Will Debt Drama Drive You To A Third Party?

Guests

Jeff Greenfield, author of Then Everything Changed
Elliot Ackerman, chief operating officer, Americans Elect
Ron Elving, senior Washington editor, NPR

As the standoff continues between Republicans and Democrats over spending and the debt ceiling, Americans appear increasingly frustrated with both political parties. Recent polls show that a majority of Americans say a third party is needed. But third-party candidates rarely do well at the polls.

Copyright © 2011 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

NEAL CONAN, host: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan, in Washington. Polls show a majority of Americans so frustrated with both political parties, they say they'd like to see a new alternative. Count New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman among them.

Remove the barriers to real competition, he wrote, flatten the incumbents, and let the people in. Skeptics will simply call the role: Ross Perot, John Anderson, Strom Thurmond, Eugene V. Debs, even Theodore Roosevelt. Third parties can be spoilers, they say, but they don't win, and they don't last.

And besides a pox on both your houses, what would a third party be for? Well, help us write the platform for a viable third party. Send us one plank of a third-party platform, by email or by Twitter. Our plank here is keep it short. The email address is talk@npr.org. And you can reach us on Twitter @totn. We'll assemble the platform in half an hour or so.

Later in the program, Steve Carrell has left "The Office" to return to the big screen. But first, the creation of a viable third party. Veteran journalist Jeff Greenfield recently imagined a successful third-party president in a piece for the Washington Post. He joins us now from our bureau in New York. Nice to have you back on TALK OF THE NATION, Jeff.

JEFF GREENFIELD: Nice to be here.

CONAN: And you often write counterfactual history. In your piece, you describe a third-party candidate almost surprised himself to have been swept into office.

GREENFIELD: Yeah, and it's important to note that this was, indeed, a fantasy. But it's premised on the idea that this default happens, and that what we see is that this permanent kind of low-grade interest in something other than a Democrat or Republican - which has been around for decades, as you helped tick off, then hits the boiling point because at this point, if there was a default - if there were a default and the consequences were as catastrophic as most people think, it's a kind of situation where that low-grade fever spikes.

And people say: Well, for heaven sakes, if these guys can't even get the richest, most powerful government or economy in the world to pay its bills, something's gone off the rails.

And then I did take a flight into fancy. It turns out that if you look at polling numbers, that the discontent with the two parties is already rising. And I notice that Tom Friedman in the New York Times, who has a much bigger pulpit than I do, was advocating such a move. The problem is getting from the intention to the reality. And as we'll talk about, that can prove really formidable.

CONAN: It's also - Tom Friedman argues his point about the radical center. If you look at that Gallup Poll that showed that 52 percent of Americans say yes, they'd like to see a third party - it's the first time a majority of Americans have said so - 60 percent who identify themselves as Tea Party supporters are in favor of a third party. Presumably, they're not to be described as the radical center.

GREENFIELD: I think that's exactly the point. And it's not just the old clich� that the devil's in the detail, but the impulses toward a third party are all over the map. The caller that you quoted at the very - or the writer or the emailer or the tweeter, whatever - at the very beginning who said if they cut one social program, I'm for a third party, well, he's - I think it's fair to say - coming from a left, progressive point of view.

But the general notion of...

CONAN: He wants to draft Bernie Sanders, yeah.

GREENFIELD: Well, yeah, that's not exactly the radical center, as he's the only self-described socialist in the U.S. Congress at this point, also the only guy from Vermont with a thicker Brooklyn accent than anybody from Brooklyn, but we'll skip that point.

The idea is once you start saying OK, what's a third party for? What Friedman is imagining, what I was imagining, what Perot actually did - and remember, he got 19 percent of the vote, and he was - his seat belt and tray table were not in the full upright and locked position, and he got 19 percent of the vote.

It's the notion that both parties have failed, and there needs to be adult supervision by people who drop the political pressure coming from the different interest groups, and get together. And once you start trying to craft what that is, it begins to look something like a grand bargain, to use the clich�.

OK, you'll give up some entitlement privileges or perks. We'll bend the cost curve on Medicare and Social Security. We'll reform taxes so that the most affluent pay a little bit more and somehow, we'll come to an understanding. And by the way, we will drop all the other issues that - so, so - I won't say aggravate, but so inspire so many people.

