Ryan Chartrand

Whether or not you agree with their views – whether you find their politics inspiring, infuriating or amusing – one thing is certain: we need more candidates like Ralph Nader in our nation’s political dialogue.

Stopping at Cal Poly last night as part of his California university tour, Nader spoke passionately to a packed auditorium about the problems with America’s current two-party political system.

“What’s left for you to decide in this country?” he questioned the audience.

With his third presidential bid, this time on the Peace and Freedom party ticket, Nader hopes to bring attention to the plight of running as a third-party candidate.

Meanwhile, an estimated 60 million people had tuned in on Friday for the first presidential debate between senators John McCain and Barack Obama. That is a phenomenal number of eyes and ears tuned in to listen to two mere mortals who hardly veer far from their parties’ standard platforms.

And already the pundits are going at it again – dissecting every trivial figure of speech and mannerism from the debate. So much airtime is devoted to tracking McCain and Obama’s politicking, it’s almost as if life didn’t exist before them.

In this media madness we forget that there are other issues at stake too – and that there is a whole spectrum of men and women who represent these views.

Candidates like Nader, former Republican candidate Ron Paul, Libertarian party candidate Bob Barr, former Democratic candidate Mike Gravel and Green party candidate Cynthia McKinney are shut out from the discussion completely.

Do people realize how flat, boring and utterly predictable our nation’s political dialogue has become since shutting them out?

Opening for Nader last night, his vice-presidential nominee Matt Gonzalez devoted his opening speech to speaking to that issue.

“The other two party candidates say to you, with a straight-face, that we’re not allowed to be in a debate with them,” he said. “Then how can we have a better democracy?”

The reason these candidates weren’t allowed into the primary debates and are still ignored is often not because their views are too marginalized for the average American, but simply because they haven’t played the political game right; they’re not in bed with corporate interests, nor do they have the charm to attract rockstar-like followings around the globe.

Few Americans realize that the debates are literally controlled by the two major parties, in the form of the Commission on Presidential Debates, which was created by the Republicans and Democrats in 1987. Prior to that, the non-partisan League of Women Voters had sponsored the presidential debates, but they declined to continue doing so after pressure from the two major parties to intentionally shut out discussion by third party and independent candidates.

In a press release to the public that year, the League explained their reason for withdrawing sponsorship: “The League of Women Voters is withdrawing sponsorship of the presidential debates… because the demands of the two campaign organizations would perpetrate a fraud on the American voter. It has become clear to us that the candidates’ organizations aim to add debates to their list of campaign-trail charades devoid of substance, spontaneity and answers to tough questions. The League has no intention of becoming an accessory to the hoodwinking of the American public.”

Ever since, our presidential debates have been what they are now: not a chance to foster revolutionary ideas or encourage new political thought, but just another step in the re-election of a Republican or Democrat to the White House.

Granted, at this point in the game and in the face of economic meltdown, it would be ill advise to ignore the debates. The stakes are just too high and McCain and Obama are, afterall, the only two options to realistically choose from.

But even as you do that – and vote however you may on November 4 – don’t forget that a democratic society was never designed to be a two-party game. The fact that there are currently only two major political parties and that they have such a iron grip on our country should be disconcerting to everyone, no matter what side of the aisle you’re looking from.

There was a time when Republicans and Democrats did not exist and when being an American meant more than voting for a prescribed party ticket. Now, candidates like Obama and McCain get pushed to celebrity status, complete with cult-like followings by their most ardent supporters, while “message candidates” like Nader, Paul and McKinney are ridiculed and mocked for daring to break the mold.

Yet third parties and independents are realistic and they are viable – if only given a chance.

Ross Perot proved to be a dangerous competitor to both Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush in the 1992 presidential campaign, polling roughly even with them at various points in the race. His supporters successfully managed to get him on the ballot in all 50 states, which gained him almost 19 percent of the popular vote.

During this election campaign, former Republican nominee Ron Paul attracted a massive Internet following among our generation for his support of low taxes, free market policies, civil liberties and an end to the Iraq war. In a single day last year, his campaign broke the record among Republican nominees, raising $4 million online and an additional $200,000 over the phone.

And let us not forget that Nader himself had a major impact (for good or for bad, depending on your outlook) on the outcome of the 2000 election when thousands of liberals flocked to him rather than Democratic nominee Al Gore, an outcome which many say cost Gore the election.

These moments in history – and events like Nader and Gonzalez’s appearance at Cal Poly last night – prove that true democracy is not yet dead. Every once in a while, Americans do seem to remember that as voters they have a right to demand a candidate that truly represents their viewpoints, regardless of party affiliation.

Voting for a third party candidate or an independent is not a vote wasted – it is a democratic exercise and a sign of independence.

Take the time to research the rainbow of other candidates out there and remember that the two men you see on television are only that – two men with two platforms. There’s too much to be understood about our world and too much at stake to narrow our choices down to such a simple ballot.

Marlize van Romburgh is a journalism senior and the Mustang Daily editor in chief.

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