The Plausibility Threshold

I’m not at all opposed to the idea of allowing third party candidates into the general election presidential debates. In most cases, of course, there’s little reason to, as even the exposure and legitimization it would give to said third party candidates would almost never result in one of them becoming seriously competitive for the presidency. (Ross Perot in 1992 was legitimately competitive, so he definitely belonged in those debates. In 1996, there was no real chance for him, and being on the debate stage wouldn’t have changed that.)

A great shame of our electoral system as it currently exists is that there is no mechanism for expressing preference for a third party in a way that doesn’t result in self-sabotage. It’s a first-past-the-post plurality game, so a vote for liberal-third-party-candidate X means one less vote for less-liberal-but-actually-viable-Democrat Y. Without something like instant runoff voting, the whole discussion is more or less moot.

But let’s pretend for the sake of argument, though, that our system is set up to make it reasonable to vote for third parties, and that there ought to be a relatively low threshold for getting into these debates. Let’s say, again for the sake of argument, that instead of the current 15 percent in polls, it’s something like 5. That would have probably gotten Ralph Nader on the stage in 2000, and in this election, it would easily qualify both Gary Johnson and Jill Stein.

But even granting all of this in our imaginary scenario, something still doesn’t sit right with me about it, and I think I know what it is.

To fully understand my thinking, you have to temporarily forget that the Republicans nominated a lunatic huckster this time around. Donald Trump’s presence in the equation clouds the air of gravity for the presidential debates, so it might help to replace him in your mind with someone like Mitt Romney or John McCain. So do that now. On this imaginary debate stage, with Martha Raddatz or Bob Schieffer or whoever moderating, you have some Romney-McCain type, former Secretary of State and Senator Hillary Clinton, and…Gary Johnson and Jill Stein.

Since winning isn’t in the cards for Johnson or Stein, regardless of the electoral system in place, the ostensible benefits of their participation in the debates would be 1) to have someone articulate positions and concerns not expressed by the major party candidates, and 2) to lend new legitimacy to, and build up the viability of, the third parties for future elections, sending the message that, yes, candidates from these parties are and will be serious options for the presidency.

But is Gary Johnson really presidential material? Really? He seems by all accounts to be a good, principled man with good intentions, and he was a governor, but still. He doesn’t seem to have thought through all of his positions, he has trouble answering questions in succinct sentences, and he hasn’t held an office since a year before Facebook even existed. In my opinion, he doesn’t quite present the figure of a plausible president, and the irony is that he’s the closest the Libertarian Party has ever come to offering up someone who does. He’s more of a “this is the best we could do” candidate for a struggling minor party.

And even presuming the best about Jill Stein (which is a major challenge for me), despite her admirable activist background, she has never won elective office (save for a “Town Meeting Seat” in Lexington, Massachusetts), she panders to conspiracy theorists and paranoiacs, and deifies people like Julian Assange. She is definitely not a plausible president.

And that’s so dispiriting. As someone who’s worked professionally for systemic solutions that would clear the way for third party candidacies, I would love to see a more vibrant and dynamic set of views represented in these debates, but that also means I want those views articulated by credible candidates. Plausible presidents.

This year, the Republican Party has decided not to put forth a plausible candidate. In my imaginary scenario, we had a veteran officeholder of real gravitas to stand for the GOP, but in reality, we have a dangerous man-child. So it’s easier to look to the third party candidates and think, well, shit’s already crazy, why not let them in too? And I get that. But it’s also true that he could actually win, unlike the other two minor candidates, so he needs to be confronted by his billion-times-more-qualified opponent in front of the nation.

But for the third parties, in the abstract, I don’t think debate inclusion achieves what these parties hope they might, and what they really need them to achieve: to show the American public that their zone of the political spectrum can offer up real presidents too. The Libertarians are almost there with Johnson, and frankly would be there now if they’d flipped the ticket and nominated VP candidate Bill Weld instead, or recruited some titan of Silicon Valley like Meg Whitman, Larry Page, or Sheryl Sandberg. The Greens are nowhere near plausibility right now, with Nader 16 years ago being by far the closest they’d ever come to putting forth a credible would-be president. I honestly can’t think of anyone today who might jibe with their politics and be a plausible president, save for perhaps Bernie Sanders.

