The Four Major Third-Party Candidates on What’s Missing From the National Dialogue

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The four major 2004 third-party candidates take on the issues they believe are being ignored by the two main political parties, and give fresh perspectives on the topics already on the table. On the evening of the second presidential debate in St. Louis, David Brancaccio moderates conversation between the candidates that were excluded: Reform Party presidential nominee Ralph Nader and Constitution Party candidate Michael Peroutka, and between Green Party candidate David Cobb and Libertarian Party candidate Michael Badnarik. 


BRANCACCIO: Welcome to this special edition of NOW. We’ve put together something we believe will be an important complement to the presidential debate.

We’ll be talking to third-party candidates who were excluded from the main event in St. Louis. Each of these four men has qualified for the ballot in enough states to win the presidency in the electoral college, at least on paper if you do the math. They are the only candidates besides John Kerry and George W. Bush with a shot.

Joining us are Independent Ralph Nader, Green Party candidate David Cobb, the Libertarian Party’s Michael Badnarik, and the Constitution Party’s Michael Peroutka. These candidates have an important message.

Each believes the Republican and Democratic parties are taking this country in the wrong direction. By running, they hope to add their voices to the national dialogue. In a moment, our conversations.

ANNOUNCER: All that tonight on NOW with Bill Moyers and David Brancaccio, the weekly news magazine from PBS.

From our studios in New York, David Brancaccio.

BRANCACCIO: We wanted our conversation with the third party candidates to be intimate, so we asked them to join us two at a time. There was no memorandum of understanding between us, like the one governing proceedings at the St. Louis debate between Bush and Kerry. Our conversations will run in their entirety without editing.

We begin with Michael Peroutka and Ralph Nader. Michael Peroutka is the Constitution Party nominee. He would eliminate federal taxes. He’s against abortion under any circumstance, but he supports a federal death penalty.

Ralph Nader is running as an independent, endorsed by the Reform Party. He wants to change the way government does business. He’d pour money into public works, mass transit, schools, clinics and libraries and pay for all of that by cutting the military and raising taxes on the wealthy and corporations. He supports legal abortions.

This is Ralph Nader’s fourth run for the presidency. Gentlemen, welcome to NOW.

PEROUTKA: Thank you, David. It’s great to be with you.

BRANCACCIO: This program NOW likes to get out in the real world. We meet good, interesting people. And during the primaries, we profiled a very interesting woman named Kathy Garza. She struggles very hard in a small town — Goshen, California — frankly not very picturesque place. But she tries to make the community a better place.

Called her last night and said, “What should I ask these guys?” And she put it this way. She said, “Our wages are not that of the national average. Lots of businesses closing, people are losing their insurance. What will you do as President to help the average American?” Mr. Peroutka?

PEROUTKA: Well I think what we need to do is, as President and in a Peroutka administration what we need to do is return to the principles upon which America was founded, which are God, family and the republic. We need to abide by the Constitution. There is an American view of government, and that view begins with an acknowledgment of God. There’s a creator God and our Declaration of Independence begins just this way, acknowledging the existence of God and then our rights come from him.

Our rights don’t come from government. And privileges don’t come from government. Rights come from God. The purpose of government then in this American understanding is to protect and secure and defend these rights and these rights are God-given rights.

BRANCACCIO: Well you might help her with her spiritual needs but what about her making ends meet needs?

PEROUTKA: Well, the way that we would help her make her ends meet is to get government out of her way. Government— One way to look at it is that government is the solution to so many problems. But another way is that the government is the cause of so many problems when there’s such a consolidation — that’s the word our framers would have used, consolidation — of power.

When we consolidate power in Washington, D.C., we do a disservice to the economy and to people’s personal economies out there in the real world. Because, you know, in government now inside the beltway we determine how much water can be in somebody’s toilet bowl in California somewhere. So, there’s no need for that kind of consolidation of power. And that’s exactly what our framers actually feared, that if we— that’s why we’re a government of limited and enumerated powers as set forth in the Constitution.