So in other words, abortion, gay rights, the environment, you name it - that gets put aside in the interest of trying to fix this very rickety economic system that we've now seem to have created.

And you know what? A lot of people in the abstract will say, I'm for that. I'm tired of people appealing to special interests. And the minute that their special interest is shunted aside, they go - oh no, no, not that one. And that's just part of the problem. I mean, there are many logistical issues, but that's just one example, Neal.

CONAN: And there are also - there have been times when issues drove this. You could fairly say Strom Thurmond ran on an issue. But in general, those that have been more successful have been driven by one charismatic leader. You can - Ross Perot's charisma can be questioned, OK, but Theodore Roosevelt did awfully well with the Bull Moose Party 100 years ago.

GREENFIELD: Yes, but I don't want to quibble on the history, but it's really a mixed bag because Theodore Roosevelt was running on the Progressive Party platform that had a lot of very specific issues, particularly involving the reform of things like, you know, the recall, the initiative. He actually wanted judicial recall under some circumstances, and a kind of anti-corporate set of issues.

And then you're right. Perot didn't have any issue but the deficit, and it's interesting to note that the deficit was far more manageable then. His great line in the debate, when he was asked about experience, he said: You know, you're right. I haven't had any experience in running up a $5 trillion debt. And that's the classic kind of political judo. You take your weakness, lack of experience, and you flip it and say, look what the experienced people have done.

Yeah, Thurmond ran as a states' rights segregationist, more or less white supremacist. Henry Wallace, that same year, probably cost Harry Truman New York state by running well to the left of Harry Truman and any other Democrat.

And what they're talking about - people are talking about this year, I think you're right, is less a set of issues than the central notion that the system broke.

CONAN: All right, well, let's bring another voice into the conversation. A group that hopes to turn voter frustration into a viable third-party presidential ticket is the nonprofit Americans Elect. The group hopes to use the Internet to create a third-party presidential ticket by 2012, and get that ticket on the ballot in all 50 states. Neither of those will be easy.

Elliot Ackerman is chief operating officer for Americans Elect; served eight years in the Marine Corps, awarded the Silver Star, the Bronze Star and the Purple Heart. And he joins us here in Studio 3A. Elliot Ackerman, welcome to TALK OF THE NATION.

ELLIOT ACKERMAN: Thanks so much for having me.

CONAN: And part of your effort, as I understand it, is to create the mechanical scaffolding. If and when a third party arrives, they're going to need some help getting on the ballot, for example, and that's part of what you're trying to do.

ACKERMAN: And that's absolutely it, and if you look at the context that we're doing this in right now, our country's got some real problems that it's facing, and we're looking to try to find some solutions to those problems and talk about a political system that's solutions-based.

So at Americans Elect, we'll be holding the first-ever nonpartisan, secure, online nominating convention for the presidency in 2012. Any American voter can be a delegate to that convention, and the ticket that comes out of it is going to be on the ballot in all 50 states.

So we're not a traditional third party, per se. We're really a second nominating process.

CONAN: A second nominating process. So whoever wins the popular vote, it could be, as - I don't mean to be too skeptical, but Howard the Duck or some clown could win.

ACKERMAN: Well, the key is to have a credible process that puts forward a credible candidate. What we're doing is - I mean, it couldn't be more serious, and the challenges we're facing couldn't be more serious, and people want solutions. So to have a little bit of competition introduced into the system will be a net positive for the American people.

CONAN: How would a candidate campaign?

ACKERMAN: Well, we're going to be leveraging a lot of our newest tools, in terms of social media and the Internet, for candidates to do that. And we've seen a lot of great technical innovations. But one of the great political innovations is that we're making - what have traditionally been party functions, we're turning them into delegate functions.

So when someone comes to the website, any registered voter, they sign up to become a delegate at AmericansElect.org. They can draft a candidate, an individual who may be a prominent figure from American life who might not have thought of running. They can discuss and debate the platform of questions, not a platform of issues but platform of questions that the candidates will be required to answer.

And there'll also be discussion and debate over the rules of the convention. So that's a real political innovation. We're taking party functions and making them delegate functions.

