On Tuesday, October 23 at 8:00-9:30 p.m. CDT in Chicago, Free and Equal sponsored a presidential debate without the exclusionary entrance requirements and stiff rules of the Commission on Presidential Debates.
Free and Equal invited Libertarian nominee Gary Johnson, Green nominee Jill Stein, Constitution Party nominee Virgil Goode, and Justice Party nominee Rocky Anderson, all of whom agreed to participate. While Barack Obama and Mitt Romney were also invited, they refused their invitations.
The debate was moderated by television and radio host Larry King and Christina Tobin, founder and chair of Free and Equal. The format of the debate was a two-minute opening statement by each candidate, then six rounds of questions in which a question would be asked and each candidate would get two minutes to answer and one subsequent minute for a rebuttal. The debate ended with a two-minute closing statement by each candidate.
The debate began with a question about the top-two primary system that has been adopted by several states. All four candidates agreed that it is a bad idea because it increases the influence of wealthy interests and limits voter choice, often to the candidates of the two major parties. The debate was supposed to begin with an opening statement by each candidate, but this ended up occurring between the first and second questions.
The next question was about drug legalization. Johnson, Stein, and Anderson all offered answers in support of legalizing marijuana and treating drug abuse in general as a health problem rather than a criminal problem. Goode was the only dissenting candidate, and part of his answer to this question earned him some boos from the audience, but he did express a desire to reduce funding for the War on Drugs as a part of balancing the federal budget.
The candidates differed on what to do about the rising costs of education. Stein and Anderson favor bailing out students who are in debt because of student loans, offering such a policy as an alternative to the bailouts of banks that occurred in 2008-09. Johnson and Goode, on the other hand, believe that federal college loans should be eliminated because they increase the cost of education. Johnson scored points with the crowd during his rebuttal for a rant about how "free" things are not really free, and are to blame for America's national debt.
A question about the National Defense Authorization Act drew universal condemnation from the four candidates. The 2012 NDAA contains a provision that authorizes the indefinite detention of American citizens without charge or trial. The candidates all expressed disapproval for other civil liberty-curtailing laws, such as the PATRIOT Act.
On the size and role of the U.S. military, all candidates agreed that our current foreign policy is a failure. Goode said that "the United States must stop trying to be the overseer of the world" and that the Department of Defense must face a budget cut. Anderson advocated a return to the Constitution for determining how the military should be used, and said that climate change is a bigger threat to national security than terrorism. Johnson called for a 43% cut to military spending, calling our national debt the greatest threat to our national security. He said that our foreign policy has made millions of enemies for America that would not exist otherwise. Stein called for an end to "wars for oil" and cuts to the military budget.
The last question asked of each candidate was "If you could propose one constitutional amendment and be assured that it would be adopted, what would you choose?" Johnson and Goode both chose an amendment to establish term limits for elected officials, arguing that it would reduce the influence of money in politics and motivate government officials to worry about acting properly rather than seeking re-election. Stein advocated an amendment to overturn corporate personhood and the Citizens United decision, accusing corporations of stealing our rights and subverting individuals in the political process. Anderson expressed support for an Equal Rights Amendment to prevent all discrimination based on gender and sexual orientation.
The debate closed with a special announcement by Christina Tobin. There is an online instant-runoff vote between the four candidates who participated in the debate, which will be ongoing until tonight at 10:30 p.m. EDT. The top two candidates will meet on Tuesday, October 30 at 9:00-10:30 EDT in Washington, DC for a foreign policy debate.