BRANCACCIO: We’re going to get back to these issues in just a second.


BRANCACCIO: I want to ask Mr. Nader. So we get to the fourth year of the first Nader administration. How would life be different for hard working Americans?

NADER: This is only the second official run for the presidency, just to correct you. Life would be different because we would have a living wage in this country. Forty-seven million workers, including the woman you talked to, work full time and can’t sustain themselves with the bare necessities of life, much less their families. And most Americans believe if you work full time you should be able to earn enough to support your families.

The minimum wage is way below in purchasing power what it was in 1968. If it was adjusted for inflation it would be $8.50, instead it’s $5.15. One out of every three workers makes under $10. Wal-Mart wages, $6, $7, $8 an hour.

The second would be health insurance for all. Every other Western democracy and quite a few third world countries have universal health care. We shouldn’t have in a civilized society a market system dominated by a few giant commercial HMOs and health insurance companies that say to the American people, if you can’t pay, you die.

And 18,000 of them die every year, according to the Institute of Medicine. And many get sick or stay sick. And all this has been published in the main business press. You know those are two very, very important. Then why do we have poverty in this country?

The economy has grown per capita 25 times bigger than it was in 1900. Why are there tens of millions of people and children impoverished in this country? Because the rich are getting huge amount of the gains. The top one percent of the richest people have financial wealth equivalent to the bottom 95 percent.

And the people who are working and making the country work and who are pushed around and defrauded and denied health care and underpaid, the people who do the work in this country aren’t getting a decent wage. They’re not getting health insurance. They’re not getting law and order against corporate crime, fraud and abuse that has looted in the last five years trillions of dollars from pension funds, 401K funds and investors and unemployed a lot of workers, like the collapse of Enron and WorldCom.

BRANCACCIO: When I sit in rooms with citizens, they do identify health care as a very important issue to them. And often you can get groups to come together on this idea that everybody should have health insurance, as you’re suggesting, Mr. Nader. But then you get to how we pay for this. And there’s not a lot of unanimity.

Just to get a little practical here, how do we pull this off? Give me a sense if you’re actually in power, what you do.

NADER: It’s quite simple. Right now, the country is spending $6,100 per person on health care. Forty-five million Americans don’t have health care coverage. Twenty-five million are seriously undercovered. And Switzerland, for example, gives everybody health care at $3,800 per person.

Canada is about that range, in fact somewhat less. So we have a hugely inefficient, corrupt, overbilling, dilapidated, redundant system. And so if you had a single-payer system that gave people free choice of doctor and hospital, you’d have a much more efficient system. You’d knock out these huge administrative expenses, the kind of computerized billing fraud that the General Accounting Office says takes ten cents out of every health care dollar.

You’d have outcomes, patterns and data, so we’d see where it works and where it doesn’t, what doctors and hospitals are doing a good job and not doing a good job. It would be cheaper. About a third of the entire health care bill is raked off in computerized billing fraud and abuse, huge bureaucratic and administrative expenses, huge salaries of the HMOs and the Cignas and the Aetnas. More details on this for those who want to take a recess from sound bite journalism are on our Web site,

BRANCACCIO: All right, that’s your last one that you get to say in terms of the Web site, otherwise they’ll be getting very firm about Web site mentions. I’ll mention it again later. Mr. Nader has a different approach. It’s the government needs to deal with what is a crucial need. People need to have health care, Mr. Peroutka. But you come at it a different way. How can you help me get health care?

PEROUTKA: Well, sure. I think where I would differ with Mr. Nader and respectfully so, is that the presupposition that he’s using is first of all the federal government is able to and can manage this better than it can be managed privately. I concede, and I would concede his point that there are vast problems. But whether or not they can be solved by consolidation and centralization of power, I would argue.

I would say that in many cases it is exactly this consolidation and centralization of authority in health care that has caused the problems. You know, most of the hospitals were built by charities or by churches in America. The health care system before the Medicare program got involved in the mid-’60s was really something that was built properly under the jurisdiction either of local governments or of charities.