CONAN: And who decides what this party is for, the candidate or that assembling process where you're building up the platform?

ACKERMAN: Well, the delegates are going to build up this platform, and it's going to be a great forum that candidates can come to, to discuss and debate the most crucial issues facing our nation. And we think it's going to elevate the debate and get everybody involved in a way that is unprecedented.

CONAN: Well, we're trying to illustrate some of the difficulties and ideals of building a party platform, here on the program today - in a very small way. We're asking our listeners to help us assemble a platform for a viable third party. We need a name, too. So send us your suggestions, 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org. We're also taking suggestions via Twitter, @totn, and the Twitter part suggests another important aspect of this: Keep it short, one idea, one plank of a viable third-party party platform.

And we'll start with Jannika(ph), Jannika with us from Okanagan...

JANNIKA: Okanagan County, yeah. Listen, I have to start a long time before a third party because right now, we don't have a democracy, OK? Our country is run by corporations, and I think that if you poll the American public, more than 50 percent...

CONAN: Jannika, I understand...

JANNIKA: And so - wait a minute, wait a minute. And so the thing that we have to think about before we think about policies or issues, is how to elect people who will think about the issues that the people care for as opposed to the issues that the corporations want, OK?

And one of the ways is to go back to the old idea that we owned the corporate media, the corporate airwaves, and that they should give free political advertising to candidates so they do not have to take money from corporations.

And I think that this is the one issue that both people on the right and people on the left agree upon, but we are not making enough noise about it. We are not demanding it. We're just laying back and letting the corporations run everything.

CONAN: Jannika, thanks very much for the call. So we asked for a simple plank of a platform. On our first call, we're already in trouble. She's got an interesting idea, but it's not the plank of a party platform. That's what we're looking for today. Give us a call, 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org. We're also taking your suggestions today on Twitter, @totn.

Stay with us. I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION, from NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION, from NPR News. I'm Neal Conan in Washington. Third-party candidates for president date back more than 150 years. The first of any real significance, 1856, former President Millard Fillmore ran on the American Party ticket, picked up 22 percent of the vote but only one state and its eight electoral votes, nowhere near enough to defeat Democrat James Buchanan.

The lesson: Third-party candidates can generate popular support but so far, anyway, not enough to win the White House. Many people hope this time might be different. Voters are fed up with Washington, especially in the midst of this debt debate.

So what would a third party be for? Help us write the platform of a viable third party. Send us one plank of a third-party platform by email or Twitter. We need ideas for a name, too. Again, our plank is keep it short. The email address is talk@npr.org. And you can reach us on Twitter, @totn. We'll assemble the platform in, oh, I guess about 20 minutes or so. So stay with us for that.

Our guests are Jeff Greenfield, the author of "Then Everything Changed: Stunning Alternate Histories of American Politics, JFK, RFK, Carter, Ford, Reagan." We've posted a link on our website to his recent piece in the Washington Post, "What Happens to American Politics If We Default? Hello, Third Party."

Also with us is Elliot Ackerman, chief operating officer for Americans Elect. His group hopes to lay the groundwork for a successful third-party bid in 2012. And also with us here in Studio 3A is Ron Elving, NPR senior Washington editor.

And Ron, as you look at the history of third parties, Mr. Ackerman hopes to get on the ballot in all 50 states. That's not always done. It's not always easy.

RON ELVING: It's really the great hurdle. It's the great burden. Ross Perot spent $60 million on his first campaign in 1992. A lot of that went to getting on the ballot in all 50 states. And it takes almost unlimited resources, and it takes an awful lot of people who are willing to go out and do work for you and organize for you, and make that happen.

That has been a great hurdle. And one of the things that I understand that this new effort, Americans Elect, is trying to do is to try to begin the process of getting on those ballots so that if a candidate should be identified at some later point, who has the kind of support that would make them an actual viable option for the other two parties, they would have a leg up. They would be most of the way there towards getting that ballot access.

Otherwise, as we've seen with other alternative candidates - Pat Buchanan, Ralph Nader and so on - they expend a lot of their time, energy and resources just trying to get on the ballot.

