The biggest revelation for anyone paying close attention to the first presidential debate on Friday, September 26, was that Barack Obama and John McCain agreed on so much.
Despite Mr. McCain’s repeated “he just doesn’t get it” retorts, referring to Mr. Obama’s relative lack of foreign policy experience, and the reminders that Mr. McCain carries the stigma of a disastrous Republican administration, it was clear that the two candidates share the same basic premises. Both would maintain the Bush-Cheney doctrine of preemptive military action against nations currently at peace with the US, a policy contrary to the Nuremburg principles and other international laws as well as the US Constitution. The differences between the two on Iran, Israel-Palestine, and Russia-Georgia mostly had to do with secondary concerns such as how to approach negotiation. Mr. Obama would send more troops to Afghanistan. He continued to vote for President Bush’s requests for more war funding, joining most of his fellow Democrats in approving all war funding bills after his party gained control of Congress in 2006.
Whether Mr. McCain or Mr. Obama gets elected, we face a possible revival of the Cold War with Russia and a military confrontation with Iran, one that could erupt into a greater regional or global conflict. Despite promises of an eventual withdrawal, both would maintain some degree of US military occupation of Iraq in order to protect American interests, which can only mean western corporate control over Iraqi oil resources. Mr. Barack’s image as the antiwar choice of the 2008 election is no longer plausible.
Meanwhile, presidential candidates with different views on foreign policy were frozen out of the debate, and will be barred from the October 7 and 15 debates as well. Progressive voters should be alarmed by the absence of opposing pro-peace arguments during the debates.
The usual explanation for the Democrats’ embrace of Republican agenda during the post-convention phase of the election season is that Dems must capture the center. That’s the dynamic of American politics in recent decades: the Democrat is obliged to triangulate and stake out the GOP-Lite position. The Republican must appease the extreme social-conservative wing of his party (consider Mr. McCain’s conversion to Bush loyalist and his choice of Sarah Palin as running mate). Both remain faithful to the corporate donors who fuel their campaigns. Progressives within the Democratic Party muzzle their discontent and endorse their party’s nominee to prevent a Republican victory.
All of the actors in this repeating drama have thus contributed to the rightward trajectory of US politics and share responsibility for the Bush-Cheney catastrophe, the erosion of the Constitution, and the threat to the nation’s existence as a republic. Does anyone believe that President Obama will seek a repeal of the USA Patriot Act? Is anyone within the Democratic Party pressing him to take such a stand?
Given the narrow spectrum of opinion acceptable among the major media and the two-party establishment during election years, it’s no surprise that the American public accepts the political status quo and overall drift to the right as inevitable. It’s also no surprise that so many Americans feel too frustrated by the choices on the ballot to bother voting.
The antidote to such a stalemate is the emergence of new parties and the fresh ideas they bring with them. For many disappointed voters and alienated nonvoters, the Green Party offers hope for a permanent progressive and ecological political force that rejects the influence of corporate lobbies, foreswears donations from corporate PACS, and opposes the imperial tendencies of the Ds and Rs. Green presidential nominee Cynthia McKinney and running mate Rosa Clemente are speaking to voters and offering ideas that aren’t being heard in the McCain-Obama contest: single-payer national health care, rapid and complete withdrawal from Iraq, ending the war on drugs and the incarceration of record numbers of Americans, saving US democracy from a repeat of the stolen elections of 2000 and 2004, holding the Bush-Cheney Administration accountable for crimes and abuses of power.
Ms. McKinney, Ms. Clemente, and the Green Party represent millions of Americans whose opinions are excluded from the debates. Ms. McKinney and Ms. Clemente are the first US presidential ticket in which both nominees are women of African ancestry; Ms. Clemente is Black Puerto Rican. Ms. McKinney is a former six-term member of Congress from Georgia with an established record of leadership on human rights, foreign policy, environmental issues, and constitutional rights and protections for American citizens. She involved herself personally in the struggle of people in New Orleans and the Gulf Coast region to fight permanent eviction and return to their homes. In 2006, she became the first member of Congress to introduce a motion for impeachment of President Bush.
Ms. Clemente has called the Green Party “an imperative for America in the 21st century.” No other candidate in the 2008 election stands for what the McKinney-Clemente ticket stands for.
Cynthia McKinney and Rosa Clemente will be on enough state ballots to get elected to the White House, if they received a majority or plurality of the votes. Any presidential candidate who is on a sufficient number of ballots to be elected deserves to participate in the debates. Voters have a right to be fully informed about all the candidates whose names they’ll see on the ballot, not just those approved by the debate sponsors or with favorable poll numbers. Voters deserve to know which candidate best represents their own interests and ideals.
Despite the emphasis placed on polls, the only truly democratic measurement of public support for candidates is the election itself. Opinion polls are subjective, vulnerable to bias, and constantly fluctuating, and they often exclude certain candidates from the questions asked. When pollsters ask voters to choose between two ‘viable’ or “winnable” candidates, they enforce the idea that the only valid votes are those cast for a Democrat or a Republican, regardless of voters’ own political sentiments. Polls are not democratic and should not be used to determine participation in debates.
Ultimately, the Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD) decides who will participate. The CPD took over the debates from the nonpartisan League of Women Voters in 1988 after the LWV withdrew in protest of the Democratic and Republican candidates’ attempts to control nearly every aspect of how the debates were to be conducted. The CPD is owned and run by the Democratic and Republican parties, which have an interest in excluding all candidates except their own. The CPD is funded through contributions from corporations, which have their own interests in a limited debate.
When the LWV ceded authority over the debates in 1988, it called the growing Democratic-Republican domination of the debates “a fraud on the American voter.”
Americans have a special justification now for insisting on the inclusion of Cynthia McKinney, independent Ralph Nader, Libertarian nominee Bob Barr, and the Constitution Party’s Chuck Baldwin, all of whom will be on the ballot in a majority of states. The proposed bailout has placed the loyalties of our political leaders in bold relief. The leaders of the Democratic and Republican parties, including Barack Obama and John McCain, have joined the Bush Administration and Wall Street cronies in support of a scheme allowing the greatest transfer of wealth from taxpayers to financial corporations in US history.
Opposing the $700 billion bailout legislation are some progressive Democrats, some traditionally conservative Republicans (those who object to taxpayer-funded corporate handouts), most of the American public, and the alternative party candidates. Neither the Obama nor the McCain campaign represent anti-bailout voters.
Scott McLarty has served as media coordinator for the Green Party of the United States and for the DC Statehood Green Party. He has had articles, guest columns, and book reviews published in Roll Call, Z Magazine, Green Horizon, The Progressive Review, In These Times, and several local and community publications and small press. He joined the Green Party in 1996, and in 1998 ran for the Ward 1 seat on the Washington, DC City Council. Mr. McLarty grew up in Long Island, New York, and now lives in Washington, DC.