The NPR Third-Party Candidate Debate

Moderator Jim Lehrer sits at his desk before last Wednesday's debate between President Obama and Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney in Denver. For third-party candidates, getting into a presidential debate is practically impossible. i i

Moderator Jim Lehrer sits at his desk before last Wednesday's debate between President Obama and Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney in Denver. For third-party candidates, getting into a presidential debate is practically impossible. Pool/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Pool/Getty Images
Moderator Jim Lehrer sits at his desk before last Wednesday's debate between President Obama and Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney in Denver. For third-party candidates, getting into a presidential debate is practically impossible.

Moderator Jim Lehrer sits at his desk before last Wednesday's debate between President Obama and Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney in Denver. For third-party candidates, getting into a presidential debate is practically impossible.

Pool/Getty Images

What's it like to be a third-party candidate running for president? Ralph Nader can tell us.

"You're excluded from the debates," he says. "You spend an exhausting amount of time, until Labor Day, trying to get over the ballot access barriers. Your petitioners are harassed in the streets; you're subjected to baseless lawsuits by one party or another."

Nader has run for president three times – four if you count the time he ran unofficially. In 2000, he managed to win almost 3 percent of the national vote.

To this day, getting a third-party candidate into a presidential debate is practically impossible. The Commission on Presidential Debates says to be included, you have to poll 15 percent with voters. That's why George Farah, founder of Open Debates, a group that wants the system reformed, thinks the commission is the main problem.

"This commission exists for the principal purpose of protecting and strengthening the two parties," Farah says. "And every four years they allow the major party candidates to negotiate agreements that dictate many of the terms of the debates — including the exclusion of popular third-party voices."

So given the two major party candidates had 90 minutes and at least 50 million viewers for their debate last Wednesday, we decided to invite two of the third-party candidates to a debate of our own.

Gary Johnson is the Libertarian Party's nominee. Jill Stein is the Green Party's nominee. They joined moderator — and host of weekends on All Things Considered — Guy Raz for a debate focusing on domestic issues: the economy, health care and the role of government.


Debate Highlights

Opening Statements

  • Gary Johnson, Libertarian Party

    Gary Johnson, Libertarian Party nominee for president. i i
    GaryJohnson2012.com
    Gary Johnson, Libertarian Party nominee for president.
    GaryJohnson2012.com

    "Country's in deep doo-doo. Let's stop the growing police state, let's stop our military interventions, let's balance the federal budget, let's eliminate income tax, corporate tax, let's abolish the IRS, let's replace all that with one federal consumption tax — that will create tens of millions of jobs in a zero-corporate tax rate environment."

  • Jill Stein, Green Party

    Jill Stein, Green Party nominee for president. i i
    JillStein.org
    Jill Stein, Green Party nominee for president.
    JillStein.org

    "Well, we are in crisis. We're losing our jobs, decent wages, our homes, affordable health care and higher education; civil liberties are under attack and the climate's in meltdown. The wealthy few are doing better than ever, and the political establishment's making it worse, imposing austerity on everyday people while they squander trillions on wars, Wall Street bailouts and tax breaks for the wealthy.

    "A vote for me is a vote for the solutions that we need for jobs, not corporate tax breaks, for health care as a human right, public higher education that's free, ending student debt, and downsizing the military to pay for it."

The Economy

  • What is your plan to jumpstart the U.S. economy?

    Jill Stein, Green Party nominee for president.
    JillStein.org

    Stein: "The economy is working great if you're a hedge fund manager or a big CEO or a bank, but it's not working for everyday people, so we need to, first and foremost, create jobs. We're calling for a Green New Deal that will create 25 million new jobs that will jumpstart a green new economy and put an end to unemployment — and that will call a halt to climate change and make wars for oil obsolete, because we'll have a green economy."

  • What is your plan to jumpstart the U.S. economy?

    Gary Johnson, Libertarian Party nominee for president.
    GaryJohnson2012.com

    Johnson: "I think we need to balance the federal budget immediately, or we're going to find ourselves in the midst of a monetary collapse, so I am promising to submit a balanced budget to Congress in the year 2013, which is $1.4 trillion reduction in federal spending – and that would include the entitlements: Medicaid, Medicare, military spending.

    "I would eliminate income tax, corporate tax. I would abolish the IRS; I would replace all of that with one federal consumption tax — the fair tax. I think that's the answer when it comes to American jobs, because in a zero-corporate rate environment, if the private sector doesn't create tens of millions of jobs-- [called for time]"

Health Care

  • What would a Stein administration's health care plan look like?