CONAN: And it is fair to say, I think, that since the political process is controlled by the Republicans and the Democrats, they, particularly in some states - I'm most familiar with New York - make it extremely difficult to create a third party and jump the hurdle to get on the ballot.

ELVING: Well, they're roughly as excited about having competitors as, say, two grocery store chains are about having a third grocery store chain come into their towns. Obviously, they see this as competition, and while they realize that they have to let the voters decide down the road, they don't want to make it any easier for the voters to have additional choices.

CONAN: And what kind of resources are you going to be able to devote to this, Elliot Ackerman?

ACKERMAN: Well, we've seen great success with our ballot access initiative nationwide, and we've just gone ahead and done it, got the message out. Do people want more choice in the 2012 election? We're seeing them coming out in overwhelming numbers.

At the end of this week, the people of California have signed up 1.6 million of them, and we'll be submitting those signatures to the state of California for ballot access.

CONAN: And under what name?

ACKERMAN: Under Americans Elect.

CONAN: That's going to be the name of the third party?

ACKERMAN: And that will be - not the third party, but that will be the placeholder for whoever the delegates come to the website and decide they want to nominate. And whoever wins the convention will get that slot and ballot access. It could be a Republican running with a Democrat, a Democrat with an independent. The only stipulation is that the ticket and the presidential nominee have to reach across our political space and run with someone of another party.

CONAN: And getting back to you, Jeff Greenfield, that suggests, if you're getting bipartisan support, you're going to try picking off conservative Democrats and then moderate Republicans - those of them that are left - and defining leadership from amongst those camps is not going to be easy.

GREENFIELD: Right. Let me just make a couple of points. The logistical obstacles to a third party are far less serious than they used to be, thanks to Ross Perot. When he ran in 1992, he spent several million of the $60 million to challenge ballot access rules and was so successful that - the reason why there was a butterfly ballot in Florida in 2000 was that the access to the ballot became so much easier that 10 people qualified.

And poor Teresa La Porte down in Palm Beach, just trying to figure out a way to get the ballots so the typeface could be big enough for those elderly voters. So in some sense, Ross Perot may have cost Al Gore the presidency in that sense. In addition to which the money obstacle, I think, is less serious than it used to be - it's still serious - because of the power of the Internet to raise money.

But in terms of getting people together, when I've thought about this beyond just fantasy, I don't think that the traditional route of an outsider - the Ross Perot character, or the Spencer Tracy character in "State of the Union," he was going to run as a Republican; but somebody, you know, a great businessman that labor loves, that's free of the taint of politics - my feeling is, it would have to be defectors. It would have to be people who could say, I've been in the system - I've been a Democratic, I've been a Republican - I've been in the white hot center of this, and it's busted.

And that's the only conceivable way I can see, politically, that people might actually turn to this movement. In addition to which, if - just to jump ahead - if whoever a third-party candidate is does not have a large slate of congressional and senatorial people with him or her, then even if that candidate's elected, there'll be failure.

That's just another small, you know, nasty little fact that you have to absolutely look straight in the eye. If you really are going to try to change the dysfunctional way Washington works, you're going to have the equivalent of Jesse Ventura, even if the guy's not quite so colorful. You're going to have a president with no base of support in the Congress, and a Republican and Democratic, you know, Congress - whatever party - determined to keep their prerogatives.

So that's just yet another problem, not to mention what you mentioned, Neal, that once you get finished, you know, trying to hammer this platform together - do you remember the scene, the all-Arab conference in "Lawrence of Arabia"?

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

GREENFIELD: I think anybody trying to do this should take a strong look at that after they succeed in driving out the colonialists, and we will have the equivalent at that meeting you're going to have, of Bedouin do not carry water. Bedouin do never carry water. And I'm not trying to make light of it.

So I wouldn't have written the piece if I didn't. I think the appetite for something new is going to hit a high level, but boy is it complicated.

CONAN: And Eliot Ackerman, will there be congressional candidates, senatorial candidates, city council, mayors, alderman?

ACKERMAN: Absolutely not. I think we just went through a whole laundry list of challenges that are facing the country and facing our governance, and what's going on at Americans Elect is a positive first step forward into having more representational government.

