Thanks Amy Goodman For Breaking the Sound Barrier

Like 69 million other Americans, I watched the second presidential debate from Hofstra University last night. And I must confess I was pleased to see President Obama “win.” This was the Obama so notably absent from the first debate. He came out swinging, was feisty, incisive and smart. He clearly won, and was the more able of the two debaters. That made me feel better – but only because President Obama is the lesser of two evils and only because the parameters of debate were so narrowly set.

My point is that there were only two candidates on stage.  As a result, there was a remarkable convergence of assumptions and positions between the two. That convergence might have been avoided had other candidates been allowed onstage with the two corporate spokespersons now posturing before us as candidates presenting us with “stark differences.”

Amy Goodman’s “Democracy Now” has tried to remedy the situation in a series of debates she calls “Breaking the Sound-Barrier” (http://www.democracynow.org/).  The title’s reference is to her show’s inclusion of opinion beyond that endorsed by the corporate interests that shape public debate – that set the “limits of perception” more effectively than blinders on horses.

So this morning on Ms. Goodman’s program, she added three other candidates’ voices to the debate mix: Jill Stein of the Green Party, Virgil Goode of the Constitution Party, and Rocky Anderson of the Justice Party. The three took part just as if Candy Crowley’s questions had been presented not only to Messrs Obama and Romney, but to them as well. Each candidate was given two minutes to answer. And by the way, Ms. Goodman was far more successful at imposing time limits than Jim Lehrer, Martha Radatz or Candy Crowley.

The upshot of breaking the system-imposed “sound barrier” was to remarkably soften the differences between candidates Romney and Obama.

For instance, both candidates sparred with each other over who was more the champion of dirty energy, drilling, and pipe lines. Yes, they mentioned “green technologies.” But with both Romney and Obama it always seemed an afterthought. Mr. Romney evoked “drill, baby, drill” memories with his emphasis on more drilling and on the XL Pipeline. Apparently, Mr. Obama was afraid to even mention that while reserving his decision on the XL Pipeline till after the elections, he’s very quietly allowed construction of the U.S. portion to actually begin.

Had Ms. Stein been admitted to the Hofstra debate, Americans would have been reminded of the impact of fossil fuel consumption not only on prices at the gas pump, but on the environment and global warming. (In fact, the notion of climate change received not a single mention in last night’s contest. And this even though it certainly represents the greatest threat to not only U.S. national security, but to life as we know it.) Ms. Stein’s presence would have made Obama and Romney define their positions on the topic, as she would have had the chance to make her case for a “Green New Deal” which draws connections between the consumption of fossil fuel and environmental deterioration, oil wars, and healthcare.

Rocky Anderson’s presence on stage would have brought front and center the concerns of his Justice Party. Without him the words “poverty” and “poor” crossed no one’s lips, even though poverty rates in the United States are at their highest rate since 1965. Similarly, Mr. Anderson would have raised questions of breaking up the “too big to fail” banks and the prosecution of fraudulent bankers not one of whom has yet been brought to trial.

Mr. Anderson would also have made the Republicans, Democrats and public at large reframe the “jobs debate.” Without him, both Mr. Obama and Mr. Romney could avoid facing the fact that the digital revolution of the last twenty-five years has rendered obsolete conventional ways of thinking about work. Robots have displaced people. As a result, it’s imperative to reframe questions of employment. Available jobs must be shared; it’s as simple as that. Work days, weeks, months, and years need shortening. Vacations need extensions. And the wealth the new technology is currently concentrating in the 1% needs redistribution.

Perhaps no question in last night’s debate more highlighted the need for “breaking the sound barrier” than the one about the differences between Mr. Romney, Mr. Obama, and George W. Bush. In his answer, candidate Romney talked about differences in personality and context, championing small businesses, and cracking down on China. Mercifully for him, Mr. Obama did not have to answer the question.

Neither Ms. Stein nor Mr. Anderson would have allowed such question-dodging to pass. The fact is, both Stein and Anderson agree, there is very little important difference between either the Romney or Obama positions or that of former President Bush. In fact under Obama, Bush policies have been exacerbated, and they promise to get even worse under Romney. The list of policy similarities is long: use of torture, promotion of free trade agreements, spying on U.S. citizens, detention of “terrorist” suspects with charge or trial, extra-judicial (drone) executions, championing dirty energy, off-shoring of jobs, misleading agreement that Social Security and Medicare are in crisis, refusal to prosecute Bush era war crimes . . .

Yes, Mr. Obama rose to the occasion last night. And I’m happy that he won. I’ll vote for him in November. But my vote is only a stop-gap measure. During the next four years I’m going to devote my political energies to working for the Justice and Green Parties so that in 2014 they won’t be excluded from presidential debates.

Even if their winning the presidency might remain a remote possibility, their inclusion in the debates will serve us all. Thanks, Amy Goodman!

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Mike Rivage-Seul's Blog

Emeritus professor of Peace & Social Justice Studies. Liberation theologian. Activist. Former R.C. priest. Married for 40 years. Three grown children. Four grandchildren.

8 thoughts on “Thanks Amy Goodman For Breaking the Sound Barrier”

  1. Did you see that Jill Stein was arrested last night for protesting her exclusion from the debates? It’s so sad that the candidates I would most support don’t stand a chance. Having to choose the “lesser of the two evils” is such a crappy choice. But I’m with you – I’ll do it just to avoid the worse of the two evils!

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  2. Thanks for your insights, Mike! What exactly makes a candidate “win” or “lose” a debate? I have found most of the debates are more of a “show” than “substance.” Political energies for Green and Justice Parties should start now.

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    1. You’re right on all counts. No one really knows who “won” the debate. And they are more show than substance. They’re deliberately constructed that way. The inclusion of the Green and Justice Party candidates would change all of that and force the introduction of substance into the procedure. My own timeline for working with third parties begins after the election. Between now and then my intention is to help prevent a Mitt Romney victory. Did you see the interview with Greg Plast on “Democracy Now” this morning? The relationship between Romney’s Bain Capital and China is highly revealing.

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  3. Very well-stated, Mike. I noticed that moment when they were both trying to prove they were aggressive about energy. When Romney talked about coal, Obama said “Me, too” and when Obama talked about wind energy, Romney said “Me, too” as well. I suppose they have to play to the middle on energy. I confess I am happy that gas prices are high, and think we need to live differently, work differently, and drive differently. If prices were low, why would we bother to change our consumption? A presidential candidate would lose if they said that, though. I always wonder what opinions they keep to themselves while saying and acting as they must.

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    1. Avena, those very thoughts occurred to me too as I was watching. But Jill Stein’s participation in the actual debate would have gotten the ideas you express here on the table and would have forced the candidates to deal with them. The debate would have been so much richer.

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  4. “In fact under Obama, Bush policies have been exacerbated, and they promise to get even worse under Romney.”
    AMEN~! (Though clearly also worse under continuation of Obama.)

    It was a good effort. The entire U.S. electoral process is a fraud. …a tightly packaged bearing of false witness. Much of the harm we face is from supporting it and those who wield and benefit from it.

    Did Goodman make any mention of why Libertarian Gary Johnson was excluded~? Seems odd to leave off the largest, longest lived minor party.

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