Third Party Debates: 2008

Finally we see Ralph Nader on the stage! This is blowing my mind but apparently he was an independent this cycle. (I could’ve sworn he was the Green candidate this year.) We also have Chris Hedges, one of my favorite political activists/commentators as the moderator, which is really cool also. And then there’s the Constitution Party candidate. I’m disappointed right away by the lack of a Green, Socialist and Libertarian on stage. What happened? 2004 got it so right and I feel like this is a step backwards. (There is another Third Party debate from this cycle with these two and the Libertarian Party, but I’m not gonna watch that one because it’s only one hour long—far too short for a three way debate to be in any way substantive.)

Nader’s opponent in this debate is Chuck Baldwin of the Constitution Party. I really wish it had been the Libertarians—I can understand right-wing economic theory even if I disagree with it. What I cannot understand and have zero tolerance being subjected to is the social conservatism found in the Constitution Party platform. And right from the beginning we have to hear a sermon about how marriage is between one man and one woman, abortion is murder and all that good shit from Baldwin. He even name-drops Reagan for good measure. (So why not just be a Republican at that point?)

Finally seeing him speak as a politician (I had only read about him before and heard him give lectures on consumer safety) I’m a tad disappointed by Nader. He has his eyes open in such a way that his face appears lopsided. He talks in a deep monotone voice. He coughs. But with those shortcomings aside, it’s nice to hear someone say corporations are not people. Needless to say, I also agree with the stats he lists of people losing faith in government and feeling as if corporations have become too powerful. This is probably going to be a boring analysis for anyone to read, because it essentially will boil down to “I agree with everything Nader said” and “I disagree with everything Baldwin said.” But I’m gonna keep watching just to see Nader’s debate skills (or possible lack thereof) in action, and see how Hedges (whom I encourage you all to check out too) does as a moderator.

We get an interesting first question, asking how the two react to the fact that Obama has managed to convince Noam Chomsky and other outspoken critics of government to vote for him. I will say that a significant shortcoming of Hedges is in his use of filler words. He says “uhh” like a dozen times as he asks the question. Nader says these people are voting strategically and denounces “the left, progressive intelligentsia” for making their votes easy to get. He specifically cites Mondale, Dukakis, Kerry, Gore and Clinton (an accusation I had independently arrived at myself) as other examples of supposedly leftist politicians selling out to the corporations to get elected. He points out that all of them lost with this strategy, which is so true and why the Democrats desperately need to start pleasing their progressive wing in the future, as I’ve also said. Time after time they throw progressives under the bus and it doesn’t even do them any good in the elections (unless Ross Perot splits the vote.) Baldwin attacks the wasted vote fallacy, which we heard a lot of last debate. I agree, and again I believe it’s this attitude which has gotten us to this point where we’re stuck between Hillary and Trump.

I think the theme of this debate is going to be repeating these same talking points from 2004. I say that because the next question is about convincing the voters why a third party deserves a vote. They then just repeat a lot of the same talking points we’ve heard. I agree with Nader that you have to pull the main parties in the right direction. This is why I think (and he lays out here) that if you reside in a state that’s unquestionably going to go for one or the other candidate, you should vote third party. Only vote for the “lesser of two evils” if you’re in a crucial swing state.

Next question is about the bailout, and I’m glad to get away from the “prove your party’s worth” questions. Personally, I have mixed feelings about the bailout. On the one hand, I think it was at least partially necessary to keep the economy from total collapse. On the other, it’s really funny how corporations get welfare but anytime real human beings do they’re shamed for it. They lobby for all these right-wing “no free lunch”/”bootstraps” policies for the single mothers and laid-off people struggling to make ends meet, yet they get billions and billions from the taxpayers (and again, corporations, through legal loopholes, pay 0% or close to it in taxes) when they have a bad time. I think the solution should have been to bail out the companies but restructure and/or break them up after the fact and then toss the people responsible for their bad investments in jail. They did something similar to that in Iceland to great success. Here, we gave them a stern talking to and they gave themselves bonuses after the fact while thousands were laid-off and/or lost their life savings. I have to agree with Baldwin about the hypocrisy of so-called “conservatives” being in favor of that. He also goes off against the Federal Reserve, which also earns my respect. Nader does a good job calling out the corporations for shirking the supposed risk of market failure they’re supposed to take on.