And as we embark on this journey, and people come and join us at AmericansElect.org, it's going to be an important first step that could extend to all facets of U.S. government.

CONAN: We're getting about two emails a second. Here's a few of them. Require all politicians, everyone in elected office and everyone on the government payroll, to use only the same coverage, policies and programs provided and required - like Social Security - to every other person in the U.S. I think this would improve health care and retirement programs very quickly.

This is - that was from, excuse me, David(ph) in Menlo Park. This from Maraleen(ph) in Cedar Rapids: Please, please, please can we get rid of the Electoral College? So there's your first constitutional amendment.

This from Jim(ph) in Citrus Heights, California: No campaign contributions over $100. Abolish all lobbyists. You're going to have some problems with the Supreme Court on a couple of those.

GREENFIELD: I think you're going to have some problems with a hell of a lot more people than the Supreme Court on whatever abolish lobbyists means. I mean, you know, it's kind of right there in the First Amendment, the right to, you know, petition for the redress of grievances. And you may not like it when guys in $3,000 suits do it, but if they're lobbying for something you care about, you really don't want to abolish lobbying.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

GREENFIELD: You know, that's - you know, that's what some of the civil rights folks were doing back in 1963. They were lobbying the Congress for an end to state-sanctioned segregation.

CONAN: This from Adel(ph) - Adel, excuse me, publicly financed elections. You could do that by pledge. I don't - the Supreme Court just says you can't do that by fiat or by congressional law.

And this from Russ: Tax at the level to support our spending. If we want taxes down, we must determine the expenses to decrease - not a balanced-budget amendment, but must tax to support our spending. Spend as you go - or pay as you go, I think that was called.

Ron Elving, let's get another caller in. Let's go to Adam(ph), Adam with us from Manitowoc in Wisconsin.

ADAM: Yes, I'd like to see more infrastructure spending; namely, the energy infrastructure, you know, power lines to clean energy resource sites, and more public transportation.

CONAN: And more public transportation, OK. So - and how would you pay for that?

ADAM: You know, I know Obama already suggested an infrastructure bank of the U.S., something like that where loans are guaranteed, where it's cost-effective, where private industry comes in, but we guarantee the loans. So we're not eating the whole cost of that.

CONAN: All right, Adam, thanks very much. Let's see if we can go next to - this is Beth(ph) and Beth with us from Schenectady.

BETH: Now, you mentioned a free speech issue. But - however, big corporations aren't taxed like an individual. Nader said - the original, you know, third party - that if we went back to the 1960s, those billion-dollar corporations like GE and Verizon would be paying taxes again, and we wouldn't be in this position.

So if you want to say that big corporations are individuals for the purpose of free speech, then they need to be individuals for the purpose of taxation. I have a small business. If I were to bring - whatever I bring in, I am taxed on, and that's the crux of the issue.

And then the other thing would be to not consider the parties to be nonprofits. They take in so much money from these big corporations that can write it off, that it's insane. So if they can't take billions of dollars from GE, GE has no incentive to send money to both, you know, both campaigns. Then, I think, that would do a world of good as to whose issues get heard because nobody in a $3,000 suit is standing up in Congress for me.

CONAN: All right. Thanks very much. Let's see if we go next to - this is Kim, and Kim with us from Akron.

KIM: Well, hello.

CONAN: Hi, Kim. You're on the air. Go ahead, please.

KIM: I just wanted to say that let's be polite. Let's be respectful, and let's be courteous. And that's the party I'd like to see.

CONAN: It's interesting. Hard to write that into a party platform, but Ron Elving...

KIM: Well, if...

CONAN: I just was going to...

KIM: ...I could give it a name, it would be the Polite People's Party.

CONAN: Or it could be the John Anderson Party, about as polite a man as ever ran for president of the United States.

ELVING: In 1980, a man full of dignity, had been in the Republican Party; was still, in his own mind, a Republican; ran for president as an independent against Jimmy Carter in 1980 and, of course, against Ronald Reagan in that same election, and got pretty close to - I believe it was about 9, 10 percent of the popular vote.

GREENFIELD: I think he actually - he got about 6 percent of the vote. And one of the key...

