Did you see the debate earlier this week where the presidential candidates addressed some of the difficult issues of the day, didn’t answer questions from a script, and respected each other and the process?

Not Monday’s Barack Obama vs. Mitt Romney 3, televised on all the major networks. I’m talking about the debate carried Tuesday on C-Span and on Ora TV’s YouTube site featuring four third party candidates: Gary Johnson, the Libertarian former governor of New Mexico; Green Party nominee Jill Stein; Constitution Party nominee and former congressman Virgil Goode; and former Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson of the Justice Party.

They were debating on C-Span and YouTube because the Commission on Presidential Debates, consisting only of Democrats and Republicans, excludes from the big debates all candidates with less than 15 percent support in the polls.

It’s hard to get 15 percent support if you don’t have any money. It’s hard to get money if you don’t have support.

So this small outfit called Free and Equal Elections, which supports third party candidates across the spectrum, stepped in and gave these candidates a chance to have their say. Larry King was the moderator.

Space doesn’t permit me to describe these candidates in detail, so here’s a quick summary: Johnson believes in a lot less government than the Republicans would accept; Stein and Anderson want more government than most Democrats would dare talk about; and Goode would make a pretty good tea party Republican.

The candidates offered the kinds of suggestions that voters won’t hear from Obama and Romney. Goode and Johnson talked about balancing the budget now – not far off into the future when this year’s winner will be safely out of office. They also said if they could pass any amendment to the Constitution, it would be one limiting congressional terms.

Goode also called for practically closing the border, even to legal immigrants, until the unemployment rate reaches 5 percent. Stein, Anderson and Johnson want to end the drug war. Stein and Anderson said college should be free for everyone.

You can call some of these ideas creative, radical or nuts, depending on your perspective, but what have we learned from three debates of Obama-Romney? They’re both for jobs and against each other. They don’t follow debate rules and neither has a plan to balance the budget, or even come close.

As different as they are, the four third party candidates are united in their belief that the Republicans and Democrats are failing to address the country’s problems and that the process has become corrupted by money. Johnson said candidates these days should wear NASCAR-like patches on their clothing just so voters would know who their sponsors are.

It’s a marketing truism that it’s far less effective to say something is best than to say it is popular, because I easily can discount your facts and logic but it’s harder for me to discount the wisdom of the crowd. That’s why the four most effective words in advertising are probably "It’s the leading brand."

Needless to say, these four candidates aren’t the leading brands. Only two – Stein and Johnson, along with somebody named Peta Lindsay of the Socialism and Liberation Party – are even on Arkansas’ ballot this year.

On the other hand, it’s pretty factual and logical to say what we’re doing isn’t working. Regardless of which of the two parties has controlled the White House and Congress, the country has been on an unsustainable path of debt and dependence on foreign lenders, and the momentum is increasing. Meanwhile, the political process has become too dysfunctional to do anything about it.

Elect a third party candidate? Let’s be real: The next president of the United States will be a Democrat or Republican. The next 20 presidents of the United States probably all will be Democrats and Republicans, but maybe not.

Regardless, occasionally the pot must be stirred. That’s what happened Tuesday, when four candidates who won’t win had their say, and said a lot – even if it was just on C-Span and YouTube.


Steve Brawner is an independent journalist in Arkansas. His blog — Independent Arkansas — is linked at arkansasnews.com. His e-mail address is brawnersteve@mac.com