One of the more unusual stories to come out of the second presidential debate was the arrest of Jill Stein and Cheri Honkala, the presidential and vice presidential candidate of the Green Party.
Exactly — that’s the problem.
Both were arrested and charged with disorderly conduct by Nassau County Police when they tried to enter the campaign venue grounds. After being denied entry, they simply sat down in the middle of the road blocking traffic, the crime for which they were subsequently arrested. Now, clearly they are in breach of the law here and I’m not disputing those charges; I’m sure they would have expected the same outcome and no doubt welcome the publicity it brings.
What’s interesting, though, is why they felt so aggrieved to be there in the first place. In their eyes they are a legitimate party with legitimate political standing and should be allowed to go toe to toe with Mitt Romney and President Obama. However, The Commission on Presidential Debates has other ideas. There are certain criteria that need to be met in order to be invited to a presidential debate and the Green Party doesn’t meet them. Frank Fahrenkopf, co-chairman of the commission, revealed that in order to be invited candidates must average at least 15% in the five largest national polls. As of Tuesday the Green Party had polled between 2% and 3% in four consecutive national surveys.
Fahrenkopf outlined this stance by saying:
Our attitude has always been since we started the debate commission that we don’t invite people to participate in the debates so that they can show that they’re competitive candidates. We only invite people to debate who’ve already shown that they’re competitive candidates.
This seems to me to be a never-ending cycle the Greens will find difficult — if not impossible — to break without some changes in election laws. Any kind of showing in a serious debate, even just an appearance, could do wonders for their credibility and the future electability of the party. An appearance on a televised debate at a national or even state level would provide a platform on which they could build. Without that, they may never achieve the 15% threshold required. Limits on fundraising could perhaps give them a fighting chance when it comes to things like advertising but, again, that isn’t going to change any time soon.
Now, leaving aside the obvious problems of not being able to vote in a U.S. election, I would still not vote for the Green Party, despite its admirable aims and the fact that it’s probably closer to my ethical and political views than either the Democrats or Republicans. However, they’re worth keeping an eye on because they’re trailblazing a route through which other groups could follow.
Suppose some of the Atheism and Humanist groups got together to form a true political movement and created a new party — any potential successes and failures would be as a result of what the Green Party are attempting to do now. The Green Party even has a ten point agenda that has several points in common with Atheism+. From my European vantage point, the U.S. badly needs a third way, another choice in the election booth. European countries are awash with coalition governments, forcing parties to work together. Given the polarised nature of US politics over the last few years, who ever wins the election is unlikely to change that.