ELVING: Is that all?

GREENFIELD: Yeah. Well, one of the keys to this, however, this is done - and again, looking at this, you know, logistically, not substantively, is whoever that third-party candidate is, the key is to get included in the debate. That's why Ross Perot, as much as he spent all that money, was able to get 19 percent of the vote. And John Anderson was not included - Carter, you might remember, refused to participate in the first debate, which was between Carter and Reagan - and then his poll numbers dropped.

That's one of the reasons Jesse Ventura won in Minnesota. He was part of that debate. Because the minute a third-party candidate stands on the same platform, literally, with the Republican and Democratic nominees for president, that alone is an enormous victory because it says to the tens of millions of people watching, this person - he or she - is on an equal footing. So I'm not throwing away my vote, which has historically been one of the biggest single problems any third-party candidate has had. Well, I don't think that person can win, so I don't want to waste my vote.

In addition to which, I have to say, I think the lesson of Ralph Nader, who, in my view - I did a book on that campaign, that actually didn't particularly take sides.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

GREENFIELD: But one thing I'm convinced of - I mean, you just have to look at the numbers - is Ralph Nader cost Al Gore Florida. There's just no doubt about that. And so I think people thinking about voting a third party are going to say, well, you know what? Let's - particularly, these would be more liberal types. I didn't think there was any difference between Al Gore and George W. Bush, so I voted for Ralph Nader. I didn't think it would make much difference. And whether it was the Supreme Court or Iraq or tax policy, I think I learned there really was a difference. So that third-party candidate is going to have to convince people that his or her presence will not simply throw the election to one of the two candidates but has, actually, viability.

CONAN: Elliot Ackerman?

ACKERMAN: Sure. I think, on that issue, there's a couple of things. I mean, as you mentioned, Nader bit into the left side of Gore, and a third ticket that would be a coalition ticket would be right in the center and take equally from both parties, and really be a great source of competition to open the election up and make it more participatory. And then to - you know, we talk about the percentage of vote, one of the very exciting innovations at Americans Elect is that we achieved between 1 to 5 percent of the popular vote, the ticket that comes out of Americans Elect. We're going to see that in subsequent cycles.

The American people will have the infrastructure to nominate third tickets in subsequent presidential cycles by getting involved at americanselect.org. And it's just going to be so much more inclusive when every American can be a delegate. You know, I...

CONAN: So you see this as not just for 2012?

ACKERMAN: No. We see this going on into 2016. I've never been able to vote in a primary in my life because I am a resident of the District of Columbia. I mean, I think there are a lot of Americans who feel similarly. And why should American voters be excluded from that important portion of our democratic process?

CONAN: Which, Ron Elving, creates a question of sustainability, not - well, excuse me, I have to say that you're listening to TALK OF THE NATION, from NPR News. And this raises the question, an organization that pops up, goes viral and then goes away.

GREENFIELD: Here again, it's the problem of personality. When the party chooses a nominee at some point or another, if you're going to try to be really a part of this process, you're going to have to invest yourself in an individual - or perhaps a ticket - and those people are going to become the symbols of the party, and it's going to be thought of in their terms. Ross Perot, Ralph Nader, these are the ways we remember those movements. George Wallace, Teddy Roosevelt.

ELVING: Right. And in many of those cases - in fact, in all of those cases, for one reason or another, whatever the structure was that was created essentially died. Even a Progressive Party under Roosevelt, which got 28 percent of the vote in 1912, by the - you know, by the - they basically just fell apart by 1916. And there was no effective third party in the terms of what the party stood for, other than - I think that's what your point is - other than the personality.

CONAN: And quickly, Elliot Ackerman, what source of funding are you going to have to keep this effort getting up and going on?

ACKERMAN: Sure. We have the ability to fund completely through individual contributions. And in fact, we won't take any money from special interest groups, PACs or any type of industry organization...

CONAN: Is there a cap on donations? None larger than...

ACKERMAN: The vision is to have this entire process funded through donations that are no larger than $10,000.

CONAN: OK. We've gotten a little overwhelmed by our emails, but we'll read them to you after we go - come back from a short break. But Elliot Ackerman, good luck with your efforts. Thanks very much for your time today.

