Debate Politics

Why you don't see the Green Party on TV

by by Marcel Bertsch-Gout

On Thursday, November 1, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg dropped a surprise, last-minute endorsement of President Obama. The expression of support came in reaction to Hurricane Sandy, and while few expected such a claim from a Republican turned Independent, something about the aftermath of the hurricane and the idea of New York becoming an 8 million person Sea World™ seemed to have changed his mind. Watching his city crumble and seeking to cement his political legacy in the twilight of his term as mayor, Bloomberg backed the more environmentally friendly candidate, specifically citing climate change as his reason.

“Over the past four years, President Barack Obama has taken major steps to reduce our carbon consumption, including setting higher fuel-efficiency standards for cars and trucks,” said Bloomberg. “His administration also has adopted tighter controls on mercury emissions, which will help to close the dirtiest coal power plants (an effort I have supported through my philanthropy), which are estimated to kill 13,000 Americans a year.”

More than a hundred fatalities, hundreds of thousands left homeless, billions of dollars in damage, and the political sphere finally manages to squeeze out a comment about climate change this election season. Increased hurricane incidence and intensity raise awareness of the correlation with warmer waters caused by global warming. Hurricane Irene was a knock on the door, and now, Hurricane Sandy has lost its temper, yelling, “Is anybody home?”
For the Democrats and Republicans, now more than ever, the answer seems to be “no.”

Barely a murmur about climate change has been heard during the debates of this election cycle, a departure from debates of the past 15 years. For the first time since the 1988 vice-presidential debates, in which Lloyd Bensten and Dan Quayle were asked by curator John Margolis about climate change and fossil fuels. In 1988, when America was experiencing its hottest summer to date, global warming was topical for the first time. The issue remained at the forefront in 1992 when vice presidential candidate Al Gore confronted Dan Quayle and James Stockdale for promoting scientific uncertainty, but vice presidential candidate Jack Kemp censured Gore in 1996 for promoting “fear on climate.” Gore attacked Bush for repudiating the science in 2000; Kerry bashed Bush’s unscientific policies in 2004; and Sarah Palin lamented how climate change was hurting Alaska in 2008. Since then, the past 17 years have been successively hotter, and in addition droughts, wildfires, flooding, seal level rise, and ocean acidification have increasingly made life less predictable for the world’s inhabitants.

But what much of the US electorate is not acknowledging is that there exists a party for which the answer to Sandy’s question is a resounding “yes.”

During the second debate, as Obama and Romney were arguing over gas prices, Jill Stein, the Green Party presidential nominee, and her running mate, Cheri Honkala, were arrested for attempting to enter the debate site in what the Green Party called “Occupy the Commission on Presidential Debates,” in protest of the Commission on Presidential Debate’s refusal to let third-party candidates into the audience. The party had earlier released a statement that read “Stein and Honkala will walk from Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum at 2PM to the debate perimeter at Hofstra, where they will then attempt to walk through security checkpoints and reach the debate hall.” But before reaching the debate hall, they failed to outmaneuver police officers who created a blockade. The candidates sat down in the middle of the road in an act of civil disobedience, where an officer informed them that they would be arrested for blocking traffic. Honkala responded that she simply wanted to go to the debate, and both were arrested.

According to the CPD, candidates who wish to join their widely broadcasted debates must receive above 15 percent of voter support in at least five national polls, creating a never-ending cycle: third-party candidates cannot get exposure because they don’t have enough support, and can’t get enough support because they don’t have enough exposure. Furthermore, as expressed in Stein and Honkala’s protest, third-party candidates have historically not been invited nor even allowed entry into the debate hall for fear of causing a “disturbance.” These policies have inevitably barred the Green Party from debating and expressing their policies to hard-to-reach audiences, the many Americans who simply switch on the debates once an election season.

