(MintPress) – As the nation clamors over who won the presidential debate series, four third party candidates are taking part in the democratic process on their own time, participating in the first debate of its kind that’s giving a voice to those running for the presidential seat outside of the two party system.
After being denied the opportunity to participate in the prime time television debate series, owned and run by the Commission on Presidential Debates, four third party candidates took part in their own debate Tuesday evening, moderated by Larry King and sponsored by Free and Equal Debates.
The issues discussed overlapped with those highlighted in the televised debates, but candidates Tuesday dove into a number of issues that have been overlooked, including the war on drugs, drone strikes, provisions in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that allow indefinite detention and an expanded discussion on the priorities of the U.S. budget.
But before candidates dove into the action, viewers were given an explanation of the historic process that was about to take place. Prior to handing the microphone over to King, Free and Equal founder Christina Tobin introduced those participating, while sharing the mission of the evening’s event.
“Tonight you will meet four presidential candidates. Two of them lean to the left, while the other two lean a little more to the right, giving us a perfect balance of ideas and viewpoints on how to fix our broken nation,” Tobin said.
And that they did.
With candidates on the left and right, there were disagreements over the role of government in society and the direction America should take. Yet if there was one issue it seemed all candidates shared a common passion over, it was their belief that politics should be stripped of big money influence.
“Big money that funnels through the PACs (Political Action Committees) is the greatest hindrance in my opinion to free and open elections and freedom and democracy in this country,” said conservative leaning Virgil Goode of the Constitution Party.
It’s that very issue that arguably keeps third party candidates off the mainstage in the two-party presidential debate series. Without the big pockets and support of Super PACs, it’s difficult for candidates to meet the criteria required by the Commission of Presidential Debates, the governing body of the prime time debate series.
The makeup of the debate
The debate was sponsored by Free and Equal, an organization dedicated to a democratic debate process that does not exclude candidates, but seeks to include the voices of those seeking to serve as commander in chief. That, in the organization’s view, is what leads to an open and honest political system.
Funding for the debates, as Tobin described, came from an array of sponsors, including businesses, musicians and individuals. The inclusive nature also lent to an interactive audience, which was encouraged to express emotion during the debate. During the prime time debates, audience members were mandated to take the vow of silence.
The questions were provided by citizens through popular social media platforms and touched on a variety of issues that are of concern to average Americans. Questions ranged from issues related to gun control, the war on drugs and marijuana legalization policies to student loan debt and military spending.
Asked by real American citizens, the nature of such questions bucked the trend seen in the prime time debates, where questions are crafted based on agreements signed between the Republican and Democratic campaigns.
Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson wasted no time when it came to the issue of military spending, denouncing the amount of money spent by the U.S. military and the promise by Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney that the trend would continue.
And his view was shared by all candidates at the third party debate. Green Party Jill Stein lent her support to this notion, along with fellow left-leaning Rocky Anderson of the Justice Party. Goode of the Constitution Party was next in line.
Yet only two candidates expressed their concern specifically for the military practice of drone strikes overseas — a controversial move, as the issue has been on the hush in American media.
During the two-party presidential debates, moderator Bob Schieffer questioned Romney on whether he supported drone strikes in Pakistan. Romney responded with outright support for the program, yet neither he nor Obama were asked about the issue of innocent civilian deaths.
While King didn’t ask questions related to drone strikes, candidates took the liberty of bringing it up themselves as part of their political platform.
“There’s a reason why we shouldn’t be using drones — it’s because we don’t just take out the target, we take out a lot of innocent civilians in the countries where these drones attack,” Johnson said during the debate.
Stein was another voice to shed light on the civilian deaths associated with drone strikes. The Bureau of Investigative Journalism reports that drone strikes since 2004 have killed up to 800 people in Pakistan, nearly 200 of whom were children.
Agreeing as outsiders
Most candidates, as outsiders, came to the agreement that the two-party prominent system is guilty of keeping important issues out of the limelight.
The fact that both Obama and Romney agree with one another on a number of issues was cause of concern for candidates, too. It was an issue highlighted by Anderson, who said that the prime time debate series failed to bring about a number of issues that are — or at least should be — important to the U.S.
“They’re both trying to outdo each other in terms of who is going to drill more, both offshore and on public lands and neither of them even dares to talk about getting rid of this disastrous failed war on drugs … ,” Anderson said, who also went on to mention climate change and extreme poverty rates.
Most candidates, aside from Goode, agreed with the legalization of marijuana. Stein, a doctor, said in her medical opinion, the legalization of marijuana is the way to go. She, along with Johnson and Anderson, wholeheartedly supported the legalization of marijuana and a government-sponsored system of regulation.
Stein, however, made known her belief that, if legalized, the industry should not be allowed to be monopolized, as the tobacco industry has.
In terms of student loans, the four candidates didn’t stray too far from their political sides, with Stein and Johnson favoring government involvement in the aid of students, with Johnson and Goode taking more of a fiscally conservative approach.
And while the differences did shine through, the dialogue among third party candidates allowed for those involved to capitalize on areas they agreed on, while also highlighting their differences. Rather than attacking one another, candidates pointed the finger at either Obama or Romney — or, in most cases, both, while highlighting their own platforms in the process.