Third Party Debates: 2004 [There is no ’00]

I did not write up a reaction/analysis to the 2000 cycle of Third Party debates (there were two) because it was the same three candidates from 1996 and nobody new. Since I already knew their positions extremely well, and listening to 3 indistinguishable positions on each issue is pointless, I skipped them. But I uploaded them to my YouTube channel if you want to watch these for yourself.

With regards to the 2000 debates I skipped, I will say quickly that I’m impressed Phillips was able to come so far in 8 years, from founding a small fledgling party basically by himself to having it become the Fifth largest in the US (after it was re-branded as the Constitution Party) and still ongoing today. Compare that to the Natural Law Party, which was founded at the same time and dissolved in 2004, or the Libertarian Party which took a lot longer to get that kinda traction. It’s disappointing that Nader did not participate in those Third Party debates from 2000. I can understand why Perot ducked in 1996—he had been at the big boys table the previous cycle, and probably felt that participating in a third party debate was therefore beneath him and would make his candidacy look like “just another hopeless third party wasted vote.” But Nader? I don’t understand why he wouldn’t attend at least one of the two (that I was able to find, there could’ve been more) Third Party debates in 2000. If you’re trying to win, ducking the debates is inexcusable. I respect Nader as a candidate and say again his policy platform was one of the best ever written. I defend him at every opportunity against the critics who blame him for Bush II getting elected. But I have to admit, his no-show at 2000 is very disappointing and caused me to lose some respect.

Now, onto 2004…

It’s good to see the Green Party here in 2004, though. It’s good to see the Socialist Party represented as well-I’m just sorry Brisben from 1992 never made another debate appearance. The Libertarian Party is here too of course, and the Constitution Party (the successor to the US Taxpayer’s Party). Michael Peroutka is representing the Constitution Party, David Cobb for the Greens, Walt Brown for the Socialists, and Michael Badnarik for the Libertarians.

So right off the bat this promises to be a major step up from 1996—we have more diversity of thought with two left-wing parties, and we’ve eliminated the useless Natural Law Party which was a third (!) right-wing third party that basically agreed with the other two on everything that mattered and had no reason for existing. I’m predicting this debate is going to be the best of both worlds, with a good mix of candidates and ideas while also keeping a certain standard—no fringe nut-jobs like Levinson or rowdy bottom-tier third parties making a big scene and demanding to be taken seriously as Moorehead did last time. I really like moderator Theodore Lowi’s introduction address.

I think the Constitution Party is going to end up getting on my nerves by the end, just listening to Peoutka’s opening statement about “preserving God.” I dont mind right-wing ideology when it comes to paleoconservatism/fiscal conservatism and small government. What I do mind is neocon foreign policy, neoliberal economic policy, and social conservatism (especially of the theocratic variety). As far as I’m concerned, government has no business dictating personal behavior or moral values. And I could write a huge analysis on the irony of calling yourself the “Constitution Party” while making religion and theocracy one of your core tenants alone. It’s always hard for me to reconcile how personable and likable Phillips was at the debates with how horrible his party and legacy are (they claim to be the ideological predecessors to the damn TEA Party for crying out loud.) Luckily, I don’t think Peroutka is going to have that same kind of hypnotic charisma. At least Phillips had the good sense to keep his more unattractive policies like unrepentent gay bashing quiet until the subject was specifically brought up. Peroutka gets up there and immediately rails about how “we must defend the family against those who would seek to redefine marriage!!!” and he does it in the most nasally, insufferable voice you could imagine. It’s completely unlistenable. And how he has the gall to call his party the *only* “real American” party, then pivot to saying “all men are created equal!” Yeah, unless they’re gay or transmale or not Judeo-Christian.