This then continues into talking about the breakdown of the social orderthat the bailout and overall collapse represents. Baldwin calls out how our money is fiat and not based on anything anymore, and again he wants to end the Federal Reserve, the IRS and the Income Tax. I believe in the first and third parts of that. The IRS serves a purpose collecting taxes even if it’s a pain to deal with. Nader calls out Clinton’s deregulation which led to the collapse. He wants to empower corporate shareholders, which I personally don’t agree with. I think it’s past time that the corporate workers became empowered, through a system of Democratic Socialism, or as Bruce Babbit called it 20 years before this debate, “Workplace Democracy.” The workers should have a greater stake in the company (stock options, bonuses for increased profits/productivity) and they should have a greater say in how their businesses are run. Rather than an unelected CEO who’s unaccountable for anything except quarterly profits, I think the CEO should at least partially be elected by a vote of the workers, as should the Board of Directors. A good compromise might be the German model where 1/3 to 1/2 of the board are labor representatives. As is, the executives are an upper class who are not beholden to the people whose lives they control on a whim. They know nothing of the struggles of the people who work in the sweat shops and menial service jobs under their employ. If a government were structured that way, it would rightly be called a repressive authoritarian oligarchy. But as a business, it’s presented as “the American dream” and the answer to all our problems (if you believe the right-wing) is to regulate this situation even less. I’m all for free enterprise and keeping the government and economy separate, but only if it means the private economy is also in some way beholden to the people and representative of their interests. And I believe this kind of Democratic Socialism/Workplace Democracy structure is the best way that could be achieved.

Then we get on to the war on terror, and how both major party candidates support it. By this point, and it pains me to say it, Chris Hedges sucks as a moderator. You could make a drinking game and kill yourself for every time he says “uhh.” And I’m not even just talking about through the whole debate, I mean in one goddamn question. He does it like 25 times. This is something that should be played to people trying to improve their public speaking ability—sometimes it’s better to stay silent than try to fill the air with filler words like that. Chris is usually a great speaker too, so I’m wondering why he’s doing so badly here. Unprepared? Last minute switchups in the questions? Nerves? Who knows.

Nader ended up being spot on about Obama being just as much a hawk on foreign policy as Bush. If you had said that in 2008 people (including me) would have called you crazy. But if you look at how he’s rolled over on Israel (allowing their continued genocide of Palestine, I mean) even as Netanyahu spits in his face, his escalation of the drone program, his continued surveillance, the Libyan intervention, almost getting us to war in Syria…it’s undeniable. I love how Nader has the stones to go after AIPAC too, which is the most powerful lobby in Washington, and represents the interests of Israel alone.

I have to say too, I’m impressed with Baldwin’s answer where he says the titles “Democrat” and “Republican” mean very little, and that the chief battle going on in politics today is no longer liberal vs conservative but rather Globalist vs Isolationist (he uses the term “Constitutionalist” as opposed to isolationist, however). I would largely agree. I think both parties ultimately govern as neoconservative globalists getting us entangled in foreign alliances and nation-building for the benefit of war profiteers as well as corporations. But I think the vast majority of laypeople in both parties support a more restrained, isolationist approach. Most people I talk to (and myself) believe that we’re wasting lives and money only making things worse abroad by selling arms and sticking our nose in everyone’s business. I believe this will represent the new realignment which is undoubtedly coming in the parties. Sooner or later one will take a hard stand against interventionism (both parties fielded candidates who did already and they were both very popular, with Trump even winning the nomination.) Once that happens, it will lead to a realignment where that party becomes the party of America first and the other becomes the party of free trade and open borders. This, and to a lesser extent, Authoritarian vs Libertarian, will be the new paradigm of the coming Seventh Party system.

