this guy who have nothing substantial to say and waste everyone’s time. But you can’t say to him “no, your input’s not good enough, we cannot accept you” because then a line is drawn and suddenly you’re not open and free anymore. You’re blocking out unsuitable ideas—like a traditional party platform would—and demanding some level of conformity or standards that are bound to get more stringent over time. Consider how Trump was able to hijack a major party in ’16 and Bernie came damn close himself. Now consider how much easier that’d be here in a completely open primary with no unifying ideology or agenda in which anything goes. You’re going to get unqualified clowns running, and you’re going to end up with whomever appeals to the least common denominator. Again, its a worthy and noble experiment, this IVP primary, but it’s doomed to fail considering mankind’s flawed nature.

  4. Quinn Brisben says it’s income inequality, and the solution is redistribution of wealth through a progressive tax system. He wants a family allowance and daycare plan to both help families and women. And a universal healthcare plan outside the private sector. Then he calls for nuclear disarmament, and ending the CIA. Wow, it’s like everything I believe in (except he didn’t mention Basic Income, drug legalization, or LGBT rights but no ones perfect). Very impressed, but then again the Socialist Party has always put forth great if tragically demonized (because SOCIALISM!!!!) candidates. I just assumed after Norman Thomas or perhaps some lesser known successor that they stopped running Presidential candidates altogether, because I had stopped hearing about them.

  5. Mike Levinson says it’s a collapse of the “human infrastructure” and then cites an example of a carjacking to say “no one is safe.” He says “we gave Saddam all this stuff and then we knocked him down…but not quite, and now we’re gonna have to go back.” (A more prescient observation than I’d expect from a guy who goes to a debate dressed like that.) He says, and I’m not kidding, that we should have given all that money to Martin Scorsese to make a film. Yes, really. About 23 minutes in if you don’t believe me. He wants us to build 10,000 clipper ships, rebuild railroads…then he gets called for time, stops mid-sentence and says “I’ll be back” with a smirk as he leaves the podium. What an absolute clown. A guy like this is the kind of person who deserves to be in an unseen loony fringe debate. I feel sorry for the moderator, Len Umina, as well as Quinn Brisben and Erik Thompson since they have noble goals, an understanding of policy, and in the case of Len I’d say a really touching, sincere belief in this experimental primary. Then you get people like this and Dodge coming in and giving it a bad name by their mere presence.

  6. Bo Gritz calls out the banks and quotes Jefferson as well as Jackson on how evil central banks are. He wants to shut down the Federal Reserve by reinstating JFK’s planned executive order to destroy it (just before he was suspiciously assassinated.) Gritz questions whether the income tax was ever properly ratified. He wants to tackle AIDS. Based on this answer, I consider him to be another really good, interesting candidate discussing some of the policy ideas I myself have brought up. These candidates represent the best aspect of Third Party debates: talking about issues you’ll never in a million years hear the two big parties take a stand on.

So there’s your round one. Surprisingly, half of these candidates are pretty good and make use of the open format to espouse ideas that are sensible and yet considered “fringe” because the main parties will not tackle them. Then you have one by the books fiscal conservative who could easily be a Republican or Libertarian and say all the same things he said here and do well in those parties. Finally you have two goofballs who have no business being on stage and taking away valuable time for the people who actually know what they’re talking about. They both mean well I’m sure, and one is at least pretty unintentionally (or intentionally?) funny, but they make a mockery of the proceedings.

I’m not as happy about the second question, which asks how they’ll help small businesses. It’s not a bad question, but with only 3 to 5 questions (I assume—there’s three panelists and that last round took a half hour) it almost feels like a waste. Plus, I don’t buy the idea that small businesses are ignored by the major parties—literally at every debate, candidates from both parties fall all over themselves to emphasize how crucial small businesses are to the economy and how they’ll help them. Small businesses get more lip service at political debates than women, any minority group, and debatably any other overall topic, period. I’ve seen enough now to know.

  1. Bo Gritz emphasizes the Constitution and how small government is the backbone of the economy. Typical right-wing talking points, however, where he differs from a generic Republican is by criticizing the mega-corporations openly and their deleterious effect on the country. Very interesting. I’m sure a lot of Republican congressmen and governors may privately agree (not the voters, they tend to be pretty pro late capitalism) but can’t say so. This is why Third Party debates are worth watching even if they won’t win—often you have knowledgeable people, like this guy, unafraid to speak the truth. I think he or others like him would do well to enter the main party debates and air these thoughts too, however, similar to Mike Gravel in the 2008 Dem Primary or Trump at the 2016 debates. (I liked how Trump voiced praise for Planned Parenthood and criticized the Iraq War even though he unfortunately abandoned those principles in office.)