David Cobb isnt much better in terms of oration. He’s also got a really shrill high pitched voice and attempt at simple country charm which backfires. Nader may not have been perfect in terms of speech-making either, but how do you follow up him with…this guy? He also has a noticeable lisp, which again might be kinda crass to focus on but appearances always matter. I like how he brings up climate change/pollution. It’s insufferable how even today in the major debates this crucial topic is ignored. I dislike the way he yells about “we live in a racist, sexist, classist world order!!” Just say racism and sexism are still problems today. But screaming a bunch of “isms” out like that drives me nuts. It’d be better to just cite the specific examples still there and call upon everyone to fix it, rather than tell men, or white people, how much they’re privileged and bad. He makes a solid point about CEOs having more control over policy than the people, but he’s full of it saying we’re in Iraq over oil. We were in because of a combination of a Bush family grudge and Cheney’s old Halliburton buddies profiting off of war.

I’m not a fan of Walt Brown’s oration. It seems like the Socialist Party continually got worse and worse in terms of the candidates they’ve fielded in this regard. Sadly, he lived too long ago for there to be video, but Eugene Debs was said to be a masterful, once-in-a-lifetime speaker. Norman Thomas was very good but nowhere near what I’d consider legendary based on the few surviving speech clips I’ve heard. Brisben was decent bordering on mediocre. Between those two, you have a handful who ran for one term each (contrasted with Debs and Thomas who ran like 5 times each) and are so obscure I couldn’t find any speeches or debates featuring them, plus their wiki articles don’t have pictures and in some cases are only a paragraph or two long. Now, with Brown, you have a tired old man. Great. This is the great tragedy of the Left. Not only do our various coalitions tend to cannibalize each other in contrast with the right who fall in line, but our candidates tend to be intellectual yet soft spoken and awkward, in contrast with the Right’s charismatic strongmen types. I do like him calling out the Constitution Party’s ridiculous opening statement. I just think this guy is like 10, 20 years out of his prime. Not quite Stockdale levels of bad, but approaching it. He also wastes a lot of time going into his own biographical information, but that said he does a great job going into the history of socialism and how it didn’t become a dirty word until relatively recently. Its just a shame he left this crucial part until the end and then got cut off because of time constraints. I can tell it’s gonna be tough to watch this guy. There’s something saddening about seeing a cause you admire have a weak standard bearer.

The Libertarian, Badnarik, is a huge breath of fresh air in comparison to the other two. No insufferable whiny voice, no lisp, and he’s not an awkward old man pausing mid-sentence to catch his breath. He’s just your average, everyday speaker. In a normal field he wouldn’t be good enough to stand out, but compared to his competition here, he’s fantastic. He does a good job of appealing to the left a little more, which was my chief advice after seeing the candidate from 1996 frame himself as firmly right-wing. Again, the Libertarians have positions which should apply to both sides (at least in theory) and if they wanna get anywhere they need to emphasize that more. (Johnson kinda did this cycle, but even he didn’t go far enough with it in my opinion.) I think his analogy to the party with college kids moving out is alright, not great. I think he’d have also done well to differentiate himself from the Constitution Party by saying that the Libertarians represent the Constitution better with their emphasis being on small government, not religion, which is nowhere in the Constitution.

Getting into the actual questions, and we begin with (what else?) the war on terror.

ASIDE: I hate 2004. It was probably the single worst year for debates, national political discourse, and so much else. Every single debate Ive seen yet from this year, general and primary, was insufferable with all the fear-mongering, troop-worshiping and shaming anyone for speaking out against it all. I get that this was the first cycle after 9/11 but still. It’s just a very dark time in our history when we rallied around a terrible president who exploited those feelings to break the law and help pass a lot of horrifying policies like the surveillance state. Watching debates from this time reminds me of how all encompassing that culture of fear and anger was, and how important policy discussions were blocked out with “how will you keep us safe?!?!??” and the desire to get revenge on someone, ANYONE, no matter the consequences or if they had anything to do with the attack itself. It’s easy to say now, but even as a kid back then I thought we were milking 9/11 a little too hard and people were using it as a conversation-ender anytime someone spoke out against the PATRIOT Act or Iraq war. And to this day, I feel jaded and cynical when I see the buses flashing “9/11—never forget” in the city, or the talking heads on TV quipping about “in this post-9/11 era” or anything else. Yes, it was a horrific attack, and we shouldn’t forget or downplay it. But then and now I’m sick of seeing it used to justify so much evil by our own government and to shut down dissent by keeping us afraid. I’m saddened by all the people then and now who buy into this “war on terror” crap, including this first questioner, because they will allow our rights to be suspended indefinitely. Just had to get that out of my system.