Nader makes another good point about how Congress keeps pushing its responsibilities to the Presidency. Either by sacrificing its duty of declaring war or as we saw in the 2012 GOP debate, expecting Obama to “be a leader” (as Romney put it) and declare a budget even though Congress has power of the purse. Part of this is by necessity too, or would be anyway once Obama took office. With the Republicans in Congress stonewalling him at every conceivable opportunity, even just trying to appoint a Centrist to the Supreme Court, it forced him to issue an obscene amount of executive orders and for the Supreme Court to perform “Judicial Activism” as opponents call it with things like gay marriage just to get anything done. Ironically, if the people who complained about such things (the Republicans) actually did their jobs in Congress it wouldn’t be necessary for the President and Courts to pick up the slack.

Next question is about how to roll back Bush’s destruction of our civil liberties. As Hedges lists out one by one the things Bush has done to make the Bill of Rights obsolete, it really hits you just how messed up our government has become, and how powerless we were to stop it. Baldwin calls out his fellow conservatives/constitutionalists to be as concerned about this as he is. He’d overturn the PATRIOT Act, end the department of Homeland Security, restore the fourth and end torture. He says just because a self-professed conservative is on the ticket doesn’t make it okay. Nader says the criticism of Bush has gone mainstream in the legal field. He wants to impeach Bush. Really, it’s one of the great tragedies of history that Clinton was impeached over a blowjob while Bush wasn’t for shitting on the Constitution and starting an illegal war. I’m no fan of Clinton (either one of them) by any means, but still.

Baldwin says the chipping away of rights is intentional and has led to a police state. Nader says this was done to consolidate power in the White House, stifle dissent, and take the focus off of domestic problems by focusing on a foreign “other.” They then pivot to the media and how it has failed to cover candidates like Ron Paul and David Kucinich in the major parties to say nothing of the third parties. Again, needless to say, I agree. The failure of the media and death of real investigative journalism has been apparent for at least a decade by anyone paying attention. Last cycle was especially apparent with the blackout of Bernie, bullying of Chafee and coverup of Hillary’s scandals during the primary.

We then move on to healthcare. This is where their similarities end. Baldwin claims the “Free Market (TM)” will be more affordable. This comes after Hedges just went on and on about the many, MANY failings of our current private insurance system. Baldwin offers no solutions to those many problems, literally just says that if you take out regulations, the market will literally just fix itself and everyone who cannot afford insurance will magically get it and we’ll have sunshine leprechaun rainbow farts beaming down from Gingrich’s moon colonies to heal us.

ASIDE: This is why I don’t get staunch rightism on certain issues. I understand wanting to reign government in where possible, control or cut costs, and support business. But some industries SHOULD NOT be privatized as it creates a conflict of interest as Hedges just exhaustively explained while framing the question. Prisons, healthcare and public utilities should not be privatized. Period.

Nader’s answer goes into this more in depth. He supports Single Payer. When given the opportunity to rebut, Baldwin still just goes on a rant about “big gubament” and why that’s so evil and “Free Market (TM)” yadda yadda…without actually answering the question of how a family of four is supposed to pay for the outrageous premiums expected of them. Or how you reconcile the conflict of interest that is paying for people’s care while maximizing profits which is a business’ bottom line. Hedges refuses to accept his non-answer and has him try again. This causes Baldwin to peddle back on his own stupid platitudes of the “Free Market (TM)” by saying “while, I’m certainly not against regulation!” and then he unbelievably pivots to the bailout and starts ranting about how the Wall street “banksters” (his words) deserve to go to jail. Hey Baldwin…stop trying to weasel out of this. You were asked about healthcare and how to reconcile the inherent contradiction of profiteering with saving lives. You obviously can’t do it, so maybe it’s time to rethink your position on this topic? Maybe there’s a reason EVERY OTHER COUNTRY has the government guarantee healthcare? Maybe this is an example of why blindly adhering to dogmatic platitudes is not acceptable policy on many issues? Maybe the “Free Market (TM)” isn’t infallible? Nah…couldn’t be. In any case, if you don’t support universal healthcare, at least own the consequences and admit you don’t care about the outcomes. You cannot have your cake and eat it too.