    Jill Stein, Green Party nominee for president.
    JillStein.org

    Stein: "We need to simply bring the eligibility age for Medicare down to 0, in fact, pre-0, from the moment of conception, so that people would be covered throughout life and from the very beginning of pregnancy, because in doing that we can cover everyone, comprehensively, including your teeth and your ears and your eyes and your pharmaceuticals and your mental health and your reproductive health and all those things that get chopped out.

    "We can cover it all and still save trillions of dollars over the coming decade because a Medicare-for-all plan actually reduces the incredible, massive, wasteful private health insurance bureaucracy, puts all our health care dollars into health care, and it reduces that inflation that's driving up the cost."

  • Would a President Gary Johnson repeal Obamacare? If so, what's your plan for uninsured Americans?

    Gary Johnson, Libertarian Party nominee for president.
    GaryJohnson2012.com

    Johnson: "Well first of all, I would not have insurance to cover myself for ongoing medical need. If we had a genuine free-market approach to health care — and by the way, health care in this country is about as far removed from free market as it possibly could be — but I would have insurance to cover myself for catastrophic injury and illness, and I would pay-as-you-go in a system that was absolutely competitive.

    "What about government embarking on the notion of doubling the number of doctors as opposed to restricting all the choices that we have? This is what's leading to high costs and the fact that we don't have a whole bunch of choices, when a whole bunch of choices could exist."

    [Guy Raz: "So you would repeal Obamacare?"]

    "That, and I would also repeal the Republicans' Medicaid part D – prescription health care benefits. Look, the alternative to not reigning in these costs is we're going to suffer a monetary collapse. And a monetary collapse is when the money that we have doesn't buy a thing because of the accompanying inflation that is going to go along with borrowing and printing money to the tune of 43 cents out of every dollar that we're spending."

The Role Of Government

  • What role does the government have in insuring the well-being of Americans?

    Gary Johnson, Libertarian Party nominee for president.
    GaryJohnson2012.com

    Johnson: "Government has a role to protect us against individuals, groups, corporations that would do us harm. Government has a role to protect us against foreign countries that would attack this country. But I use the notion of "under attack" – we are, we continually militarily intervene and as a result of that we have hundreds of millions of enemies to this country that but for these military interventions would otherwise not exist."

  • Should government be making investments in infrastructure in this country?

    Jill Stein, Green Party nominee for president.
    JillStein.org

    Stein: "Yes, we should. We need to use what has worked before, and we've been in an economic crisis before in the Great Depression. And one of the ways we came out was through the New Deal, which went a long way to get the economy back on its feet. I think we're in trouble now, and the role of government, I think, is to help us, to help We The People.

    "We need a government of, by and for the people, not of, by and for the corporations – there's way too much corporations running the show in government – but the solution for a bad, corrupt government is not no government, it's good government."

Closing Remarks

  • Gary Johnson, Libertarian Party

    Gary Johnson, Libertarian Party nominee for president.
    GaryJohnson2012.com

    "Whether you vote for Mitt Romney or Barack Obama, I'm going to offer up a couple predictions. One is we're going to continue to have a heightened police state in this country. The other is that we're going to find ourselves in a continued state of military intervention; we are at continuous war with everyone. And then, lastly, we're going to find ourselves — regardless of which two of these guys gets elected — we're going to find ourselves continuing to borrow and spend money in ways that are absolutely unsustainable and if we don't get control of this, we are going to collapse as a country. We are not immune from the mathematics of continuing to borrow and print money to the tune of 43 cents out of every dollar we spend."

  • Jill Stein, Green Party

    Jill Stein, Green Party nominee for president.
    JillStein.org

    "Well, I agree with Gary that we are really headed in the wrong direction – and in fact, we are accelerating in the wrong direction under both parties. And in fact, Barack Obama has basically embraced most of the key policies of George Bush on the bailouts for Wall Street, the layoffs for Main Street, the expanding free trade agreements that offshore our jobs and undermine wages at home; the expanding wars, the attack on our civil liberties, drill-baby-drill on the climate, you name it. We're going in the wrong direction. We need a president — we need a political party, that is of, by and for the people. If you go into the voting booth, and you cast a vote for either Wall Street-sponsored candidate, you are giving them a mandate for four more years of the same."

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