I’m actually shocked Peroutka had the balls to say the war was unconstitutional as Congress had not declared it. It’s always great to see someone call out their own “side” (the right or left) on its bullshit. Especially in a NY school, that took guts to say. Cobb goes further to say US corporate actions helped create the dissent and desperation abroad which would lead to the terrorists hating us. But he also says we need to get off oil so we wont need to placate the Middle East anymore. Brown goes even further to say the 9/11 hijackers were Saudi Arabians, a controversial statement even today (though it’s a proven fact.) He’s wrong that they hate us for exploiting their oil though. The Saudis are probably the one Middle Eastern country we haven’t exploited. (The royal family there just funds a radical sect of Islam called Wahabism that hates us for our “sinful” culture.) I think it’s unfair and disrespectful that he got cut off again by the moderator. Badnarik also criticizes the US foreign policy for creating terrorism in the first place.

I gotta say, I’m highly impressed by all four candidates for their answers here. This is the kinda thing John Kerry should have been saying at the general debates, but wimped out on. Instead, he tried to appeal to the right, talked up the PATRIOT Act and didn’t criticize Bush and the war nearly as hard as he ought to have done. These answers probably turned off the questioner (who, based on his tone, I assume is a believer in the War on Terror) but they spoke the truth. History will vindicate them for it, while John Kerry has rightly gone down in history as a weak, feckless candidate who lost to a hated President. It’s frustrating how even now you won’t see the major parties say this kinda thing. Trump criticized Iraq in the primaries but then said he’d “bomb the shit” outta ISIS. Hillary is as big of a neocon as it gets, and I had no doubt will get us into Syria if elected. Obama was smart enough to say things like these third party candidates did during his campaign but then governed as a neocon himself.

The second question is a lot better, about campaign finance reform. Surprise, surprise, they’re all in favor of reforming the system that keeps them locked out. It was nice to hear even the Libertarian candidate admit how corrupting and unfair corporate “donations” to candidates can be. Typically a lot of right-wingers tend to ignore problems like that, or downplay them, or pretend it’s actually a good thing in my experience. The moderator also does a good job asking for a follow up, as it seems he too was thrown by that response coming from a right-libertarian. Badnarik goes as far as saying Corporations are not people and therefore not entitled to protections on freedom of speech. I’m seriously impressed. We need more common sense reforms by the right, who in my experience are unflinching in their dogma and their desire to replace government with business. Peroutka does the typical right-wing response and blames the government itself for being too “consolidated” as he puts it, which means the rich will want to control these valuable posts. So he wants to, you guessed it, break up government as a response. The fact that a weaker government would mean less regulations on business (effectively granting them the same power and ability to get away with fleecing customers and polluting the environment) is an inconvenient truth he leaves out. This is the kind of “typical right-wing response” I was referring to earlier. This is the kind of nonsense doublespeak I’d expect from the post-Reagan GOP.

Third question is “youre all white men; how are women and minorities going to be represented under your leadership?” Cobb goes on about how the system is racist and sexist and brags about his female VP. I’m shocked to hear Peroutka use the term “reverse racism” which I assumed to be a recently invented term. Brown mentions how women have run on the Socialist party in the past. (And he’s right, as we’ll see in a later post, their ’88 candidates was female.) Badnarik says the Libertarians support individual rights including those of women and black people, which is nice but it ignores the fact that other people and businesses have and will continue to discriminate without government oversight and activism on their behalf. (In my opinion this is one of the shortcomings of right-libertarianism—it ignores the fact that government does have a role in the world, and if left to the devices of business and the common man, we’d still have Jim Crow if not slavery. Afterall, slavery was good business and Lincoln’s government activism ruined a lot of families’ livelihoods…but it was for the greater good. That’s what government can and should do that businesses won’t—it can enact necessary and overdue reforms that benefit the majority of people, even if they don’t make immediate economic sense.)

