Debates need third parties

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October 24, 2008

1:28 PM

Few candidates for national office advocate anarchy during debates. But Wednesday night’s showdown among the contenders for Virginia’s first congressional district gave some indication why: Third parties rarely get a seat at the table.

While Democrat Bill Day and Republican Rob Wittman vied to show their support for energy independence and fiscal responsibility, Libertarian Nathan Larson helped shape the debate — and drew some jeers from the audience — with his plans to drastically reduce or eliminate the role of government. We applaud the Williamsburg League of Women Voters’ decision to admit him. Open political discourse comprises a key tenet of the American democratic ideals, and we hope that in the future, debate organizers will seek to include all registered candidates.

The traditional debate has become a tennis match of platitudes. Game- changing moments rarely emerge between the memorized volleys. But drop in a third-party candidate and the calculus changes.
Larson’s argument that the American economy would have been better served by allowing bad banks to fail required the others to justify their support for the Treasury Department’s bailout package. Without him, Day and Wittman likely would have stuck to criticizing the original bailout package’s earmarks or lack of accountability as they’d done in the past.

Whatever you’re disposed to think of him, Republican presidential hopeful Ron Paul (who was essentially a third-party candidate) illustrated the effects of alternative viewpoints. His opposition to government intervention helped him raise millions of dollars. We imagine Republican nominee Sen. John McCain might appreciate some of that money now.

It all begins with bringing third parties to debates. Without the dollars to spend on ad campaigns, these candidates find themselves pushed to the sidelines. That their views disappear deprives Americans of meaningful dialogue. And perhaps a few laughs.

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