Friday, 14 September 2012

"Let Gary Johnson and Jill Stein Debate" Says Outsider

Hi guys, welcome to Orygyn!

I've seen a number of videos recently advocating letting Gary Johnson of the US' Libertarian Party and Jill Stein of the Green Party into the presidential debates with Barack Obama and Mitt Romney. I'm not American, I'm from the UK, but this gives me some insight which I think could be useful here.

First off, I'd like to make it very clear that this has nothing to do with any political affiliation. Not that this matters because, as a non-American, I can't vote anyway. What I am doing here is explaining why I agree with the effort to get Gary Johnson and Jill Stein into the debates, and using the events of the 2010 UK general election as evidence of the success that either or both of the candidates could enjoy.

First, let me give you a brief summary of UK politics and the political climate immediately preceding the election. Like the US, we had 2 major parties in the UK: Labour, and the Conservatives (or Tories).  To give a brief description of these parties, Labour is left-wing and focuses on Democratic Socialism, while the Tories are right-wing. Gordon Brown, our prime minister at the time was Labour's leader and both him and the party weren't very popular. The opposition leader was the Tory leader and now prime minister, David Cameron, and many hadn't forgiven them for Thatcher. Where we differed from the US is in having a 3rd party: a minor but not insignificant party called the Liberal Democrats (or Lib Dems), led by Nick Clegg. The Lib Dems would typically get around 15-20% of the votes in elections. For the first time ever, we had televised debates at this election and those 3 parties were allowed to have their leaders debate. Nick Clegg's performance in the first of the 3 debates had the effect of boosting Lib Dem opinion polls up to around 35% and it generally hovered around 25-30% in the following debates, in the same neighbourhood as the other 2 parties, with the decrease from the 1st debate due to David Cameron responding. The final result was 36.1% for the Tories, 29% for Labour and 23% for the Lib Dems, but even though the final result wasn't much of an improvement over the previous election (22.1%), the spread was more even (the gap between the Tories and Labour was wider than that between Labour and the Lib Dems, and there was only 6% difference between 2nd and 3rd as opposed to 12% in 2005), and the debates showed the potential for improvement if the debate performance is strong enough. The point is that the televised debates changed the perception of what many previously considered a 2-party system, bringing a genuine challenge from a 3rd party. Since the elections, the Lib Dems have pretty much sealed their doom by flip-flopping on pre-election promises, especially regarding tuition fees, which angered the essential younger voter base, but take that as a lesson for Gary Johnson and Jill Stein on what not to do: fuck up.

In his most recent video, pogobat (Dan Brown) argued the following:

"Presidential contests are as much as anything about testing a candidate's ability to lead and organise a large group of people. You don't get to organise people through the debates. You get to the debates through organising a large group of people and Gary Johnson just hasn't done that."

pogobat, "Should Gary Johnson Be In The Debates?" - 3:16-3:34

Let me first state that I'm unfamiliar with the practical aspects of implementing the idea at the premise of this post. If Dan is talking about such practicalities and he is right, then this is all simply feel-good fantasy, but if he is arguing that a position in the debates must be earned then, due to the nature of the American electoral process as I understand it, this is extremely unfair. The Libertarian and Green parties, not to mention all other minor parties, are already fighting an uphill battle as they do not have the opportunities for mainstream exposure that the big 2 have. By not already having these opportunities, the 2-party system actively prevents and hinders the efforts of the minor parties to gain these voters. Dan cites Ross Perot, from the 1992 election as a counterexample, but he had the advantage of already being famous. He had already achieved enormous successes as a businessman. Prior to the 2008 and 2012 election processes, Romney and Obama were senators, not really well-known at all. To have to be famous to get equal attention is not a great argument for the status quo. Incidentally, despite getting just under 20% of the votes, Perot didn't win any states due to the even distribution of his voter base throughout the country: another adversary of a 2+ party system, but something for another time.

This is what needs to happen. If you ever want to see a political system that is not dominated by crazy fundamentalist oil and finance slaves, and pretend progressive oil and finance slaves, a good start would be letting Gary and Jill debate. From there, they must perform exceptionally well, and, in my experience of watching the Lib Dems in the UK crash and burn, they absolutely must stick to their promises. They must appeal to the fact that they are something new: genuine change. They will get derided by the big 2 who will view them as wackos, but they must be able to address such criticism with a damning rebuttal of the big 2's failed policies and the repeated attempts to implement said policies, and who is funding/owning them. And whatever they promise, they must do. All of this is essential as, because they are something new and untested, they will be held to a much higher standard. However, American or not, I'm not convinced the current system will ever change without more parties being allowed to enter the debates.


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