Then they’re asked about clean energy. It’s no surprise the Greens and Socialists are for it, but once again, I’m shocked the Libertarian is too (albeit through the private sector via removing the subsidies on oil and putting pressure on companies to then create new sources of energy). The Constitution Party completely misses the point, arguing that the Constitution doesn’t allow for a national energy policy, so the government has no business getting involved. Dude…the planet is dying. Some say it’s already too late to save it. And you’re bothering us with formalities and “what the founders intended!” when they wrote the document before industry or electricity even existed, let alone the effects being known. This is a perfect example of how the Constitution, as great and groundbreaking a document as it was, is out of date and overall not infallible. It needs to be amended, I’d argue substantially, for the changed world we now live in, and in any case it shouldn’t be used as an excuse to stop government from trying to solve the dire problem of climate change.

I love, Love, LOVE the next question, about instant run-off voting and the possibility of a parliamentary system in America. If I had been in that audience, this is the kind of question I would ask. It starts off really well too, with the most closed minded guy/party up there admitting that it could be a good solution and deferring to the Green candidate on the subject. That’s something you don’t often see, a candidate in a debate admitting another guy has a good position or is more knowledgeable on a topic. It’s refreshing. Cobb gives a great answer that basically reiterates what I’ve been saying all year. Instant run-off voting really is the best solution.* The Socialist agrees, and the Libertarian too though he says that first, one of them must be voted in under the current system, so in the short term the solution is to vote your conscience, not for the lesser of two evils. I wish more people understood that—the reason we continue to have such terrible candidates who believe in the same neocon/neoliberal policies is because we ourselves believe in this crap of lesser of two evils, and then shame those who wake up and refuse to participate.

*ASIDE: I’ve since looked into electoral reform a lot more closely and discovered that cardinal voting strategies are actually a lot better than ordinal ones, and in particular Range/Score voting is mathematically the best system. Instant runoff is better than what we have now but we can and should do better if we put through the effort to reform the system at all.

Next question is about what they’d do to combat poverty. Peroutka loses me again by saying charity, and that “it’s not the role of the federal government” to fight poverty. I’m sorry, but I have to call bullshit on this. What purpose does government even serve if not to better the lives of its people and protect them, not just from foreign invasion but domestic exploitation? Again, this is why a strict interpretation of the Constitution doesn’t work for me. Not only is the document outdated, but a lot of the roles and purposes of government were not written down because they were common sense. The Constitution merely explains the make-up and rules of how our government is structured and what each branch can do. It’s not a policy platform, nor was it ever intended to be. Besides, the Declaration of Independence, which serves as our founding principles if not the laws of the land, states that government must uphold the life, liberty and pursuit of happiness of its people. When the English government no longer did that for us, we rebelled against it. Does it not stand to reason then, that our current government must do that for the people now? And how is one supposed to live life, be free, and be happy when they’re homeless or wage slaves to a corporation that cuts benefits and pollutes their environment? This is a good example of someone being so obsessed with the letter of the law, that they’ve ignored the spirit of it. And it’s a good example of how being so obsessed with dogma and ideological purity can blind you to the logical conclusion of your policies. I can’t believe this answer got applause; it basically amounts to “let them eat cake.”

Cobb does a good job of explaining that the welfare system arose because charity doesn’t do nearly enough. You know how the Socialist candidate is going to answer. The Libertarian, of course, says that the answer is to cut taxes. What about the homeless people with no tax refunds coming their way regardless? What about the wage slave living paycheck to paycheck? Sure, having a few extra hundred bucks by repealing some taxes is nice, but it doesn’t pay the healthcare bills, and if they get laid off, they’re screwed without a safety net. I wish these people actually considered how their annoying talking points do not address these problems. Either they haven’t considered the big picture under their plans or they don’t care and shut their heads in the sand. I was just starting to like the Constitution and Libertarian candidates after the last two questions too.

