9/28/2004

Why more than 2 parties?

By now, we're used to seeing George W. Bush and John Kerry duke it out for the Oval Office every day on national TV, but rarely do we hear from third party candidates. Sure, there's Ralph Nader, who is running as an independent this time around, but there are other third party candidates out there running for the nation's top job, all with their own unique ideas on how to get America back on track -- ideas that don't sound half bad.

Four years later, many Democrats are still mad at Ralph Nader, calling him a "spoiler" for siphoning enough votes away from Al Gore to send George W. Bush to the White House; but the reality is that the 2000 race was so close -- Al Gore lost the state of Florida by a paltry 537 votes -- that the results could have been altered by any one of eight "third party" candidates running that year. It didn't help that Gore won the popular vote in neither Arkansas or his home state of Tennessee.

So why don't we hear more from third party candidates? Who are these political renegades who shun the traditional labels of "Democrat" and "Republican" and hope to lead America down a more independent path?

While someone like Ralph Nader can draw a crowd of the curious, most lesser-known candidates speak to audiences made up of chirping crickets and empty chairs. But it doesn't really matter: regardless of how many ears they bend, the fate of third party candidates is...well, pretty much a given. They lose. For the third party candidate, a victory is having the chance to get voters and the two controlling parties to hear their ideas.

An upcoming PBS special airing next week, Crashing The Parties 2004, shows that not all third party candidates are hippie tree-huggers and cause-of-the-week crockpots. Most all the third party candidates have real concerns regarding the direction in which America is headed and certainly have their own views and ideologies, but most all are also political novices -- struggling to be heard, with more ideas on hand than campaign money or corporate clout.

Green Party candidate David Cobb is originally from Houston, although he now makes his home in Eureka, California. Cobb is a longtime party mainstay -- successfully leading the charge to get Nader on the ballot in 2000 and spearheading the growth of the Green Party in Texas, unsuccessfully running for State Attorney General in 2002.
Repeatedly citing Ralph Nader as his inspiration for entering politics, Cobb boldly faced off against his hero for the Green nomination. Cobb’s victory was hard fought -- he ultimately was the only Green to campaign nationwide-- but also controversial. Nader proponents argued that a Green presidential candidate should run hard in all 50 states, regardless of the potential impact on the Democrats.

Cobb's camp advocates a "safe state" strategy, arguing that Greens in battleground states should vote their conscience and feel comfortable voting for John Kerry. Cobb can also be regarded as a "safe" third party candidate by the Democrats because he isn't famous like Ralph Nader and presumably would draw fewer votes.
Crashing The Parties is a fast-paced, entertaining look at presidential politics the way it should be -- stripped of hidden corporate agendas and talking points. The special takes us behind the scenes and inside the lives of the candidates and their families and the rocky roads they travel on their path to the White House -- a path that will ultimately hit a dead end.

Some political experts argue that the two-party system is weakened when smaller parties are allowed into the electoral process -- fragmenting the nation into special interest groups instead of building a broad-based consensus of voters; but supporters say these grassroots parties and their candidates actually make the elections more inclusive and representative of the public.

Consumers have a wide range of options, proponents argue -- in everything from the kind of car they drive to their favorite potato chip; so why shouldn't voters have more than two choices when it comes to electing a president?

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