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Beyond Red And Blue: Independent Political Campaigns

Major party campaigns for president often belittle independent candidates, especially as the election draws near. But this year, independent candidates may have a reason to run that they have lacked in other years.

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SCOTT SIMON, host:

Major party campaigns for president often belittle independent candidates, especially as the election draws near. They ask those who may be tempted to vote for a libertarian, a green, a constitution party candidate or Ralph Nader for president, why throw your vote away? They warn, as we get closer to Halloween, that such a vote could actually tip the election to the candidate that scares them most.

We are interviewing the four major independent party candidates for president over the next few weeks. Bob Barr, the libertarian, was on last week. Ralph Nader will be on in a moment. I've already received a few emails from listeners who ask, why do you waste airtime on people who have no chance? But this year independent candidates may have a reason to run they've lacked in other years.

The financial rescue package passed by Congress with the votes of both Senators McCain and Obama is not popular. The latest CBS News poll showed 51 percent of Americans opposed to the bill, just 38 percent in favor. To libertarians, the financial package isn't a rescue but a state takeover of free enterprise. They see it as a move from regulation into government control that destroys the free market, which relies on risk of failure as the most compelling incentive to act wisely.

To Nader supporters, the package is a perilously expensive invoice for taxpayers to rescue the very people who are reckless and greedy. It guarantees bloated salaries and summer homes for people on Wall Street, while people on Main Street lose their homes and life savings. Of course, Mr. Nader favors more government regulation than what's already passed. Mr. Barr advocates less.

Senators McCain and Obama have no doubt seen all the polls too, and each of them begins defending their vote by demonstrating how angry the bill makes them. Speeches and debates. They so vehemently voice their objections, you can forget - no doubt they wouldn't mind if you did - that they actually voted for it.

Well, sometimes, a responsible public official has to dare to cast an unpopular vote. And this isn't to say, as George Wallace used to, that there's not a dime's worth of difference between Republicans and Democrats. Senators Obama and McCain voted for the same bill, but they would certainly appoint different people to Cabinet posts, the Supreme Court and federal judgeships.

The financial rescue package was presented as what amounts to putting electric paddles to the heart of a financial system that was about to die. It passed before most Americans had a chance to ponder, much less decide, what kind of economic future they want and are prepared to pay for. This year, some of the independent candidates are left to hold that debate that the American people may have missed.

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SIMON: And this is NPR News.

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Simon SaysSimon Says NPR's Scott Simon Shares His Take On Events Large And Small