Critics have called the Romney-Obama debates as narrow as they were shallow, but few have done more to try to broaden and deepen the national discussion than Amy Goodman and the Democracy NOW! team, who have produced their “Expanding the Debate” series with third party candidates added to the pair anointed by the two parties’ debate commission. The third party debate on Democracy Now! took a hard and detailed look at the issues discussed during the mainstream presidential debates.
For the final debate on October 22, Democracy NOW! went on the air in front of a live audience at the Osher Marin Jewish Community Center in San Rafael, California, pausing the debate in progress to allow comments by two third-party presidential candidates who were excluded from the official debate: Dr. Jill Stein of the Green Party and Rocky Anderson of the Justice Party.
Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson received an invitation, but declined.
The first question at the Florida debate purported to be about “Libya,” but was really about the September 11 events in Benghazi and their aftermath, as Bob Schieffer asked it: “What happened? What caused it? Was it spontaneous? Was it an intelligence failure? Was it a policy failure?” Neither candidate responded directly to the question as Gov. Romney mentioned Libya as well as Syria, Egypt, Mali and Iran, while President Obama said in passing, “Your strategy previously has been one that has been all over the map...”
Jill Stein, having audio problems at the start, did not answer the question either, but said in part: “…it’s very clear that there is blowback going on now across the Middle East...In many ways, we’re seeing a very ill-conceived, irresponsible and immoral war policy come back to haunt us, where United States foreign policies have been based, unfortunately, on brute military force and wars for oil. Under my administration, we will have a foreign policy based on international law and human rights and the use of diplomacy. And instead of fighting wars for oil, we will be leading—as America, we will be leading the fight to put an end to climate change.”
Rocky Anderson noted: “The question was whether the killings at the embassy in Libya… reflected a policy failure. And it is so clear to everyone that the policy failure has been in the way the United States has treated so many nations in the Middle East…. We invaded Iraq and occupied that country. It was completely illegal. Two United Nations secretaries-general declared that it was illegal. It was a war of aggression, and it was all done on a pack of lies. Now, we aggravate the situation by keeping bases in so many other nations,… engaging in direct, unmanned drone strikes in at least four sovereign nations, killing, in the process, hundreds, if not thousands, of innocent men, women and children. That is the policy failure: our belligerence, our efforts to control, to dominate and to make certain that we will always have that control over the resources in these nations.”
The second question asked by Schieffer was about Syria: “30,000 Syrians have died. We’ve had 300,000 refugees. The war goes on. [Assad is] still there. Should we reassess our policy and see if we can find a better way to influence events there? Or is that even possible?”
President Obama, in effect, said “No.”
Gov. Romney said, with creative geography, that: “Syria is an opportunity for us, because Syria plays an important role in the Middle East, particularly right now. Syria is Iran’s only ally in the Arab world. It’s their route to the sea…. [But] we don’t want to have military involvement there.” In a round about way he went on to say, in effect, he would follow the President’s policy.
Rocky Anderson responded: “ We probably just heard the greatest example of why we need to open up these presidential debates, because the premises under which both of these candidates are operating…. We hear President Obama say we’ve got to do everything we can to help the opposition, and Mitt Romney is saying we ought to be shipping them heavy arms. This is a call for a bloodbath in Syria…. you’re not going to get any democratic advances through more violence in Syria.”
Jill Stein said: "Yes, and it’s as if there’s collective amnesia here, as if we didn’t just go through a decade, $5 trillion and thousands of U.S. soldiers whose lives have been sacrificed, and far more civilians whose lives have been lost, in an attempted military resolution to these civil and religious strife…. we have not, with all the power of that force, been able to resolve these conflicts on the ground in Iraq and in Afghanistan. So, how in the world… are they thinking that a lesser degree of military intervention is going to solve the problem?"
Rocky Anderson: “I don’t think that the problem here is that we failed. I think the problem is that we’re trying to assert our will and dictate the result. Can you imagine if there were Muslim countries coming into the United States and occupying us, invading us, telling us how—where to run our government and then running unmanned drones over Canada, Mexico, the United States, determining who is going to live and who’s going to die?… It’s an outrage. And our national security is at risk long-term, because of the hostility and hatred that we’re generating throughout that part of the world.”
Jill Stein: “Absolutely. And… with arms flowing in to both sides in Syria, you have really a catastrophe in the making. We need to stop the flow of the arms…. the United States and the Obama government, in fact, undermined an international treaty that would have begun to slow down the international flow of arms. So the American role here has actually been to throw gasoline on the fires of virtually every ethnic, religious and national conflict around the Middle East….”
