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Dave Weigel writes regularly for Reason Magazine, and emailed email@example.com about this article, published in The Nation.
Here’s an excerpt:
It’s one of the paradoxes of election 2008. If no one is happy with Congress, no one is happy with the president, and voters grumble to pollsters about the two parties, it should be a breakout year for some political force. CNN’s jowly populist Lou Dobbs spent most of the year fulminating about a third party that could challenge the Big Two on illegal immigration. Before he settled on his current path as a mayor-for-life of New York, Michael Bloomberg daydreamed about a third-party run. This summer, in a happy fluke, the Greens and the Libertarians both nominated former members of Congress from Georgia with sizable media profiles: Cynthia McKinney and Bob Barr.
There were big-media moments. In September, the four leading third-party candidates–Nader, Baldwin, McKinney, and Barr–were invited to a press conference with Ron Paul at which the Republican iconoclast would introduce four principles they’d all agreed upon. Barr passed at the last minute, and an enraged Paul eventually just endorsed Baldwin. Multiple organizations tried to set up third-party debates, but none could get all the candidates on board. Before the Free and Equal debate kicked off, McKinney released a paranoid statement alleging that “one campaign… has selected the date of the debate, the structure of the debate, the venue of the debate [and] the moderator of the debate.” (Free and Equal call this “completely false.”) The Barr campaign slammed Free and Equal’s haphazard scheduling. As millions of Americans were voting early and mailing in absentee ballots, the third-party candidates remained obscure.
Few in the audience of college students and candidate partisans knew or cared about this. “Did you pay for your ticket?” asked organizer Christopher Thrasher as people walked to his desk. “An e-mail mistakenly went out saying it was actually free, so we’ll give you a refund over PayPal.” At 9 p.m., the candidates walked out to respectful silence, then applause. There were no opening statements. “The candidates are encouraged to engage each other in actual debate,” said moderator Chris Hedges, a former New York Times reporter who’s written books about the psychology of war and the “fascism” of right-wing religious America.
Nader didn’t spend any time actually scrapping with Baldwin, a Baptist minister and radio host who defeated Alan Keyes for his party’s nomination. Hedges’ questions were better framed for the five-time candidate of the left. Asked why Howard Zinn and Noam Chomsky had both endorsed Barack Obama, Nader called them misguided. “We know that Howard Zinn and Noam Chomsky agree far more with the Nader/Gonzalez ticket, but they want to cast tactical votes.” (Both men live in blue Massachusetts.) “People living in slam-dunk states for McCain or for Obama can vote Nader because it doesn’t affect the least-worst outcome, which would be an Obama victory.”
“Imagine that you’re a first century Christian,” Baldwin said. “Do you vote for Nero or do you vote for Caligula?” The question of a spoiled vote was irrelevant for his voters, anyway. “I don’t believe that John McCain can anymore win this election than Bob Dole could win against bill Clinton. If Christians and evangelicals want to waste a vote, they can vote for McCain.”
Asked about the state-level chances for third parties–one of the ostensible reasons for Nader’s 2000 run–the candidate attacked third-party politicians like Vermont gubernatorial candidate Anthony Pollina, who refused to appear with him. “He didn’t want to alienate the Democrats,” Nader groused. “You have people like Zinn and Chomsky supporting Obama, who is warmonger.” He lit into Obama for only spending twenty-five minutes in the West Bank during his summer visit to the Middle East, and for speaking before AIPAC. “I accuse Obama of anti-Semitism against the Arab people,” said Nader. “They’re both part of the Semitic people. It’s time that people know that.”
The candidates didn’t disagree until Hedges asked the candidates about global warming and abortion. Baldwin asked Nader what he’d do to “secure our borders,” and the candidate of the left became a symphony of me-toos. “We have to secure our country’s borders for a lot of reasons,” he said, citing the flow of drugs and “all kinds of illegal entries.” He pledged to stop supporting dictators “who send these people north” and stop “brain-draining the Third World with HB-1 visas to enrich Cisco.” Baldwin had little to add, so he pledged to “free Ramos and Compean,” the former border agents who’ve become a cause celèbre on the restrictionist right. “I would go to the prison personally and give them their freedom. I would give them back pay if they so desire it.”
Video of the debate and links to several previous IPR articles can be found here.