ACKERMAN: Thanks so much for having me on the show.

CONAN: Elliot Ackerman, chief operating officer for Americans Elect. Jeff Greenfield, thanks for being with us.

GREENFIELD: A pleasure.

CONAN: And we're going to keep Ron Elving to help us dissect the platform of - well, we never got one clear winner on the name, so it's going to be called the Citizens Unity Liberty Party. We'll have their platform when we come back, right after a short break. Also, Steve Carell will join us from our bureau in New York. So stay with us. I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION, from NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

CONAN: We hope to speak with Steve Carell of "The Office," and most recently of "Crazy Stupid Love," in just a minute. He's running a little late on his way to the New York bureau. But in the meantime, we can now present the platform of the Citizens Unity Liberty Party. Again, no consensus on a name for a new third party. This is a combination of the most popular. Build coalitions and get things done. Unblock the logjam. No more hard-line party dogma. No bill shall be longer than two pages. The president shall not send troops into any other nation without either an invitation from that nation or a formal declaration of war by Congress.

End the drug war. Prevention using scientifically proven technologies in agriculture, defense, finance, energy policy etc. Government should prevent problems and enemies before they arise. Give more power to the states, including proportional taxpayer revenue to the states to administer locally. Better education, starting at pre-K, not at college. The personal and private rights of the individual will be respected. These include, but are not limited to, the right to abortion and marriage equality. Support new technologies and jobs associated with combating climate change. Support an aggressive space program.

No more regulation than we already have, just enforce the rules we have. All federal employees and elected officials will be provided health insurance and retirement coverage on the same basis as the public, e.g. participation in Social Security and no special retirement arrangements. Social Security and Medicare can be handled by choice. If you choose to buy in, you get benefits. If you choose not to, you don't. No one shall serve longer than nine terms in the House or three terms in the United States Senate. Information freedom. Broadband as a public utility. Same copyright and patent reform for innovation, which might mean elimination. Focus on good American jobs, protecting entitlements that we've paid into and are ours, and corporations paying taxes.

Policies that are firmly anti-protectionist and welcoming the gains of fully engaging the global economy. Interactive constituent webpages, where they can vote on how their third-party rep will ultimately vote on or contribute to bills. Our party and its candidates are only to accept campaign contributions from individual citizens in amounts not to exceed $100 per election cycle. Rationality, three exclamation points after that. All policies must be based on data, info collected from unbiased, third-party agencies and experts. Debate and legislate. Do your job - in brackets there, with an exclamation point.

NPR senior Washington editor Ron Elving is with us, still here in Studio 3A. And a lot of popular ideas; as you might expect, in such a hasty process, a bit of a mishmash. And well, and - but it illustrates some of the difficulties of assembling a third-party platform.

ELVING: Yes, it does. I was going to say - just jocularly - I heartily endorse our platform.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

ELVING: I - of course, they're going to be things on it that are going to be contradictory. And, of course, they're going to be things on it that have been on the platforms - in the platforms of the Republican Party, the Democratic Party...

CONAN: There are some things in it that are in the Constitution.

ELVING: ...many of the third parties. And many of them are, of course, concepts. They're not exactly political issues - rationality, for example. There may have been a rational party at some point or another, probably not a terribly popular one. So a lot of these things have already been in the mix. A lot of these things are in the mix. They are currently distributed largely between the two parties. The two parties have become, in the last generation, a great deal more ideologically consistent and coherent within themselves, so that the Republican Party, which used to have a liberal wing and a moderate wing - we talked a little earlier about John Anderson, somebody many people thought of as a liberal, or certainly a moderate.

And there really aren't people like John Anderson in Congress, representing the Republican Party so much anymore. Moderates in both parties, there used to be conservatives in the Democratic Party - not so many anymore. So they've already began to sort of sort through these issues. And it's interesting that as that process works out, people are yearning, perhaps, for a party that would have more wings to it, that would have more variety within its positions.

CONAN: Ron Elving, thanks, as always, for your time. We appreciate it.

ELVING: Good to be with you, Neal.

CONAN: NPR senior Washington editor Ron Elving. Coming up, Steve Carell.

Copyright © 2011 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.