  2. Erik Thompson would remove the Corporate income tax to put the big companies on equal footing with the little guys. He also says that unlimited growth which business is so obsessed with is unsustainable both economically and environmentally. Now there is something you won’t see the major parties admit, but it’s also true.

  3. Howard Phillips wants to cut taxes and federal regulation. He even name-drops Reagan as some kind of gold standard. So basically this guy is your typical Republican on this issue. Aside from criticizing George Bush, he doesn’t say anything here that you wouldn’t find in a GOP debate or speech.

  4. Earl Dodge also says government has to get out of the way. Says little of his own, just kinda reiterates what Phillips just went into.

  5. Quinn Brisben stresses that the Socialist Party does not want to socialize small businesses or raise taxes on anyone making $100,000 or less a year. He criticizes what he calls “merger mania” of the corporate world. He says a universal health plan will free smaller businesses from that cost burden. I personally agree with all of that.

  6. Levinson the fur-capped wonder is back at the podium and he wants to eliminate bureaucracy by having all government employees write down in their own words, what they do. Then mail these papers to high schools and colleges to have them determine who actually has a useful function and eliminate overlapping positions. He wants to change capital gains tax structure so investors can easily get funding and start businesses. A better answer than his first, but the way this guy talks along with his hat means he comes off like your weird uncle Stan, not a presidential contender. And like last time, he cuts himself off mid-sentence. I actually do like his idea for eliminating bureaucrats, but I’d say excise high schools from that decision-making process.

The third question is about how the candidates will deal with Congressional/Party backlash against them if elected. Essentially “you’re coming from nowhere, you’re outside of the spectrum and you have no allies in DC—how will you get any of your agenda passed?” Another great question. This is the main concern Third Partiers ought to have.

  1. Levinson says the public will support “an independently minded person” and goes on a rant about how everything is breaking down on party lines which is against human nature and how the world economy “econ-o-me” (he really does say that) is working against the people. I do actually like his idea of addressing he American people every night on TV to let them know what’s going on and his plans going forward. I think every night is ridiculous, but once a month or, if time permits, once a week, would be a great way to hold the POTUS accountable and keep the people up to date. I’ve had the similar proposition with a government website. Man, I just wanna edit this guys responses together and make a comedy routine. Just hearing me summarize his talking points doesn’t do it justice, you have to see him in person, goofy hat, big glasses, raspy voice, stuttering cadence and all. He literally ends his answer by saying “Mohammad Ali’s my vice president.”

  2. Gritz gives a sermon about coming together to fight great peril, not as Dems or Reps but as Americans. It won’t be him walking down Pennsylvania Avenue, he says, but “an army of Patriots.” A nice feel good speech for sure—he’s the best orator in this debate by far—but not a satisfactory answer to the question.

  3. Thompson cites all the low turnout rates at elections and hopes those who don’t vote think like him and will support him. He humbly admits though that he doesn’t feel he can win, but says if he did, it would mean that 40 million people had spoken—which would get Congress’ attention.

  4. Phillips says the people are losing quickly with the Democrats or slowly with the Republicans (I’d say it’s the other way around). Then he says that all he needs, with his presidential veto, is 34 Senators or 145 representatives to pass his agenda (which is basically to not sign any budget that gives any money to the IRS, Planned Parenthood, etc) It’s a stirring speech, and the most convincing answer to this question yet even if I disagree with his platform vehemently. This is by far Phillips’ most rhetorically effective moment of the debate thus far.

  5. Dodge says that all new ideas come from the “fringe” candidates, and he’s absolutely right on that. He says the only wasted vote is one whom you don’t believe in, which I also strongly agree with. Unfortunately that doesn’t answer the question of how he’d actually get anything done.

  6. Brisben cites that a majority of Americans support socialized medicine. He’d call for a Constitutional Convention to abolish the Presidency entirely. I liked the guys positions up to this point, but this is by far his weakest answer, and the second weakest to this question with only Fur-cap McGee being worse.