They were in their proper jurisdiction. When we centralized that power, there’s the, I think, the false presupposition is that we’re gonna do it better and manage it better. And there’s another threshold question that’s very important.

And that’s that we don’t have the authority to do it. Nowhere in Article One, Section Eight, which lists the things that the federal government is authorized to tax and spend your money for, nowhere in there is health care. So—

BRANCACCIO: Well, you’re a bit of a constitutional scholar, you’ve got to help me though. But the Constitution, magnificent document that it is, can’t specify everything. It can’t specify for instance that we need flu vaccine now and we don’t have enough. The Constitution can’t meet needs 200 years after it was written.

PEROUTKA: No, David, well, in one sense it can and it can’t. Of course, what the Constitution does is it lays out a scheme of government in America, which is one of limited, enumerated powers. And what I’m saying is not that, for example, health care doesn’t need to happen. But it’s a question of whether or not there’s a federal role for health care. Whether or not we are authorized, whether we have the jurisdiction to do it.

If I jumped over into your backyard and tried to clean up your flower beds because I didn’t think you were doing a good job of it, even if I did a better job than you did, I would be trespassing. So it’s a question of authority. And the Constitution can be changed if it needs to be changed. Yes, it’s 200 and some years old. But if we want to amend it, we can.

And there are ways that we can amend it. It’s not easy. It’s not supposed to be. But fundamentally, it is a document that is not a living, breathing document we can just make it up as we go along.

BRANCACCIO: How are you gonna pay for the little bit of government that you want left? No federal income tax, right?

PEROUTKA: Well I would just… Constitutionally, no federal income tax. We didn’t have federal income tax in this country for 120 years. Many people don’t realize that. But we didn’t, and we don’t need one now. The problem is unconstitutional spending on unconstitutional programs. We could have a tariff based revenue system, which is the way we operate.


PEROUTKA: Yes, and we can apportion the cost of government among the states, which is constitutional and called for in that document.

BRANCACCIO: Mr. Nader, what are you going to do about raising money for all this good stuff that some people are clamoring for?

NADER: Well, I think the tax incidence, the burden of taxes should be least on workers and earnings, more on wealth, capital gains and dividends, more on corporations, who are seriously undertaxed. The IRS issued a report recently that between 1996 and 2000, 60 percent of US corporations paid no federal income tax. Seventy percent of foreign corporations operating here, paid no federal income tax.

The revenue base is now nourished by only seven and a half percent from corporate taxes, when under Eisenhower it was over 30 percent. What we need is to get the tax system back to more what is was in the prosperous ’60s, which would go a long way to reduce the deficit, go a long way to provide for a public works program to repair a crumbling infrastructure in our country, crumbling schools and clinics and public transit systems and drinking water systems and create good paying jobs that cannot be exported to China.

BRANCACCIO: Do you worry on the subject of exports though? ‘Cause I’m actually imagining both of you in office. I’m trying to picture this. And if that’s what you do, are you worried that in this global economy, all these corporations are gonna run off to Lichtenstein and the Cayman Islands, just flee the country because they’ll give news conferences that say America is unfriendly to business under Ralph Nader.

NADER: Well, the problem is in our country is the corporations are the government. They’ve got their top executives in Department of Defense, Treasury. That’s what they do. They have huge numbers of lobbyists in Washington. They are 80 percent of the financing of federal elections. They are the government.

You just read THE WALL STREET JOURNAL, BUSINESS WEEK, and so on, they have wonderful documentation of this. BUSINESS WEEK had a cover called “Too Much Corporate Power.” And the answer to yes, yes, yes and seven pages and it editorialized that corporations should get out of politics. So they are strategically planning, as you imply in your question, they’re strategically planning our economy, our politics, our election, even our genetic inheritance they want to convert into Monsanto-type patents.

