WASHINGTON, D.C., October 23, 2012 — Tonight’s Third Party Candidate Debate was a stark contrast to the heavily scripted debates between Mitt Romney and Barack Obama. Gary Johnson, Rocky Anderson, Jill Stein, and Virgil Goode discussed such issues as the “war on drugs,” NDAA, and the use of drones to kill people on the president’s hit list, all with refreshing candor.
It was a remarkable debate.
It didn’t, unfortunately, include every third-party candidate who had something worth hearing. Notable among those missing was independent presidential candidate T.J. O’Hara.
One of the central problems O’Hara sees in American politics is the destructive effect of money on political campaigns and politics. He points out that President Obama has attended more reelection fundraisers than every president since Richard Nixon - combined. In the first six months of 2012, Obama attended over a hundred fundraisers. In that same time, he didn’t meet once with his jobs council. By mid-year he’d attended over 160 fundraisers since the midterm elections, and has packed in as many as six in a day.
Something has to give with that pace of fundraising, and probably among the things that give are sleep and attention to his day job. With the crush of fundraising events, when does Obama have time to attend to the nation’s business?
O’Hara considers this a national scandal. “When Obama says, ‘I haven’t had enough time, I need a second term,’ he’s had his turn. He isn’t doing the work.” Reminded of Obama’s comment to a meeting of Latino voters, “I promised to work hard every day,” O’Hara asked, “how can he say that with a straight face?”
Part of the problem, O’Hara believes, is that presidents are also leaders of their political parties. A president can’t simply run on his own record for his own reelection, but is obliged to lead his Party. He wastes time fundraising for his Party, and wastes time campaigning for Party candidates who should stand on their own.
Aside from the campaigning demands, presidents are constrained by Party platforms and the need to repay political favors within the Party upon election. These force them into sub-optimal choices (to use Obama’s unfortunate phrase) and prevent them from pursuing genuine compromise as the Founding Fathers envisioned they would.
The obvious solution is to avoid party affiliation. O’Hara has been endorsed by the Whig Party, but while his ideals and theirs are in strong alignment, he declines on principle to join the Party. “I’m running against that,” he explains.
O’Hara refuses to accept money from corporations or special interest groups. “If you can’t vote, you should have no voice in the political process.” Believing that everyone should have the same say in the political process, O’Hara refuses to accept donations larger than $100. “That puts everyone on an equal footing with me. You can’t donate enough to deserve special attention.”
In the course of our lengthy conversation, O’Hara ranged over a large number of issues and problems. Asked about our foreign policy, he asked “what is it? Obama said he wouldn’t wait for pictures of dead bodies before he stopped Kadaffi. What are the criteria then for intervening against [Syria’s president] Assad? Do we have any criteria for intervening in other countries except convenience?”
On solving the federal deficit he pointed to the Founding Fathers, noting that they created a system that was designed to encourage compromise. “We need to know what our problems are and how they’re caused, then sit down and discuss the alternatives until we find the best solutions.”
When I pointed out that this isn’t the sort of policy that’s easy to sell during an election, that in fact it hardly sounds like a policy position at all, he responded that our system of government is about process. He has enormous confidence in the ability of people to find common ground and bring intelligence and expertise to bear in finding solutions to the most complex problems.
Many of O’Hara’s ideas for solving economic problems draw on his own extensive business experience and are both simple and common-sensical. He points, for instance, to the huge stock of unused federal building space. This could be used to provide low-cost space to new business startups, which typically face daunting costs for leases on operating space.
Asked about the exclusion of third parties from serious press coverage and the Obama-Romney debates, O’Hara argues that the FCC must show more diligence in requiring unadulterated news reporting. “The media have no respect for the responsibility that comes with freedom of the press.” A primary responsibility is to make information available about all the options facing voters. The media instead have chosen to support the GOP-Democratic duopoly, becoming almost the PR arm for the two-party system.
“The news media used to not be focused on profit. That changed with the commercialization of news by Ted Turner and CNN. That can only change when the FCC steps in, and that will only happen when we have a president who is independent of the Parties.”
T.J. O’Hara would be that kind of president. He’s realistic about the odds he faces, but he’s convinced that it’s time to start tearing down the huge barriers to entry that keep third-parties out of contention for national office.
Based on the remarkable Third Party Candidate Debate we saw tonight, he is absolutely correct. There are interesting, creative, intelligent answers to many of our nation’s problems that don’t come from the two major parties. If you’re considering Gary Johnson, Jill Stein, Virgil Goode or Rocky Anderson for president, you should also consider T.J. O’Hara.
James Picht is the Senior Editor for Communities Politics and teaches economics at the Louisiana Scholars’ College in Natchitoches, La., where he went to take a break from working in Moscow and Washington. But he fell in love with the town and with the professor of Romance languages, so there he stayed. Now he teaches, annoys his children, and makes jalapeno lemonade. He wishes that Obama and Romney, as well as O’Hara, had participated in tonight’s debate. He tweets, hangs out on Facebook, and has a blog he totally neglects at pichtblog.blogspot.com.
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