Three vice presidential candidates gathered in a small conference room at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, Sunday evening to engage in a vigorous debate of ideas that have all but been eliminated from the Republican and Democratic presidential campaigns.
All of the vice presidential candidates on tickets that have qualified for enough ballots to theoretically win the election were invited to participate in the debate. Those who showed up were Constitution Party VP nominee Darrell Castle, Libertarian VP nominee Wayne Allyn Root and Independent Party VP nominee Matt Gonzalez. For nearly 90 minutes the three candidates put forth their views on numerous issues including healthcare, energy policy, the war on global terrorism and civil liberties.
For those who think Third Party politics are futile and only serve to hurt the “real debate” between Democrats and Republicans, it might be hard to understand why these candidates wanted to share their opposing views just two days before the election. After all, most voters long ago decided on a presidential ticket and 27 million people have already cast votes in early ballots.
But for voters who find the Republican and Democratic parties inhospitable to their values and for those who value a wide spectrum of political ideas, the debate was as welcome as a voting booth on Tiananmen Square.
And the three candidates, who represented views to the left and right of the two major parties, did not disappoint.
I had the privilege of moderating the debate, and it was clear that the 80 people who attended, many who were supporters of Las Vegas native son Wayne Allyn Root, were energized simply by the topics the candidates discussed and their opposition to the stances of the Democratic and Republican candidates.
Root and Castle represented various points on the far right, while Gonzalez argued for the progressive left. Despite their different positions on the political continuum, the three candidates found themselves in agreement on numerous issues such as the global war on terrorism, which all three say unnecessarily involves the United States in the destiny of other countries and costs American taxpayers billions for very little in return.
Both Obama and McCain have vowed to keep troops in Iraq (to varying degrees), expand the war in Afghanistan and pour billions more into a military budget that is already expected to reach an annual expenditure of $700 billion in 2009.
All three claim Americans have lost an unprecedented portion of their Civil Liberties mostly through the Patriot Act, which allows government to monitor our phone calls, e-mails and medical records and an amendment to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which granted immunities to telecommunication companies who ease dropped on the phone calls of law abiding citizens on behalf of the Bush Administration. Both Obama and McCain supported the two acts.
They also railed against the $700 billion Wall Street bailout, which they claimed was a con on American taxpayers. "The bailouts represent, to me, the end of the democratic system," Castle said. "It's Congress in your face saying, 'We don't care what you think. You're all idiots. We, the political elite, know what's best for you, so shut up and go back to the plantation.'"
But the Gonzalez found himself in sharp opposition to Root and Castle over other issues. Gonzalez argued for single payer healthcare program that would provide universal health insurance to all Americans. Under the proposal, private hospitals would provide healthcare services, but they would be government-funded.
Castle said people would be able to afford healthcare insurance if federal taxes were abolished and those who could not afford it would be able to rely on charity. Root denounced universal healthcare by using the example of the Mustang Ranch, a legendary bordello in Nevada, a state that has legalized prostitution. He says state government began managing the brothel when its owner, Joe Conforti, was indicted on tax evasion charges in the 1990s.
“The government took over one of the most successful bordellos in history and within one year it went bankrupt," says Root. "If government can’t run a bordello, it can’t run healthcare. (The current healthcare system) is not a perfect system, but you know what, marriage isn't perfect either."
They also disagreed on energy issues. Gonzalez favored investment in alternative energy sources and was against offshore oil drilling, nuclear power and “clean coal” generated energies.
Root says environmental regulations only serve to raise taxes and kill jobs. Castle says alternative fuel methods are impractical. “No matter how much you want to, you simply cannot fly a jet airplane on wind power,” Castle says. “And without the ability to travel by air, civilization as we know it would cease to exist.”
The debate had the magnetic charm of raw politics. There were no showy pop concert distractions and the discussion was not filtered by handlers or spin doctors. I also couldn't help but notice that after the debate, those who attended seemed emotionally stable (or were at least as stable as when they arrived). No one began talking in tongues, no one got pregnant and the roof didn’t fall in.
It makes it difficult to understand why third parties face so many obstacles to getting on state ballots and why the two major parties, particularly the Democratic Party, which filed 27 lawsuits in 18 states to keep Ralph Nader off the 2004 presidential ballot, are adverse to even acknowledging the presence of third parties and the voters they represent.