Shift-Alt-Debate: Meet 4 Presidential Candidates the Press Mostly Ignores

Jill Stein, Gary Johnson, and two others gathered in Chicago, and agreed that civil liberties and the rule of law are under attack.

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Flickr/CJ Sorg

On Tuesday night, as CNN broadcast an interview with Newt Gingrich, who won't be on any ballots this November, four citizens who have actually won the nominations of their respective parties gathered in Chicago for a wide-ranging debate that was largely ignored. Green Party candidate Jill Stein, Rocky Anderson of the Justice Party, Virgil Goode of the Constitution Party, and Libertarian Gary Johnson all voiced ideas that aren't given their due by the two-party system, even as they differed dramatically about the best course for the federal government. To its credit, CSPAN broadcast the event, moderated by Larry King, as did the English-language version of Russia Today. 


What do Libertarians, Greens, and Justice Party supporters agree about?
  1. It's urgent to rein in the military-industrial complex and reorient American foreign policy away from bellicose interventionism. 
  2. Civil liberties are being trampled on by Democrats and Republicans.
  3. The drug war is a failed policy. Some combination of decriminalization, legalization and regulation is needed.
It says something powerful that people so ideologically diverse agree on those significant points.

Given the substantial power the president has to unilaterally enact substantial reforms in those areas, and their great importance, would it ever make sense for Libertarian, Green, Justice, and Constitution party supporters to ally, rallying behind a compromise candidate on the theory that he or she would never win, but might cross the threshold where the shared agenda got co-opted?

It'll never happen because of their substantial differences. The Green Party understandably regards climate change as one of the most urgent issues we face. Gary Johnson and Virgil Goode believe America's deficits have put us on the edge of fiscal collapse. For them, balancing the budget is an urgent priority, and they're actually serious about it -- unlike the fake fiscal conservatives in the Republican Party, Johnson and Goode fess up to the fact that they'd try to make substantial cuts to everything from entitlements to the bureaucracy to the military.

Jill Stein and Rocky Anderson want to expand entitlements, funding free college for everyone through the federal government and providing free universal health care too. Stein also wants the federal government to fund the creation of 25 million green jobs, which is the core of her economic plan. Stein argues that these "investments" would ultimately pay for themselves, and Anderson seemed to agree, arguing that America can't afford not to provide free college for everyone. Taken together it entails central planning so substantial that Libertarians would always oppose it.

Goode wants to halt immigration. And along with Johnson, he wants a constitutional amendment to impose term limits on the legislature, imagining that it would weaken special interests. Everyone agreed that President Obama shows utter disregard for the Constitution and the rule of law. You can see their arguments on that subject and many others in the video below.

The debate begins at the 1:17:35 mark:



The best thing about this debate was the forum it provided for ideas that haven't been aired by the Republican or Democratic candidate. But because all four candidates are so rarely given the opportunity to air their ideas in a televised forum, they spent very little time critiquing ideas not their own. Some ideas expressed by these candidates are relatively unrefined largely because they haven't had to publicly defend them from the sorts of challenges Democrats and Republicans often face. Between now and Election 2016, I'd like to play devil's advocate with each of them.
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Conor Friedersdorf is a staff writer at The Atlantic, where he focuses on politics and national affairs. He lives in Venice, California, and is the founding editor of The Best of Journalism, a newsletter devoted to exceptional nonfiction.

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