BRANCACCIO: The third-party candidates we've gathered this evening are part of a proud tradition in American politics. In our nation's history, third-party campaigns led to the abolition of slavery, to women's suffrage, the establishment of social security, child labor laws and workers' protections. We continue our conversations now with third-party presidential candidates. With me are David Cobb of the Green Party and Michael Badnarik of the Libertarian Party.
David Cobb wants government to do a lot more than it's doing now. He supports universal health care, public funding of elections and the development of clean, sustainable energy. To pay for all that, he'd cut the military and hike taxes on families earning more than $75,000 a year, while cutting taxes for those earning less. He supports a woman's right to choose.
Michael Badnarik, on the other hand, would carry out the Libertarian Party pledge to radically shrink government. He would abolish income taxes, and all federal funding of welfare programs, parks, education, international aid and scientific research. He believes medical marijuana and abortions should be legal in this country. Gentlemen, welcome to NOW.
BADNARIK: Thank you so much, pleased to be here.
COBB: It's a genuine pleasure. Thank you.
BRANCACCIO: I'll start with you, Mr. Cobb. So, there you are, you pull it off. It's January 20th, noon time. Your hand has just come up off of perhaps the Bible. You do solemnly affirm to uphold the oath of office. How do you start implementing social and racial equality, justice, a cleaner environment, rather than just talking about it?
COBB: Well, David, if I'm elected President on November 2nd, that will mean also that there are at least 40 to 50 Greens in the United States Congress as well. When there is a Green Party President, it will mean that there is a fundamental political realignment in this country. So the ability to do the sort of legislation that we're talking about will be there.
You know, the first thing that I would do is to withdraw the troops from Iraq. Bring our troops home. And the Green Party has a plan. If I'm elected on November 2nd, on November 3rd, we issue a public acknowledgement that the Bush administration engaged in a reckless war that was driven by untruths about weapons of mass destruction and alleged links to Al-Qaeda.
BRANCACCIO: Do you owe anything though to the Iraqis who have been through all this?
COBB: Absolutely, David. And what we say and here's what we do. Step two is to immediately rescind every one of the corporate crony contracts entered into with Bechtel Corporation, Halliburton Corporation and the rest. And make that money available to the people of Iraq.
And call it what it should be called under international law: reparations. Step three, request the United Nations to convene an international summit, bringing together Iraqi civil society leadership, and a leadership from the surrounding Arabic states. Let them know U.S. troops are gonna come out.
If there is any need for a peace-keeping force, that force should be under the direction of the United Nations. Ideally, troops who speak Arabic, to de-escalate this clash of civilizations that the Bush administration has got us onto. The Green Party has an actual plan to get troops out of Iraq.
BRANCACCIO: Let's hold Iraq just for a second. But I want to get back to domestic policy issues. Mr. Badnarik, I just was reading the NEW YORK TIMES this morning.
And a columnist, Bob Herbert, has gotten hold of a report due out next week, funded by places like Ford, and Rockefeller, and the Annie E. Casey Foundation. It shows that 9.3 million Americans can't make ends meet. They're not surviving financially. Working families is that number.
BRANCACCIO: Does the Libertarian Party platform offer anything to working families like that?
BADNARIK: Oh, absolutely. What we want to do is we want to improve the economy. Our government is too large. And it's too expensive. It's actually a parasite on the economy. And the Libertarian philosophy is to dramatic reduce the size of the federal government, leaving billions of dollars in the hands of everyday Americans.
And they will have more money. They'll be able to spend that money. We'll have small businesses springing up to provide new goods and services. So, our standard of living will increase. And our economy will grow exponentially.
BRANCACCIO: No safety net for people who might really be in a tough spot?
BADNARIK: Now, we have the most generous culture on the face of the earth. Americans contributed $5 billion to New York City within a month of September 11th. We will never allow our elderly or our disadvantaged to starve to death. But we can take better care of them if our economy is stronger. If you have more money, you have more money to be generous with.
BRANCACCIO: How does the money trickle? Where does it come from under this more kind of free-for-all, free market approach for social programs?
BADNARIK: Well, it would come from charity. It's an unfortunate thing that we've grown to, this idea that you have a right to other people's money to survive. But you only have a right to your own property.
If you come into my apartment, and take $100 for your health care, for your housing, that's theft. And if you use the government to take that money for you, that's government-authorized theft. And Libertarians are opposed to theft of any kind. Again, if we reduce the size of the government, and allow the economy to grow, everyone will benefit because our economy will be stronger.