Our environment, our education, our food, they want to privatize our water. So the key here is a constitutional amendment, if I may add, that decides that the sovereignty of the people has to be supreme over the power of corporations, who must be our servants, not our masters. Otherwise, they can abandon the country, continue to get tax breaks, continue to have the Marines defend them overseas, continue to have subsidies, handouts and giveaways from the tax payer to corporate welfare in Washington and our standard of living will continue to decline.

BRANCACCIO: But as I was— they’re really gonna leave if you pass that constitutional amendment. They’re just gonna get out of town.

NADER: Oh, no. They can leave, of course they can leave. Wal-Mart can go to China. But they’re not going to be able to control this economy. And there will be other entrepreneurs and small businesses coming up. But we’re not going to allow giant corporations to use dictatorships overseas as their labor enforcement arms, driving down our standards of living, not only by shipping to China or telling companies in this country if you don’t supply us, Wal-Mart, with a China price, shut down and go to China.

But WTO and NAFTA are systems of trans-national forms of autocratic governance that subordinate our own courts and our own regulatory agencies and health, environment, labor and consumer standards. I mean, this is unbelievable. The attack on the sovereignty is unprecedented in this country.

So if these giant corporations have no allegiance to our country other to abandon it, well good riddance. There are plenty of investors and small companies and entrepreneurs that can replace them.

BRANCACCIO: Mr. Peroutka, are you nodding to be polite, or do you agree with this?

PEROUTKA: No, actually, well, I agree with a lot of the outcomes that Mr. Nader. We come from foundationally different places. But I certainly agree that NAFTA, GAT, WTO are things that are violations of America’s sovereignty.

BRANCACCIO: You also think the UN is, too.

PEROUTKA: Of course. Yea, well, see you have foreign bureaucrats making decisions for the American people and they’re not accountable to the American people or to the Congress or to Senate.

NADER: Except the US has a veto in the UN. It has no veto in WTO and NAFTA.

PEROUTKA: Yea, but that’s really a distinction with out a real difference, I would claim. And I do agree with Mr. Nader that these things are violations of America’s sovereignty. I guess where I would again respectfully disagree is that, and I can see that there are these greedy situations and corrupt situations in government, but I would say the problem is because we have centralized this power and this authority.

There’s a lot there to corrupt. If we followed the formula of our founding fathers and those things weren’t centralized or consolidated, there would be less to corrupt. That’s another way that we could solve this problem. And I believe it’s a constitutional one.

BRANCACCIO: Briefly, I want to ask you both this issue. We are where we are in Iraq. Both of you would like us to get out of Iraq as soon as possible, ASAP. But, Mr. Peroutka, what do we owe the Iraqis, given all that’s happened, if anything?

PEROUTKA: Well, we certainly owe them an apology for violating their autonomy and invading their country and occupying their territory. The threshold question in Iraq is are we there legally and lawfully? And the Constitution, very first sentence says, all legislative authority here and granted is vested in the Congress of the United States and the power to declare war is a Congressional power. It’s left to Congress. It can’t be usurped by the president or ceded to him by a willing Congress.

We are not there lawfully. We have not declared war. And so we are hated and we are despised. We are doing something that is outside of our authority. Now, I’m not defending Saddam Hussein. But this war—

BRANCACCIO: But how do we undo it? Let’s say we accept that premise so far.

PEROUTKA: Well, we move out as swiftly and as safely as possible, caring for our troops. Look, the President of the United States, Mr. Bush, in his recent acceptance speech talked about making the world safer, the world safer. He is not the President of the world. There’s again a false presupposition there.

He’s not the President of the Middle East. His constituency is not the world. His constituency is the American people.

John Adams said that we don’t go in search of monsters to destroy. We are friends of liberty everywhere, but we are guardians of our own liberty. So where we start in principle is defending the interests of America. And this war for empire in Iraq which will draft your daughters before it’s all over is something that as I say, a war in search of a rationale. There was no yellow cake. There was no connection to Al Qaeda. And there were no weapons of mass destruction.