The next question from Bob Schieffer related to Israel and Iran: “Would either of you be willing to declare that an attack on Israel is an attack on the United States?”
Neither candidate made such a statement, though both tiptoed close to it. President Obama said, “I will stand with Israel if they are attacked” and Gov. Romney added, “I want to underscore the same point the president made, which is that if I’m president of the United States… we will stand with Israel. And if Israel is attacked, we have their back, not just diplomatically, not just culturally, but militarily.”
The President also said of Iran, “And they have said that they want to see Israel wiped off the map.”
Rocky Anderson: “This is so predictable. Once again, President Obama repeats the lie that President Ahmadinejad in Iran stated that he wanted to wipe Israel off the map. He never said it…. It was a misinterpretation, and it is so warmongering of both of these candidates to talk about how they will basically blow Iran away.
Romney wants to impose crippling sanctions. Who would he be crippling? He’d be crippling, among others, some of the hundreds of thousands of people who stood in Tehran in a candlelight vigil in sympathy for the victims of the 9/11 attacks on the United States…. it’s the United States who has led the way for other nations to build up their nuclear armaments. And if Iran feels like they’re going to be attacked—and that’s all they’re hearing nowadays—of course they’re going to consider building a nuclear capability to deter an attack.”
Jill Stein: "And here again, we’re seeing the candidates very similar to each other. They’re both saber-rattling about Iran. They’re both vowing their obedience to the right-wing government in Israel. And they are both saying that they will stop at nothing, but that war will be the last resort…. In fact, Iran recently hosted the non-aligned nations… all the non-aligned nations —Brazil and Argentina and many others—that together put forward a proposal for eliminating nuclear weapons throughout the Middle East and, in fact, eliminating nuclear weapons throughout the world. That is the true solution that we should be getting behind…. this slave-like mentality towards Israel is absolutely unjustified. We need to start raising the bar for Israel and holding them to an equal standard for supporting human rights and international law and ending occupations and illegal settlements and apartheid."
Bob Schieffer’s next question addressed the U.S. military budget: “Governor, you say you want a bigger military…. Where are you going to get the money?” The Governor did not answer the question. The President rambled around the question, noting at one point that “our military spending has gone up every single year that I’ve been in office. We spend more on our military than the next 10 countries combined—China, Russia, France, the United Kingdom, you name it, next 10.”
Jill Stein: “We cannot continue spending a trillion dollars a year on this bloated military-industrial-security complex without having to really pay the price here at home…. We are spending trillions every year not only on the bloated military budget, but on the wars for oil as part of that, as well as the bailouts for Wall Street and tax breaks for the very wealthy…. It’s time to be breaking up the big banks and bailing out the students instead…. Likewise, we are squandering trillions of dollars over the coming decade on a massive, wasteful private health insurance bureaucracy. And the alternative to austerity is actually moving to a Medicare-for-all, single-payer system, which makes austerity unnecessary. So, in fact, by moving to a single-payer, Medicare-for-all system, we get a system that people are happy with, that they love and want to defend from government tampering, in fact, and that system covers everyone comprehensively, puts you back in charge of your healthcare, and, in addition, it actually saves us trillions over the coming decade...by conserving those dollars instead of squandering them, we can actually spend them on the things that we need, on bailing out the students and on creating public higher education, which is free, tuition-free, the way that it should be.”
Rocky Anderson: “Well, we’ve heard another great example of how the Republican and Democratic candidates for president, just like their cohorts in Congress, are basically one and the same in terms of their corporatism and their militarism. It’s just a matter of degree."
Anderson then described the military-industrial-congressional complex that puts defense contractors in as many districts as possible to get votes in Congress, saying: “That is treasonous conduct, when people are looking out for their own political interests and hammering the American people, especially when there are so many unmet needs in this country...Now, in terms of jobs, our employers in this country are at a huge competitive disadvantage with their competitors overseas, because we are the only nation in the entire developed world that doesn’t provide insurance coverage for everyone, and we’re paying more than twice the average of the rest of the industrialized world. And we’re getting far worse medical outcomes. More than 70 percent of the American people and the majority of doctors during the healthcare debate said they wanted to see a single-payer, Medicare-for-all system in place. And this president wouldn’t even let the proposal see the light of day, because he, like the rest of the members in Congress, with the exception of a handful,… caved in to the for-profit insurance industry and the pharmaceutical companies. And once again, we end up getting shafted, the American people, again.”
These excerpts come from the Democracy NOW! one-hour broadcast of October 23. The full debate, three-and-a-half hours with all four candidates is on the Democracy NOW! website.