Next question is about the tax code. Also pretty broad, and I feel like they’ve all kind of answered this question here and there already. Brisben reiterates what he said about a Progressive tax and says schools should not be funded by a property tax and taxes on necessities are unfair to the poor. Levinson wants a flat income tax at 13% with no deductions and a uniform structure in each state. Gritz says the Income Tax is illegal and criticizes free trade. Thompson says he won’t do away with the income tax, but he would tax “bad things” like gasoline and virgin products to encourage recyclables. Very brave to say. He also wants a fund for conscientious objectors to pay towards peaceful matters, not military. Philips attacks the Federal Reserve system and the “inflation tax” it creates, as well as the income tax. He also wants tariffs on foreign imports. Dodge also hates on the income tax.

From this point on, I’m just gonna post any highlights that come up because I think it’s pretty obvious where all these guys stand. Philips is right-wing and only different from the Republicans in his willingness to call out Bush. Dodge is right too, but far less specific or charismatic. Bo Gritz is like the Libertarian of the bunch. Brisben is a Socialist and Thompson is like a progressive Democrat. Levinson is the lunatic tinfoil fringe that people often caricaturize third partiers as.

Right on cue, Gritz wants to abolish the Department of Education. I think Thompson’s answer is pretty good about funding pilot projects to see what education systems work best. Philips and Dodge both want to take the government out of education. I think Brisben’s answer was pretty convoluted and confused.

Now the debate is turned over to the panelists, giving them the freedom to ask more specific questions to any of the candidates they choose. Again, I’m just gonna post any highlights—any particularly good or bad moments or those which reflect another side to any candidate.

  1. Gritz actually seems to affirm he’s a Social Conservative/Republican above a Libertarian when he says that the 80% of Americans who are Christians, as the majority, ought to be making the laws, not the Supreme Court. Apparently he’s unfamiliar with a thing called “tyranny of the majority” or Judicial Review. I’m very disappointed. It seems now that the only issue I really agree with him on was stopping the FED, and since he said that first it gave me a false impression of Gritz as a good candidate.

  2. Phillips loses any respect I may have had for him as a person or a candidate when he uses his own time to ignore the question asked and rail against Gritz for not going far enough. He condemns Bush for “promoting homosexuality” (What world is this nutjob living in???) and goes off on an anti-gay rant for like a minute straight, and calls it a President’s duty to stop abortion at all costs. He also predicts a collapse of the two parties within the next few years (hahaha).

  3. Griz and Brisben want to abolish the CIA and consider that a part of the war on drugs problem. Brisben goes further by acknowledging that the biggest drug problem is alcohol. He wants a treatment and prevention program.

  4. I think it’s funny that the only ones asked questions in the second round were Gritz, Philips and Brisben. I feel bad for Thompson getting shut out but I can kinda see why—he has a lot of good ideas but he lacks experience and even he has admitted that some of his policies are up in the air as of the time of the debate. It’d be like if I myself, right now, ran for President—I may have some noble goals if I say so myself, but I wouldn’t be taken seriously by most. Dodge has given nothing but vague, vacuous talking points and a lot of “I agree with Mr. Phillips” so I understand the panelists not wasting time on him. And again, Mike Levinson is a straight up crazy person who’s just wasting everyone’s time by being there.

Closing Statements

During the process of writing this analysis, I paused the debate, went off and looked up Mike Levinson online to see if there was any more of this comedy gold. I was pleased to find a paid TV infomercial and a CSPAN interview. In each he brags about this kooky book he’s written, and how he could sing, chant, read or recite any of it on command. Returning to the rest of the debate, I was wondering if that would come up at all here and it does. Like in the CSPAN interview, Levinson claims here that this book is going to bring world peace, after he reads it aloud to the people (and then…he never fucking reads it, even any passages). If there was any question that this man was not entirely all-there, put it to rest now as he boasts that if given the nomination he will go to the town square and “give a speech that’s hours long and talk in poetic paragraphs” about how he’s gonna solve all the worlds problems, but he can’t do that here and now in four minutes. I feel so incredibly bad for the moderator (who seems like such a well meaning guy) and the other candidates at this event, for having this proceeding and their individual reputations sullied by being associated with such a bizarre rambling as this. The giant speech Levinson rants about giving on TV had already happened, and you can find it on YouTube. It’s just as scatterbrained and incomprehensible as you might think.