I want to see that debate, with three, four, or more honest-to-goodness potential presidents advocating and arguing their cases. But our electoral system makes it pointless, and the candidates we’ve gotten so far from the third parties makes it doubly so.

Jill Stein’s Shameful Pander on Vaccines and Homeopathy

About a month ago on a Reddit AMA, Dr. Jill Stein, the presumptive Green Party nominee for president, was asked a simple question about her official stance on vaccines and homeopathy.

Stein is, of course, a physician, so the answer, one would think, would be simple. For example, “Vaccines are safe and save lives, and everyone who can get vaccinated against preventable diseases absolutely should. Homeopathy is a sham pseudoscience that doesn’t do anything, wasting people’s money and risking people’s health while having no effect.”

Nope. You see she’s running in the Green Party, and hoping to pick up some of that sweet, sweet Bernie-rage. So here’s her answer:

I don’t know if we have an “official” stance, but I can tell you my personal stance at this point. According to the most recent review of vaccination policies across the globe, mandatory vaccination that doesn’t allow for medical exemptions is practically unheard of. In most countries, people trust their regulatory agencies and have very high rates of vaccination through voluntary programs. In the US, however, regulatory agencies are routinely packed with corporate lobbyists and CEOs. So the foxes are guarding the chicken coop as usual in the US. So who wouldn’t be skeptical? I think dropping vaccinations rates that can and must be fixed in order to get at the vaccination issue: the widespread distrust of the medical-indsutrial complex.

Vaccines in general have made a huge contribution to public health. Reducing or eliminating devastating diseases like small pox and polio. In Canada, where I happen to have some numbers, hundreds of annual death from measles and whooping cough were eliminated after vaccines were introduced. Still, vaccines should be treated like any medical procedure–each one needs to be tested and regulated by parties that do not have a financial interest in them. In an age when industry lobbyists and CEOs are routinely appointed to key regulatory positions through the notorious revolving door, its no wonder many Americans don’t trust the FDA to be an unbiased source of sound advice. A Monsanto lobbyists and CEO like Michael Taylor, former high-ranking DEA official, should not decide what food is safe for you to eat. Same goes for vaccines and pharmaceuticals. We need to take the corporate influence out of government so people will trust our health authorities, and the rest of the government for that matter. End the revolving door. Appoint qualified professionals without a financial interest in the product being regulated. Create public funding of elections to stop the buying of elections by corporations and the super-rich.

For homeopathy, just because something is untested doesn’t mean it’s safe. By the same token, being “tested” and “reviewed” by agencies tied to big pharma and the chemical industry is also problematic. There’s a lot of snake-oil in this system. We need research and licensing boards that are protected from conflicts of interest. They should not be limited by arbitrary definitions of what is “natural” or not.

What the fuck was that? I mean, I honestly can’t discern an actual position out of this inscrutable wall of pandering.

The best I can glean from this mess is, “Vaccines may have saved lives, but now you should be afraid for your life because Big Pharma.”

And on homeopathy, what the fuck does “just because something is untested doesn’t mean it’s safe” even mean? I honestly don’t know. But then she gets back to making people scared. It’s not the fake medicine that’s the problem, you see, but Big Pharma pulling the strings. I mean, YOU CAN’T TRUST ANYONE.

I so deeply regret my support of Ralph Nader in 2000, but I always maintained a place in my heart for the Greens, those well-meaning hippies. But this is just gross. Stein is a fucking doctor, and she should at least have enough respect for the voters to speak a plain truth about issues that are literally life and death.

And if she actually believes what she’s saying (assuming she even knows what she’s saying), then all the worse. Be gone, Green Party. You once seemed full of fresh ideas, but now, well, you’ve spoiled.