Everyone will be able to get a job. And most people would be able to afford their own housing. There will be fewer people who need assistance. And when they do, there will be far more people with the money to help them.
BRANCACCIO: Now Mr. Cobb, you guys often perform together. And you're being very polite. But he's offering a very different stance of where you think the government should be in our lives.
COBB: Well, we have polite, civil discourse, but fundamental disagreement. I think Michael is exactly wrong about the direction to take the country. And I will point out that the social security administration was created precisely because elderly people were starving to death in this country.
The reality is that the Green Party understands that individuals have liberty and civil liberties. But we are also in a community. And that we have to operate in respectful ways with one another. I'm proud of the fact that the Green Party is demanding that all people in this country should have access to health care, as a fundamental, human right.
I'm proud that we're saying that the minimum wage should be raised to a true living wage. Meaning that everybody should make enough money to raise themselves above the poverty level, and live in real dignity, as a result of their own work and labor. You know, these programs are sane. They're easy to implement, if they were only the political will. And I'll point out that most of the rest of the industrialized world lives according to the Green Party's vision.
And it's a vision that the majority of Americans favor. I mean, poll after poll shows that the majority of Americans want a version of single-payer health care. The majority of working Americans want tax relief. The majority of Americans want the rich to have to pay more money. The majority of Americans want the minimum wage to be raised. The reality is the Green Party's positions are majoritarian positions.
BRANCACCIO: You know, Mr. Badnarik, he's right about the universal health care thing. I saw the Harris poll from this year. I think it's 59 percent of Americans think it's the federal government's job to be sure every man, woman and child in this country, one way or another is covered for health insurance.
BADNARIK: Well, that's because most people in the United States believe the United States is a democracy. And we are not a democracy.
BRANCACCIO: We are what?
BADNARIK: We are a constitutional republic, as in, "I pledge allegiance to the flag and to the republic, for which it stands." And the difference is that in a democracy, 51 percent of the people can vote away the rights and property of the 49 percent. In a constitutional republic, one person's rights and property supercede a unanimous vote. The government cannot pass, by unanimous vote, a right that deprives you of your freedom of speech, or deprives you of your right to exercise your religion.
COBB: But you know, this is again, a distinction. The Green Party understands that individuals have political, civil rights. But we should be in a democracy.
You know, the Green Party says we need to make the system more democratic. Democracy means the people rule. Today, unelected and unaccountable corporate CEO's are making the fundamental, public policy decisions in this country.
We're all eating genetically-modified foods, for example. Our elected representatives didn't actually vote on that after public input and public testimony given. Archer Daniels Midland Corporation, Monsanto Corporation, made that decision behind closed doors, and said it was beyond the authority of the people to participate or even know about it.
BRANCACCIO: Mr. Cobb, there's already been a revolution. It's called globalization. And if you crack down on the companies, they're gonna move someplace else…
COBB: Ah, not true, David. The reality is that the United States of America is the largest economic market in the world by far. The reality is that the globalization that's happening now is corporate-managed trade. Corporate globalization.
We want to globalize justice. We want to make sure that everywhere in the world, the environment is protected. That bare standards for human rights are met everywhere.
So, let's repeal NAFTA. Let's abolish the World Trade Organization. Let's change to globalizing justice, rather than corporate-led globalization, which is literally destroying the planet, and creating a racist, sexist world order with the plunder…
BRANCACCIO: I'm thinking…
COBB: The system is not working.
BRANCACCIO: I'm thinking you're gonna agree with part of what he just said.
BADNARIK: Yes. There are many places where David and I do agree. And…
BRANCACCIO: Abolishment of NAFTA?
BADNARIK: Absolutely, abolishment of NAFTA. NAFTA is considered a free trade agreement. And it's 22,000 pages of regulations that create a hostile economic environment in our country, raising the cost of doing business so high that it cuts into a company's profit margin. And in order to survive, companies are moving manufacturing and jobs offshore to other countries where regulations are non-existent or easier to deal with.
What we want to do is to leave companies free to provide services, and create products that will allow businesses to thrive in the United States. And again, when we dramatically reduce the size of the federal government, people will have more money to spend. And business will increase in the United States dramatically.
BRANCACCIO: But where do we draw the line? I've actually spent a lot of time in, for instance, the developing world, where some of the law, legal system, not quite as developed as we have in the United States. And business doesn't thrive when it's a kind of Wild West mentality. How does a Libertarian deal with that contradiction?
BADNARIK: Well, I disagree. The only way that business and consumers can thrive is when you have a law of supply and demand. Consumers are free to pay money or not pay money for a given product.