The Green Party’s four category platform addresses Democracy, Social Justice, Ecological Sustainability, and Economic Justice and Sustainability. The official party platform is well-rounded with an intensely humanitarian bent. It includes a Full Employment Plan, which promises that every able-bodied individual within US borders would be employed in environmentally-sustainable labor. It addresses abortion, claiming, “Women’s rights must be protected and expanded to guarantee each woman’s right as a full participant in society, free from… interference in the intensely personal choice about whether to have a child.” The party also presents a stance on immigration: “The Green Party accepts as a goal a world in which persons can freely choose to live in and work in any county he or she desires.” Beyond these politically contentious issues, the party lives up to its name in the Ecological Sustainability section:

The human community is an element of the Earth community, not the other way around. All human endeavors are situated within the dynamics of the biosphere. If we wish to have sustainable institutions and enterprises, they must fit well with the processes of the Earth…Greens want to stop runaway climate change, by reducing greenhouse gas emissions by at least 40% by 2020 and 95% by 2050, over 1990 levels.

These are policy positions that have never been contested on broadcast television. Neither President Obama nor Governor Romney has ever had to address them in self-defense or self-promotion—never mind the fact that the Green Party was on 85 percent of the ballots on November 6, and that in a March 2012 poll carried out by Yale University and George Mason University, 72 percent of Americans agreed that global warming should be a priority for the next president, 83 percent thought that protecting the environment either improves economic growth or provides new jobs, and 92 percent thought that developing sources of clean energy should be a priority.

The importance of Stein and Honkala’s cause is reinforced by Ralph Nader, a former Green Party presidential candidate, in a November 2 interview with Al Jazeera: “There is no other way to reach tens of millions of people other than with the debates… You can go all over the country as we did, and still only reach two percent of the people you can reach if you got on one debate.” The exclusionary nature of the current Commission on Presidential Debates reaches further back than both Stein’s and Nader’s presidential bids and history shows that it is by design.

The first televised debate was run by the League of Women Voters (LWV) in 1952. It took an open format, allowing the moderator to address pointed follow-up questions to candidates a means of cutting through rehearsed answers. Such a follow-up was something to be feared. But in 1980, Jimmy Carter refused to debate if Independent candidate John Anderson was present. Anderson remained, and the LWV televised the event anyway, a decision widely thought to have attributed to Carter’s loss and one that made the influential nature of the LWV’s position apparent. Subsequently, Democrats and Republicans began working together in 1984, rejecting hundreds of proposed moderators. In 1988, the campaigns of George H.W. Bush and Michael Dukakis drafted a secret Memorandum of Understanding which abolished follow-up questions and specified who could be present in the debate audience. The LWV adbicated the running of debates, decrying them as a “fraud on the American voter.”

The current Commission for Presidential Debates (CPD) was founded in 1987 as a private, nonpartisan organization to set a standard for privately-funded presidential debating between US presidential candidates. Almost immediately, the two parties used their influence within the commission to conspire against other candidates. In 1992, the Dole and Clinton campaigns excluded Reform Party candidate Ross Perot, despite the fact that he received seven percent of the vote in polls (and 19 percent on election day). To this day, there exist memorandums of understanding. Just this year, Obama and Romney jointly worried that Candy Crowley might ask follow-up questions and violate the term mandating that “the moderator will not ask follow-up questions or comment on either the questions asked by the audience or the answers of the candidates…”

Candidate Stein feels the stifling of her party’s voice acutely. In the 2000 elections, Ralph Nader brought a lawsuit against the CPD to attempt to thwart the 15 percent rule, but lost on the grounds that he “failed to provide evidence that the CPD is controlled by the DNC or the RNC.”
Now, in the footsteps of Nader, Stein has recently brought a lawsuit against the CPD in late October, alleging “that the CPD, Democratic National Committee, and Republican National Committee, together with the Federal Election Commission and Lynn University, had deprived her of her constitutional rights to due process, equal protection, and free speech, as well as her statutorily protected civil rights.” The lawsuit pleads that “Dr. Jill Stein is not only equal under the law to the two ‘major party’ candidates, she is better, because she became a viable contender for the Presidency while being discriminated against by the defendants at every turn.” The suit has not yet been resolved.

Marcel Bertsch-Gout B’13 wants to see the duopoly felled.