Dodge supports a Constitutional Amendment for a forced balanced budget. His closing statement is by far his best moment thus far, though that’s not saying much.

Thompson is next. By now it’s clear that they’re going in order from “worst” (least prepared/experienced/supported) candidates to the best, to leave people on a good note. His delivery, where he goes on about the money wasted on the military is a good point, but he shoots himself in the foot on how he does it. He’s right about the coming invasion of Iraq, but wrong about Cuba and North Korea. Where he really fails if when he essentially states that if he doesn’t win/his message doesn’t resonate, it’s because America is full of a bunch of stupid idiot warmongering barbarians. You NEVER insult the voters directly when you’re running for office, dude. Never. It’s a bad look and makes people think “fuck that guy” and not support you out of protest. I wonder how Thompson took his loss, and I’m curious to know where he ultimately ended up in politics and in life.

Brisben points out where he agrees with the other candidates, and it actually is nice to hear. That’s been one of the genuine highlights of this debate, the similarities between these men despite the very different places on the spectrum where each is coming from. He points out the loss of power of labor unions as a huge problem—I agree. He references his participation on the Civil Rights movement and says our nation is built on democratic ideals, not racism.

Gritz rails against the supposed New World Order of globalism. He makes a lot of appeals to people/nationalism and decries free trade.

Phillips criticizes the Great Society, talks up his own record, won’t seek federal funds. He goes way over time.

Looking up the results of the IVP nomination online, it appears that Phillips won this primary by a sizable margin, followed up by write-in (LOL), then No Preference (even funnier), then Bo Gritz (the last to pull in triple digits), then two candidates not even present at this debate (wow), then Erik Thompson, then Earl Dodge (and it turns out he’s the party leader too, WTF??), then Quinn Brisben (poor guy—even among the kiddie table the Socialists get shafted) with Mike Levinson predictably in last place (yet only three votes behind Quinn at 21—WTF is wrong with people??) Apparently participating in this debate actually turned voters off of these people, as opposed to the intended effect.

Overall, a very interesting little debate. I’m glad I saw it. I liked this IVP and the idea of a multi-party coming together in a shared nomination. Len Umina the moderator and Party chairman seems like a great guy and I’m saddened I couldn’t find anything about him online. I would have loved to have seen where he ended up and I hope he didn’t give up on politics. I’m also disheartened by how small the audience size was to this noble experiment. Seeing all the candidates from wildly different ideological leanings (a Socialist, a Leftist progressive and three hardcore right-wingers) warmly shake hands and congratulate each other at the end was touching. Especially today when our political climate is so hostile and polarized, between both the candidates and their supporters, I want to go back to this. It’s nice to see a debate of pure policy rather than attacks and the usual tired party talking points, especially coming after watching all the general election debates and primaries.

I’d say Phillips and Gritz were the best orators by far. I wouldn’t mind Gritz as President—he’d be worse than even a Third Way Democrat but better than a Republican in my book. Phillips I think is just as fanatical as the Republicans were by this time if not more so, so I’m not a fan. Dodge was just objectively weak no matter your leaning. Thompson had some really good ideas and his heart in the right place, but he kinda came apart as the debate went on, and in terms of oration he kept his head down and read the paper. Brisben was a little awkward at oration (too many deep breaths) but not bad, and I love his platform. He’s the only candidate here I genuinely would support if he were running today. And of course, Mike Levinson is a weirdo who disenfranchised any sense of legitimacy the entire proceedings could have had with his mere presence…but at least it was entertaining. Discovering him and the goldmine of interviews and infomercials he’s created was, in some ways, the highlight of this debate. I’m very sad the IVP didn’t do anymore debates and presumably broke up soon after this. It was a noble goal with good intentions.

1 Comment

  1. I Cassie, Another good job of political analysis.

    I was not even aware of any of any of these guys back in ’92. But to me most of them seem far better candidates and better choices than either Bill Clinton or George Bush. I don’t remember who I voted for that year but to me at the Time Bush probably seemed the lesser evil.

    I liked Len Umina’s introduction. He made great points about the corruption of both mainstream parties. Too bad we don’t have a real second party instead of two big government parties that represent only the establishment plutarchy. The people deserve to be represented too. Of all the candidates the guy in the coon skin cap should have realized that wearing it was not a good choice if he wanted to be taken seriously. This was very interesting. Thanks for doing the research and sharing it.

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