BRANCACCIO: Mr. Nader, do we owe something to the Iraqis just given everything that’s happened?

NADER: Of course.

BRANCACCIO: Or we just gotta get out of there ASAP?

NADER: Of course. First of all, we helped entrenched Saddam Hussein with the British in 1979, ’cause he was our anti-communist brutal dictatorship. In the 1990s we supported these terrible sanctions, economic sanctions — didn’t bother Saddam — that we’re very cruel on children. A physician’s task force went to Iraq many times and documented about a half a million children dying because of these sanctions.

For example, banning the export of chlorine for clean drinking water led to all kinds of dysentery and diarrhea that were fatal to these little kids. So we do owe them a responsibility. And here’s what we should do. If we continue the present course where George W. Bush and John Kerry are now both hawks…

A vote for Kerry is now a vote for war. He made it quite clear in his presidential debate that he wants to be more aggressive in pursuing this war than George W. Bush. What we’re gonna get is more civil war, a puppet government with their own soldiers backed by the U.S. military, backed by the oil companies taking over their oil industry. We’re gonna get more bloodshed. And the only way this course of action will end is with lots of U.S. casualties, lots of Iraqi casualties and another dictatorship in Iraq doing our bidding. Now my approach—

BRANCACCIO: So let’s get out. It would leave a festering wound.

NADER: No, here’s how— We need to give mainstream Iraqis a sense of a light at the end of the tunnel. The way you get mainstream Iraqis to knock the bottom out of the resistance is to get rid of the occupation. It’s the occupation that’s breeding the resistance. It’s the takeover of their only resource by U.S. Texas oil companies that’s breeding the resistance.

So if we say to the Iraqis, we are going to withdraw in six months, a responsible orderly withdrawal of our military and corporate forces. In the meantime, have internationally supervised elections so they get their country back without a puppet government. And in the meantime, bring in international peacekeepers from nearby Islamic countries and some neutral countries to make sure that the transition to order is established.

We will have made the best out of a terrible situation. Otherwise, we are simply pursuing so-called international terrorism by creating more of it. More alienation, more violence, more hatred radiating throughout the Islamic world. And that is not being debated by Bush or Kerry. They have taken it off the table. They’re arguing over tactics, over how we got in the war.

And I agree, this was an unconstitutional war. Article One, Section Eight gives the war declaration power only to Congress. Madison and Jefferson are very clear about that. It is not a technicality. So right from the beginning it was unconstitutional war. It violated international law and it was— we were plunged in it by Bush on a platform of fabrications and deceptions and lies, which the media has now thoroughly documented. We have to give the Iraqis their country back. That’s the way to knock the bottom out of the resistance.

BRANCACCIO: Now back to our democracy. How do we get your ideas, Mr. Peroutka, Mr. Nader, but first Mr. Peroutka, to percolate into the mainstream? We gotta do some tinkering with our democracy or something more significant?

PEROUTKA: Well, I think first we have to recognize in fact that we are not a democracy. We use that word, and it’s used very often, but we were established as a representative republic. I say to people, say the Pledge of Allegiance to stop at the sixteenth word. “And to the republic for which it stands.”

We are a republic. And there is a difference. Our founders were, as Mr. Nader was talking about some other things, our founders were very concerned about democracy. They saw it as three wolves and a sheep deciding what we’re gonna have for lunch, voting on what we’re gonna have for lunch.

And in a republic, in our republic, we recognize a higher moral law. That’s why our campaign themes, we believe, are consistent and harmonious with the founding of our country, God, family, republic. We need to honor God. Our Declaration of Independence starts right there, that there is a creator God. Our rights come from him.

The purpose of government is to protect and defend those God-given rights. It’s not to redistribute wealth.

BRANCACCIO: But do we have to do something at election time, four years from now if not right now, to help views like yours take hold somehow?