Why is a hotdog at the airport, you know, roughly, you know, $4, when you can go to the grocery store, and get, you know, eight hotdogs for, you know, a dollar and a quarter? Well, you're paying for the convenience of not having to leave the airport to, you know, to get your food. But how come hotdogs are not $10 at the airport?
Because people won't pay that. It's this law of supply and demand that sets up which products and services are best used, which companies make a profit, and which companies go out of business.
Whenever the government starts to manipulate that, they provide an unregulated disadvantage to some businesses.
BRANCACCIO: Well, Mr. Cobb, sometimes the private sector also manipulates these things. We don't have enough flu vaccine. And there are reports today of possible price gouging on flu vaccine. There's the market doing something not so good.
COBB: Well, not so good. And in fact, let's just be clear that the market envisioned by Adam Smith in THE WEALTH OF NATIONS looks nothing like the markets of today. What we have is a corporatized market system. We have corporatized trading policies. And the Green Party says the people do not exist to serve the economy. The economy should exist to serve the people.
This system is not working for the overwhelming majority of Americans, David. The reality is that more and more people are operating without health care. More and more people are living on the margins. I'm one of them. I don't have health insurance because the system has failed.
You know? The Green Party represents the electoral arm. Really the political arm for growing movements for peace, for racial and social justice, for real democracy and environmental protection. The Green Party is growing. We're getting larger, stronger and better organized. Because ordinary citizens are rolling up their sleeves to create a political party that will challenge both a corporatized system that is also taking over our own government.
BRANCACCIO: You want more democracy but Americans want less taxes. They say that in every one of these polls.
COBB: Of course. And the reality is the problem with the taxes today, the working Americans, the poor, working Americans, middle America are paying disproportionately more than they should. The super rich should be paying a higher percentage on taxes.
The Green Party calls for a return to the progressive income tax. And we call for cutting the bloated military budget by roughly $50 billion. We could still have the strongest defensive military in the world. You know, there's plenty of money to go around.
The problem is we have an inherently unfair tax system that's favoring the super rich. And both George Bush and John Kerry are in basic agreement on this tax system that does favor the super rich. The Green Party says we have another way of doing it. It's a more fair way.
BRANCACCIO: Now the majority is on your side on this particular point, we don't like taxes.
BADNARIK: We don't like taxes. And the Libertarian Party would like to get rid of the IRS. The Constitution was ratified in 1789.
The IRS didn't come into existence until 1913. We had well over 100 years without an IRS, without the income tax. And the American government had more money than it knew what to do with. But that was because the size of the federal government was exceedingly small, limited by Article One, Section Eight of the Constitution. And when we make our federal government very small again, we'll be able to operate without the income tax.
BRANCACCIO: So, how do we raise some revenue? I was talking to Mr. Peroutka before. He was suggesting import tariffs and maybe some excise taxes?
BADNARIK: Absolutely. And the idea that most people have is that most of the money the government gets is from the IRS. And that if we eliminate the IRS, the government will be broke. This is not true. The money that's collected by the IRS is a small percentage.
The government would certainly be taking a pay cut. But it would not be without money. But you and I have to establish a budget. We know how much money we have coming in. And we know how much we can spend on rent and telephone and our credit cards.
And we live within that budget. When Congress makes a budget, they over-spend the budget by over half a trillion dollars. I think that we should be able to require the government to live within a budget, just the way every adolescent who leaves home learns that you can only spend as much money as you bring in.
BRANCACCIO: But Congress, you're casting aspersions on Congress for their...
BADNARIK: Yes, I am.
BRANCACCIO: …profligacy. But they're an expression of we, the people. And we want these services. So, we elect these men and women, so that they spend all this money.
BADNARIK: Well, again, I don't believe that Congress is an accurate representation of the people. And whether we want these services or not, the reality is that the money has to come from some place.
You know, we can't invent money out of thin air. Unfortunately, the Federal Reserve does that. And the United States is multi-trillions of dollars in debt. And that is a problem that continues to get worse every day.
COBB: You know, David, it's interesting. Because here's another example where the Libertarian Party and the Green Party are in agreement. That is, we are fiscally conservative.
We want to live within a budget. And the Green Party has long been a champion for fiscal conservatism. And I'm proud of that fact. Now living within a budget is different, though. What do we spend the money on? Again, the fundamental disagreement here is in the Green Party, we understand that we, the people, are government.