The next question wants to know if they consider the right to organize as a fundamental right for workers. Man, I’m loving these questions! After a rocky start with the first one, these college kids have really got the ball rolling. It’s funny how much better these are than the ones that “expert panelists” tend to ask at the previous two third party debates and major parties’ primary debates. The Green and Socialist candidates support it (of course). The Libertarian candidate gives a waffling non-answer. Yes, he supports the right to unionize…but not to interfere with others crossing the picket line to perform your job at a lower cost because “that disturbs the ‘Free Market’ (TM).” So basically, you can call yourself a union…you just can’t actually enforce your right for a fair wage, collectively bargain and any other desperate wage slave or poor person (there would be a lot of them if the welfare safety net was taken away) would undercut you. So we’re back to being at the mercy of factory bosses demanding unreasonable hours and working us for pennies on the dollar, because if you don’t do it, someone else will. I was beginning to warm up to him, but with that answer I’ve lost a lot of my respect for this Libertarian candidate’s platform. I especially hate his trying to have it both ways here. Just say “no” and own it.

Next question is wondering if it would be more pertinent to get local officials elected than Presidential candidates. And the good question streak continues. They all basically say that they do both. Cobb raises a good point I hadn’t considered too, about how they have to run a Presidential candidate in order to get media attention and to be invited to a debate like this one.

SOMEONE ASKED ABOUT THE PATRIOT ACT, AND CALLED OUT BUSH’S “WITH US OR AGAINST US” RHETORIC!!!!! Holy shit, YES!! The first woman questioner asks the best question yet (which is saying a lot, because they’ve all been great.) I begrudgingly give points back to the Constitution Party candidate for quoting Ben Franklin and saying that the PATRIOT Act had already been written and they were just looking for an excuse to pass it. Cobb calls it the worst piece of legislation ever passed (I would agree) and cites how local municipalities are refusing to comply with it. Brown holds Kerry’s feet to the fire on his vote in favor of it. The Libertarian candidate calls it the most unconstitutional law ever passed since the Alien and Sedition Acts and says everyone who signed off on it ought to be indicted. All wonderful answers; it’s great seeing Third Parties say what the main two won’t.

Well, the good question streak had to end somewhere I guess. This next guy comes in and says he spends all his money on music and booze, so isn’t there a better way to redistribute wealth than to tax businesses. Hey son…just because you’re an idiot with your money doesn’t mean everyone is or will be. Maybe to you, a few bucks more an hour just means extra music while your parents pay for your house to live in and health insurance, but for the single mother trying to scrape out a half-decent living or the guy who can barely afford rent, those extra dollars add up pretty nicely. I’m sorry to be crass, but this student is living in a bubble, assuming his situation is applicable to everyone, not caring to even consider others might be worse off than he, and for that he is an entitled little rich shit. I wonder too, why this kid aims this question at the Green candidate and not the Libertarian, whose answer to everything is to lower taxes. Terrible question. This stupid kid is projecting his own frivolity on everyone else—the height of egoism and closed-mindedness. However, I would say Cobb would do better to support a Basic Income than lower taxes.

And you know it wouldn’t be a Presidential debate without the same generic, open-ended “what would you do for small business?” question. I understand why it’s asked and why it’s important, but it’s so annoying. I like Cobb and Brown’s answers about repealing NAFTA and how passing healthcare reform would free up small businesses from that burden. The Libertarian gives the typical “cut regulations” answer. The Constitution candidate gives the most bizarre non-answer I’ve ever heard.

The next question is pretty harsh towards the Libertarian candidate (whom it’s directed towards) and basically says “nobody voted for you. Why?” but it’s worded very rudely in my opinion. They all answer how you’d expect: talking about the impossible odds Washington faced, and how all the best developments in America came from alternative parties. The latter point is especially spot on, and I wish more people who dump on third party and/or fringe candidates and ideas understood that. You wouldn’t have any of the societal and economic progress we’ve had were it not for brave people standing up for ideas considered crazy at the time.

