Nader and Third Party Politics

Despite what you may think about the American Presidential campaign, there are more candidates than just Obama and McCain running for the office. One of the candidates is Ralph Nader, the consumer advocate crusader of the 1970s who worked successfully to improve vehicle safety.  Nader and other third party candidates have been shut out of the debates. Is this fair or better put, is it just?

I happen to like two party politics. It is simple. Contrary to the claims of the third party candidates, differences do exist between Democrats and Republicans. Granted those differences get frequently blurred, but they do exist.

The real question before us is whether it is fair to shut out other candidates for president from the presidential debate? How should debate committees decide who is allowed to participate? Should it be 1. is the candidate on the ballot in all 50 states? 2. the candidate has a certain level of support in the polls? or their party got a certain level of voter support in the last election?

The trouble is if you make the bar too high, you effectively stifle options. But if you set the bar too low you allow essentially any extreme group to gum up the works by raising issues that will never carry the day. It would be like the opinions of one student dominating the course of class discussion. The tyranny of the minority.

So I am interested in hearing what Europeans think of the matter? Other groups are welcome to pipe in too.

  1. Hello Stephen,

    Some Thoughts on the Two Party System in the US

    Given the Constitution, history and geography of the US, it is difficult to see how anything other than a two party system could exist. (It is so easy to have clear hind sight
    !) If some third party candidates were given the opportunity to take part in presidential debates, the need to elect a president would probably still eventually reduce the number of parties to two. You point out the difficulties in deciding which candidates should be given the opportunity to debate

    Outsiders (and perhaps some Americans) often fail to recognise the tremendous boon of the American system to date – stability! A drawback is its inability to take into account some of the legitimate policy concerns of the people. I doubt that allowing more candidates to debate would do much to change this; it might help a bit. I have wondered whether a run off system such as they have in France might not help.


  2. Hello Stephen, This came to my mail box to-day. It is not exactly on the topic raised in your post above but related closely enough to be of interest to you. I shall be interested in your response. Peter

    Thursday August 14, 2008
    Religion and a Crisis in Confidence at the Justice Department
    Perhaps I am too idealistic, but I am still shocked and disillusioned when I discover that those who are overtly and publicly religious also lie, cheat, dissemble and act as if their religious certainty should justify whatever illegal tactics they adopt.

    The latest illustration fitting this pattern involves yet another episode in the strange marriage between the Bush administration and the voting bloc in America known as the “Religious Right.” The center for this episode was the Justice Department and involved a recent report by the nation’s Inspector General accusing former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and one of his top aides, Monica Goodling, with unethical behavior. Both of these people identify themselves quite publicly with the values of the religious right.

    Prior to being forced to resign from that position, Alberto Gonzales revealed in his performance as Attorney General that he was barely competent for his job, which of course causes one to wonder why he was ever chosen to be the chief law enforcement officer of this nation. When we look at the history of this administration’s appointees, however, we discover that, with the rare recent exceptions of Robert Gates at Defense and Henry Paulson at Treasury, the criteria for appointment seem to be cronyism and ideological compatibility rather than competence.

    Gonzales certainly qualified only on those two bases. He was, first of all, a friend of the President, having worked closely with him as counsel when Bush served as governor of Texas. They had a comfortable relationship. His primary skill, however, was not in either knowing or interpreting the law, but in his ability to provide cover for anything the President wanted to do, from illegally wire tapping the telephones of United States citizens to sheltering the CIA from charges of torture in violation of the Geneva Convention.

    The second thing that qualified Gonzales was that he, like another crony, White House Counsel Harriet Miers, shared something else with the President. Both of them were evangelical, born again Christians. When Ms. Miers, whom the President actually nominated to the Supreme Court, was judged even by the Republicans in the Senate to be unqualified and ill prepared for that position, Bush defended her on the basis of her religious convictions, as if to say that religious convictions are a proper substitute for competence. Gonzales fit the same pattern. Identifying his ideological bias with the three “G” words, God, Guns and Gays, he was a religious right enthusiast. The proper position was to be in favor of God and guns and to be opposed to gays. While serving as Attorney General he attended Truro Episcopal Church in Fairfax County, Virginia, an ultra conservative, gay hating, charismatic congregation. That church is today seeking to withdraw from the Episcopal Church to align itself with the Anglican Church of Nigeria whose Archbishop, Peter Akinola, is so distorted that to curb homosexuality he has suggested that laws be passed in Nigeria making it illegal for two men or two women to have lunch together in a public place. Other African countries from which this church seeks shelter still make it a capital crime to be a homosexual. It is no wonder that an African bishop once told me that there were “no homosexuals in Africa.” If one is subject to execution for being gay, closets are very deep and well hidden. I find it incredible that anyone in the educated world of either church or politics would want to identify with these attitudes, take them seriously or seek to accommodate them in any way as if they were acceptable.