Government is not supposed to be something out there that's doing things to us. It's how we collectively act together. Sadly, we have a legal system that is protecting the property rights of the wealthy elite through their corporations, rather than the human rights and the political rights of ordinary Americans. There's a fundamental flaw in the way politics is taking place now. And I'm proud of the fact that the Green Party is electing more and more people to office on these shared principles and values.
BRANCACCIO: Let's talk about that fundamental flaw in politics. How are we gonna crack, how are you two gonna crack that nut? What are you talking about?
COBB: Right. Let's separate the legal system that's protecting corporations for a moment, and talk about just elections. Electoral democracy is in crisis.
Less than half of the American people are going to vote in this Presidential election. That's shameful. And in non-Presidential elections, the voting rate goes down even further. Why? Not because people are apathetic. They're cynical.
They don't think it matters. Both of those parties are the same. It doesn't matter. The two establishment parties won't make any changes, etcetera. The solution... You know, what others call "spoiling," Greens call participating. We're gonna exercise our democratic right to participate in elections.
And if anybody really believes that our participation, or the Libertarians participation is a problem, the solution to the problem can't be to squelch our voices, or restrict voter choices. We desperately need more voices and more choices. The solution is to change the voting system, so that voters don't feel like they have to vote against what they hate, rather than for what they want.
BRANCACCIO: But you're talking about instant runoff elections?
COBB: Instant runoff elections…
BRANCACCIO: I don't understand this. Tell me…
COBB: Well, it's as easy as one, two, three. Because as a voter, all you have to do is go in, and cast your vote according to your preferences. You can say, "Well, my first choice is. My second choice is. My third choice."
And I'll tell you, David. I have literally taught elementary school children how to do this, and conducted instant runoff voting with them. All the voter has to know is rank and order your candidates. First preference, second preference, third preference.
BRANCACCIO: So if I put down Badnarik, then you, then somebody else, and Badnarik doesn't quite pull it off, it rolls over to the next?
COBB: It would in this case. So, remember instant run off voting is an improvement. Because it guarantees a majority winner in the election, rather than just allowing a plurality, or the most votes to win.
Let's say the three of us are voting. Every voter has cast their order in a preferential manner. And you say, "Alright. Of the three candidates, did anybody get a majority?"
Over 50 percent of the first preference votes. If so, that candidate is immediately elected. Because it's a majority rules system. Now let's imagine that none of us got an actual majority.
And we say, "Which of these candidates got the fewest number of first preference votes?" Let's say it's you, David. So, you're going to be eliminated as a candidate, just as in a typical delayed run off. However, under instant runoff voting, everyone who indicated you as their first preference didn't waste their vote. Why? Because they've already indicated their second preference amongst the remaining candidates on that one ballot.
BRANCACCIO: So we get a sense, when these results come in, of what America's real preferences are. But there's a role for the state, Mr. Libertarian…
BADNARIK: Oh, absolutely.
BRANCACCIO: ...which is engineering that kind of system.
BADNARIK: Absolutely. We have a right and a responsibility to create a system that reflects what the people really want. The fact that we are only allowed to select one candidate in the ballot mathematically mandates that we only have two primary parties.
And by changing the way that we vote, we can eliminate the wasted vote syndrome that David and I both face. In fact, the only wasted vote is when you vote for a candidate you do not respect.
You know, you are wasting your vote when you vote for a candidate who plans to continue the war, that will restore the draft, raise your taxes, continue operating at a deficit budget, and will pass additional, unconstitutional laws like the Patriot Act. Why would anyone vote for a candidate that's going to do that?
COBB: You know? And what I say, and have been saying on the campaign trail is, "Don't waste your vote, invest your vote. Invest your vote in a genuine movement for peace, justice, democracy and ecology."
The Green Party is growing, electing more people at the local level. And more people are registering into the Green Party. And I believe more people are registering in the Libertarian Party as well, indicating that there's a crisis in this so-called two party system.
More people are coming into alternative parties every day. And there is a political realignment that's taking place. Our voting system is antiquated. This winner-take-all, first-past-the-post system does not work.
It does not work for the majority of Americans. Instant runoff voting is the first step. The real goal is proportional representation, so that everyone really knows and believes that they can vote for who they want. That they'll get representation in their government. Proportional representation will lead towards a genuine pluralistic society, with multi-party democracy. It'll be more vibrant.
BRANCACCIO: Something Europe has tried. But you know, one of the things that you emphasized, Mr. Cobb, and to some extent, Mr. Badnarik, is that there's not really a choice this time. That the two main party candidates, call them what you want, the folks who are in the big…
COBB: The corporate parties.