The next question is a return to form, and challenges the candidates to offer a more specific, constructive foreign policy than just “the Iraq war is bad!” The Constitution Party candidate misses the point entirely and says the President needs to protect American interests, not “the Globalist Agenda.” Now, I agree that we need to stop sending troops in to “solve” the rest of the world’s problems. But protecting American interests is exactly at the heart of it. I won’t get into all the ways our invasions benefit US corporations over the foreign countries (or US citizens) but that’s exactly why we do it. So his answer is something of an oxymoron—the Globalist agenda as he calls it, is not born out of Liberalism nor any altruistic duty to help other people. It’s born of corporations exporting jobs to countries with the fewest worker protections and to maximize profits by selling them all over the world via free trade agreements. Plus, the young lady asked about specific foreign policy, not just “the other parties are wrong!” and that’s exactly how he answered. Cobb goes into this himself, saying we only intervene when there’s a profit, but that the Green Party would have intervened in Rwanda and other places to stop genocide. Brown goes into how he’s not a pacifist, he just thinks we should’ve gone in with the UN. He calls out the US for supporting dictatorships all over the world when it’s convenient. I feel bad the Libertarian didn’t get a chance to answer.

Ugh…abortion question. Constitution is “pro-life” in ALL circumstances (he stresses that point), so they’d have you carry unsafe, unwanted, born from rape, born from incest fetuses to term. Pro-life, unless you’re a woman, then screw you (quite literally.) Cobb is pro-choice. I have respect for the Libertarian for being pro-choice. It’s nice to see a) the Libertarian Party offering some Left-wing bones and not running as strictly a me-too! Republican party knock-off and b) actually following their mantra of individual liberty, rather than just using it as a calling card but then restricting the liberties of women and LGBTs like the Republicans do. I have a lot of respect for that. The Socialist Party is also pro-choice.

Closing Statements

The Libertarian calls out the wasted vote fallacy, and I agree. Nothing pisses me off more than smug SOBs who shame others for voting for a candidate they actually like instead of the “lesser of two evils.” Brown quotes past socialists like Debs, Orwell and MLK. Cobb boasts of the growth of the Greens, harps on the respectful disagreements of the candidates on stage, and wants people to get involved. The Constitution candidate says rights come from God…and then literally YELLS into the mic that women have no right to “murder” their babies. Ugh. Fucking creep.

Overall, this was a fantastic debate. Absolutely great political discourse, which was surprising because that first question had me worried. But aside from that and one or two others, all the questions were incredibly on point and addressed important topics not often discussed. The candidates were indeed very respectful of each other and for the most part answered well. I was concerned because most of their oration was grating during the opening statements, but I have to say Cobb really grew on me as it went on. I disagreed with almost everything he said but the Constitution candidate’s oration stopped being annoying after awhile too. Brown was…meh. I think he was just 10 to 20 years past his prime. He’s hoarse, slow and tired-sounding and it makes him hard to listen to. I’m sure he’s a great man and he made great points, but the Socialists needed a better standard bearer here.

It was nice having a balance of right and left wing candidates too—1996 was very tedious to sit through due to how similar the candidates were. I’d say Cobb and Badnarik are the standouts here. Great, great standard-bearers for their respective parties. They put Stein and Johnson to shame, and if one of these two had been running in ’16, they would have had my vote in a heartbeat. Badnarik is a marked improvement over his predecessor. Definitely check this debate out. It’s by far the best Third Party contest I’ve ever seen, and maybe even the best debate overall (certainly top 5.)


  1. Another great political analysis by Cassandra,
    My own views most fit the Libertarian. O liked how he compares rights and privilege’s in his class. Too bad the third party candidates are not included in mainstream debates. They add a lot of issues not covered in the mainstream debates. I liked the socialist guy. He seems like he could fit in with the Libertarian and Constitutionalists. Two bad the 3rd parties can’t all merge into a real second party that would represent the people instead of the big corporations and special interest as do the Democrats’ and Republicans. In my view the Democrats and Republicans are both the same “big government” party. I know you think there are big differences between them. But I see them as both the same autocratic gang that represent the big corporations, rich and special interests. Too bad the third parties can’t come together as a real second party. I liked the Libertarians point about the 14th amendment and corporate personhood. You did a good job in your analysis of this complex debate. A very good job once again Cassandra, Thank you for doing this valuable insitefull post.


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