    I have no objections to Mr. Gonzales’ private religious preference, though I certainly do not share it. I have long become used to the fact that people do dreadful things in the name of God. That is embarrassing, but appears not to be preventable. That, however, is not the issue. Mr. Gonzales felt a missionary imperative to use his office to impose his religious views on the entire United States. I do object to that kind of religious imperialism from any source and particularly from one in an appointed position of authority. When he later proceeded to justify his public role in legalizing torture and in the firing of the United States Attorneys on the basis of the values of his religion, then I find his behavior totally inappropriate. Finally, when under cross examination from the Senate, his memory became so fuzzy that he could recall nothing about these matters, he stands revealed as little more than an incompetent ideologue, who is using religion to provide him with an air of respectability. The very fabric of the nation hangs on the trust people have in the integrity of the law. Alberto Gonzales compromised that integrity and then justified it in the name of his religious ideology. Recall that it was this Justice Department that was given the responsibility for investigating voter fraud in Florida in 2000 and in Ohio in 2004. Bush’s two appointees to the office of Attorney General, John Ashcroft and Alberto Gonzales, are already regarded as the two worst Attorneys General in America’s history.

    Monica Goodling, the second person charged in the Inspector General’s report with illegal and unethical behavior in the Justice Department, was Gonzales’ top aide. She has clearly learned from the example of the Attorney General himself. Ms. Goodling is a recent graduate of Evangelist Pat Robertson’s Regency Law School in Norfolk, which has been judged to be third rate at best. It was, however, both ideologically and religiously right down Gonzales’ alley and became a happy hunting ground where Gonzales hired well over 100 of its graduates for positions either in the White House or in the Justice Department. Ms. Goodling was Exhibit “A” of these recruits. Despite her youth, lack of experience and thin résumé, she qualified on ideological and religious grounds and rose very rapidly until she was Gonzales’ top aide. Under her guidance Internet searches were begun into the backgrounds of those seeking civil service positions that are by law declared to be non-political. These searches were programmed with the code words abortion, homosexuality, gun support and Florida recount. Prospective employees for civil service jobs in the Justice Department under Ms. Goodling’s style of interviewing had to have a right wing understanding of God that meant being anti-abortion and identifying with either a conservative Catholic church or a fundamentalist Protestant church. “Florida recount” separated Republicans from Democrats quickly and probably carried with it support for the Iraqi war. The category of homosexuality required her to single out homosexual people and to use them as scapegoats to keep the less educated and emotionally unstable religious voters sufficiently frightened of a “gay takeover” that they would be willing to abandon their economic vested interests in favor of their deep seated prejudices. This familiar tactic was not new. It has been employed frequently by “Bible Belt” politicians in the South, who constantly used the fear of blacks to keep poor whites voting with the ruling classes. Religious people seem to think that anything that pushes their religious agenda is by definition both legal and moral, which then suggests that anything that opposes their religious agenda is illegal and immoral.

    We have seen that mentality operating time and again in church life. The laws of this country were both ignored and flouted by the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church when they were confronted with massive sexual abuse of children and young people on the part of their priests. Instead of cooperating with the legal investigations, they blocked them in any way they could. Someone like Cardinal Bernard Law of Boston, obviously guilty of being an accomplice in criminal acts by protecting and sheltering guilty priests, was not, as the law requires, arrested, charged, tried, convicted and jailed. He was rather promoted to a Vatican position in Rome, where, by virtue of being out of the country, he would never be required to testify under oath. At the same time, a Catholic Bishop in Sydney, Geoffrey Robinson, who had investigated this same scandal in Australia in such a complete and thorough way, discovered that he was held in contempt by his church’s hierarchy, which not only passed over him for the position of Archbishop of Sydney, but also pushed him into early retirement by appointing to that position one whom his investigation found unworthy to head the Roman Catholic Church in Australia and to whom he could not in conscience be either loyal or supportive as bishops take vows to do.

    In evangelical circles, a similar dishonesty occurs so often I’ve come to expect it. Evangelicals defend their religious traditions not by addressing the questions people raise, but by lying, misleading and assassinating the character of their critics. I have chronicled examples of that so often in the past that I will not repeat them here, but I do not trust evangelicals to be honest when their beliefs are at risk, nor do I expect them to act in Christ-like ways.

    When I look further at Christian history I become more and more disillusioned with the public face of religion. That history reveals the persecution of pagans by Christians as soon as they gained power in the Roman Empire in the 4th century; the Crusades against the Islamic world in the 11th, 12th and 13th centuries; the Inquisition in the 14th century; the religious wars of the 16th and 17th centuries; and the constant anti-Semitism throughout Christian history. That anti-Semitism stretches from the church fathers, to blaming the Jews for the Bubonic Plague, to Martin Luther, to the Holocaust that few people in the Christian world from Pope Pius XII on seemed willing to condemn. Today rampant homophobia lives primarily inside the Christian Church, having largely died in secular society. If the public face of religion is now defined by the unholy alliance of right wing religion with right wing politics then I want no part of it.

    I look forward to the presidential election in November. No matter who is elected my sense is that on January 20, 2009, the happiest person in American history will be Warren G. Harding who will finally escape his well earned reputation as the worst president in American history. President Harding on that day will be promoted to the position of second worst.
    John Shelby Spong

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