BRANCACCIO: …national television debate are essentially the same. That may have been a good argument in the year 2000. They're not the same.
COBB: No, I've never said that. And will not say that Bush and Kerry are the same. I mean, from my perspective, John Kerry is a corporatist and a militarist.
John Kerry voted for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. John Kerry voted for NAFTA, which is destroying the economic and ecology of this country. John Kerry voted for No Child Left Behind which is destroying public education.
John Kerry voted for the Patriot Act, which is assaulting our civil liberties every single day. John Kerry is opposed to single-payer universal health care. John Kerry is opposed to raising the minimum wage to a living wage. That's the truth, as I see it.
But I want to finish. Because George Bush is qualitatively worse from my perspective. There's a huge difference between John Kerry and George Bush.
I acknowledge that there are differences. But you know, at the end of the day, if we want to live in a society that will end war as foreign policy, live in a society with single-payer universal health care, raise the minimum wage to a living wage, develop alternative energy sources to wean ourselves off of the addiction to oil, that's driving not just war in the Middle East, but also global warming, the group is the only political party running candidates for office…
BRANCACCIO: But, to be clear though, you have told your supporters in close states, in these swing states, that if you're really worried about some of this, that they in fact, should in the end, vote for Kerry?
COBB: No, sir. What I said is I will respect voters who feel hogtied by this voting system. You know, I would like everybody to vote for me. I think if everybody who supported the Green Party voted for me, I think I'd be elected President of the United States.
BRANCACCIO: Now, Mr. Badnarik, you could be a spoiler. I've been looking at some numbers. I know we're not supposed to say that term "spoiler" with the alternative party candidates. But in Nevada, you have enough to possibly swing things towards John Kerry by swiping votes from the President. I was looking at New Mexico, it's possible there. Maybe you should step aside. We're getting late in the game here. Something I told…
BADNARIK: I will not step aside. I am here fighting for liberty. I am presenting the Libertarian message, which I have a First Amendment right to do. And…
BRANCACCIO: Even if you end up with President Kerry?
BADNARIK: If I can cost George Bush the election this year, then in 2008, perhaps I can cost the Republicans and the Democrats the election, in four years.
BRANCACCIO: It's pretty high stakes.
BADNARIK: Well, I think that Americans are disgusted with the Republicans. I think they're disenchanted with the Democrats. And I think that people are actively looking for a third choice.
I stepped onto an elevator once with a campaign shirt. And people said, "Badnarik for President? I've never heard of him." So, I shook hands, announced that I was running for President. And suddenly, everyone on the elevator was now voting for me.
And my only qualifications at the moment were that I was not George Bush. And I was not John Kerry. I think it dramatizes just how far our political system has fallen when people are willing to vote for someone other than the two major parties.
BRANCACCIO: Now can you talk to him, and get him out of those states, so that…
COBB: Absolutely not. I will not do so. And I support Michael Badnarik's right to be on the ballot. I support the Libertarian Party's right. I support Ralph Nader's right to be on ballots, whether as an independent, or with Reform Party candidate.
BRANCACCIO: Doesn't it make it then the results of the election feed into the hands of the mainstream? Of the centrist candidates, when you two siphon away votes?
COBB: Listen, we're not siphoning away votes. We're earning votes. You know? John Kerry nor George Bush own anybody's vote. You have to earn them. And I'd urge viewers to go to our Web site at…
BRANCACCIO: Which I will give in just a second.
COBB: Okay, thank you. So, go to our Web site. And what you'll see is there's a solution to this so-called spoiler problem.
It's called instant runoff voting. The Green Party has been working tirelessly for six years on it. Democrats have refused, at the leadership level, have refused to implement it. Rank and... Look, rank and file members of the Democratic party support it. Principle liberals have been sold out by the Democratic Party leadership, just like principle conservatives have been sold out by the Republican Party leadership.
BRANCACCIO: Alright. David Cobb, Presidential candidate, Green Party. Here is the Web site. VoteCobb… and it's a dot-org, right?
BRANCACCIO: Alright. Michael Badnarik, who is running for President for the Libertarian Party. His book, GOOD TO BE KING: THE FOUNDATION OF OUR CONSTITUTIONAL FREEDOM. Gentlemen, thank you so much for being with us on NOW.
BADNARIK: I appreciate that. Thank you.
COBB: It was a pleasure to be here, David. Thank you so much.
BRANCACCIO: That's it for NOW. Bill Moyers and I will be back next Friday night. That's just two and a half weeks before we go to the polls.
I'm David Brancaccio. Thanks for joining us.