PEROUTKA: Well, sure, and you’re doing it. We’re doing it right now. And I appreciate your help in doing that. Because what we need to do is really re-educate America to the basic civics of how American government was founded, what it’s founded upon, and how it’s meant to work. Both major parties now accept a Marxist view, a socialist view that the purpose of government is to redistribute wealth, is to take from “a” and give to “b” and try to do some good.

And obviously they are carrying costs. When I take from “a” and give to “b,” there are carrying costs along the way. This redistributionist idea, this idea of government has us now about $7 trillion in debt. And it’s getting worse— it’s worse since we started this interview.

BRANCACCIO: Mr. Nader, are there some structural changes to help you do what you do?

NADER: Of course. I think the American people want more voices and choices on the ballot line. We need to dramatically reduce the huge ballot access barriers that have produced a two-party duopoly that turns around and through redistricting, carves up the country and leaves voters with one dominant party in one district after another, Republican or Democrat. That’s not an election.

An election means selection. That’s a coronation. Ninety-five percent of the House of Representatives seats are one-party dominated, Republican or Democrat. So we need more third parties, more independent candidates at the local, state and national level. Here’s how you get them.

You have public funding of public campaigns based on a well-promoted voluntary check-off on the 1040 tax return. Number two, you get rid of these ballot access barriers. In the 19th century, they were much lower. We had many more third parties. They broke ground on the abolition of slavery, women’s right to vote, labor rights for trade unions. There was a much more fluid system. We need same day voter registration. We need run-off elections.

BRANCACCIO: Forgive me for breaking because we are just about running out of time. But I need to ask you before you go, because our audience wants me to ask.


BRANCACCIO: You’re doing very well. This could, your candidacy in particular, perhaps yours, swing the election. You said in February on television that if it was very close late in the game, maybe you might pull out. Maybe you might ask people in close states to vote for, perhaps Kerry. It’s getting late here. You prepared to do that right now?

NADER: David, I didn’t say that. I said to Tim Russert, if it’s close in October—

BRANCACCIO: You’d come back to talk to us.

NADER: —invite me back. He hasn’t invited me back yet.

BRANCACCIO: Well, well, I’m inviting you here.

NADER: And here’s my answer.

BRANCACCIO: A great time to do that.

NADER: Yea, here’s my answer. If people are worried about third parties tipping the balance between the two major corporate candidates, then their problem is with the electoral college. Their problem is with the absence of instant run-off voting. Their problem is with a winner take all system that we’re all prisoners of. And it’s time to get out of jail.

BRANCACCIO: You’re running over one percent.

NADER: Uh-huh.

BRANCACCIO: In seven swing states. You could do some damage to these— You could elect George Bush.

NADER: Or the reverse. Because now Zogby says that half of my votes come from people who never would have voted otherwise. And the other half are split 50-50. Since I’m going around the country, trying to take George W. Bush apart in ways the Democrats could emulate, if they were smart, and we’ve given all this to John Kerry as well as George W. Bush. I don’t know what the Democrats are complaining about other their own decadence and their own inability over the last ten years to win against the worst of the Republicans at the local, state and national level.

BRANCACCIO: Not just Florida? Just tell people to vote for Kerry in Florida maybe. No? Not just one state?

NADER: When you run for election, you run to take votes from one another. So either all spoilers of one another or none of us are spoilers.

BRANCACCIO: All right.

NADER: I think we all have an equal right to run.

BRANCACCIO: All right, gentlemen, thank you very much for your wisdom and your patience and your willingness to participate with us on NOW.

PEROUTKA: It’s been great to be with you. Thank you so much.

BRANCACCIO: Michael Peroutka, Constitution Party candidate for President. His Web site is Ralph Nader, independent candidate for President. The latest book is called THE GOOD FIGHT: DECLARE YOUR INDEPENDENCE AND CLOSE THE DEMOCRACY GAP. I’ll be back in just a moment with my conversation with Green Party candidate David Cobb and Libertarian Party candidate Michael Badnarik.

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 Smithin 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?

COBB: Correct.

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.

This transcript was posted on August 20, 2015.

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