We have another “ask each other” segment going on here…which with only two candidates, I actually don’t mind. (It’s when its a crowded field, and especially when there’s no limits on how many times one person can be asked a question (see 2004 and the bullying of Dean) where it really gets on my nerves.) Nader is asked what he’d do to secure borders. Nader says we should control borders (I agree) and says he’d stop supporting authoritarian South American leaders and come down hard on those profiting from illegal immigrant labor. Baldwin would use militias to physically guard the borders. Nader presumes that Baldwin must be an originalist (interpreting the Constitution exactly as the founders did) and then says that since the word “corporation” does not appear in the Constitution, how then does Baldwin reconcile his constitutionalism with the belief that corporations should have equal protection as physical people under the law? Damn, Nader pulled no punches. This is probably the single most aggressive, no holds barred, I’m-not-fucking-around question ever asked between candidates since Al Gore challenged Gephardt on his vote for the Reagan tax cuts in 1988. This was a pretty cool moment—it shows Nader can be a real badass debater when he wants to be. Baldwin responds that he’s opposed to corporate welfare and corporate control over the political system. He comes out against corporate personhood too. I honestly wasn’t expecting that—I felt for sure Baldwin and the Constitutionalists would support corporate personhood. I wish a Libertarian candidate had been on stage as I’d love to hear their views on this too.

Global warming. Baldwin doesnt think it’s man made (uggghhhh…) Nader understands that it is. I’ve been impressed with Baldwin’s rather reasonable stance on certain issues, but every time I warm up to him, he reveals his homophobia, or weasels out of healthcare reform, or says something like this, and then I “remember” that he’s not a good candidate…just the least bad among the right-wing (and even that’s debatable if you count the Libertarians among the right.) And continuing off of that, the next question on abortion has him ignoring Hedges’ framing of the question (how if you ban it, women will still do it…and die) and goes off on his unhelpful dogma that ignores real world consequences yet again. I will say, he does raise a good point about Republican hypocrisy on the issue, and that I think exposes how the GOP itself doesn’t really want to get rid of abortion so much as continue to use it as a “get out the vote” issue. Similar to how many Democrats do not actually do a damn thing about closing the tax loopholes which favor the wealthy (probably because they and their donors take advantage too) even though they’ve been bringing it up since RFK. Nader says abortion is a personal decision the government should have no part in. He gets a good barb in at Baldwin’s hypocrisy: Baldwin claims to want small, strictly constitutional government and yet, here he is advocating big, activist government when it suits him.

On separation of church and state…of course Baldwin considers us a Christian nation. I do respect how he gives a shout out to athiests rights too at the very least. Nader supports separation of church and state.

During his closing statement, Nader advocates cutting the military budget and corporate subsidies to redirect that money into public works projects. He also lays out his new tax plan in depth. He calls out for a reform for ballot access. Baldwin emphasizes his ticket’s pro-life, secured borders and pro-gun rights platform. He wants a more isolationist foreign policy and overturning NAFTA.

Overall, this was a really good debate too. Aside from his annoying habit of saying “uhh” a lot, I think Hedges at least did a good job asking the important questions while also holding the candidates’ feet to the fire to get direct answers. Nader and to a lesser extent Baldwin laid out their policies really well. Nader, like Cobb, started off kinda weak in my opinion, but grew on me the longer I watched. He’s not a super-charismatic speaker, but he knows his shit and can hit hard (as evidenced by his question to Baldwin) when he wants to. I think Baldwin had some surprisingly Centrist and/or reasonable positions on things like Bush’s unconstitutional actions and the bailout. Unfortunately his social conservatism and denying climate change is a deal-breaker for me as it was with his predecessors. This is another debate I’d definitely recommend watching. There’s some really great political discourse going on you wouldn’t hear at any general debate between the two main parties.

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