Like 69 million other Americans, I watched the second presidential debate from Hofstra University last night. And I must confess I was pleased to see President Obama "win." This was the Obama so notably absent from the first debate. He came out swinging, was feisty, incisive and smart. He clearly won, and was the more able of the two debaters. That made me feel better -- but only because President Obama is the lesser of two evils and only because the parameters of debate were so narrowly set.
My point is that there were only two candidates on stage. As a result, there was a remarkable convergence of assumptions and positions between the two. That convergence might have been avoided had other candidates been allowed onstage with the two corporate spokespersons now posturing before us as candidates presenting us with "stark differences."
Amy Goodman's "Democracy Now" has tried to remedy the situation in a series of debates she calls "Breaking the Sound Barrier" ( http://www.democracynow.org/ ). The title's reference is to her show's inclusion of opinion beyond that endorsed by the corporate interests that shape public debate -- that set the "limits of perception" more effectively than blinders on horses.
So this morning on Ms. Goodman's program, she added three other candidates' voices to the debate mix: Jill Stein of the Green Party, Virgil Goode of the Constitution Party, and Rocky Anderson of the Justice Party. The three took part just as if Candy Crowley's questions had been presented not only to Messrs Obama and Romney, but to them as well. Each candidate was given two minutes to answer. And by the way, Ms. Goodman was far more successful at imposing time limits than Jim Lehrer, Martha Radatz or Candy Crowley.
The upshot of breaking the system-imposed "sound barrier" was to remarkably soften the differences between candidates Romney and Obama.
For instance, both candidates sparred with each other over who was more the champion of dirty energy, drilling, and pipe lines. Yes, they mentioned "green technologies." But with both Romney and Obama it always seemed an afterthought. Mr. Romney evoked "drill, baby, drill" memories with his emphasis on more drilling and on the XL Pipeline. Apparently, Mr. Obama was afraid to even mention that while reserving his decision on the XL Pipeline till after the elections, he's very quietly allowed construction of the U.S. portion to actually begin.
Had Ms. Stein been admitted to the Hofstra debate, Americans would have been reminded of the impact of fossil fuel consumption not only on prices at the gas pump, but on the environment and global warming. (In fact, the notion of climate change received not a single mention in last night's contest. And this even though it certainly represents the greatest threat to not only U.S. national security, but to life as we know it.) Ms. Stein's presence would have made Obama and Romney define their positions on the topic, as she would have had the chance to make her case for a "Green New Deal" which draws connections between the consumption of fossil fuel and environmental deterioration, oil wars, and healthcare.
Rocky Anderson's presence on stage would have brought front and center the concerns of his Justice Party. Without him the words "poverty" and "poor" crossed no one's lips, even though poverty rates in the United States are at their highest rate since 1965. Similarly, Mr. Anderson would have raised questions of breaking up the "too big to fail" banks and the prosecution of fraudulent bankers not one of whom has yet been brought to trial.
Mr. Anderson would also have made the Republicans, Democrats and public at large reframe the "jobs debate." Without him, both Mr. Obama and Mr. Romney could avoid facing the fact that the digital revolution of the last twenty-five years has rendered obsolete conventional ways of thinking about work. Robots have displaced people. As a result, it's imperative to reframe questions of employment. Available jobs must be shared; it's as simple as that. Work days, weeks, months, and years need shortening. Vacations need extensions. And the wealth the new technology is currently concentrating in the 1% needs redistribution.
Perhaps no question in last night's debate more highlighted the need for "breaking the sound barrier" than the one about the differences between Mr. Romney, Mr. Obama, and George W. Bush. In his answer, candidate Romney talked about differences in personality and context, championing small businesses, and cracking down on China. Mercifully for him, Mr. Obama did not have to answer the question.
Neither Ms. Stein nor Mr. Anderson would have allowed such question dodging to pass. The fact is, both Stein and Anderson agree, there is very little important difference between either the Romney or Obama positions or that of former President Bush. In fact under Obama, Bush policies have been exacerbated, and they promise to get even worse under Romney. The list of policy similarities is long: use of torture, promotion of free trade agreements, spying on U.S. citizens, detention of "terrorist" suspects with charge or trial, extra-judicial (drone) executions, championing dirty energy, off-shoring of jobs, misleading agreement that Social Security and Medicare are in crisis, refusal to prosecute Bush era war crimes . . . .
Yes, Mr. Obama rose to the occasion last night. And I'm happy that he won. I'll vote for him in November. But my vote is only a stop-gap measure. During the next four years I'm going to devote my political energies to working for the Justice and Green Parties so that in 2014 they won't be excluded from presidential debates.
Even if their winning the presidency might remain a remote possibility, their inclusion in the debates will serve us all. Thanks, Amy Goodman!