SPECIAL SERIES : 2006 General Election
Opposite Ends of Political Spectrum Duke it Out
Green Party politician, College Republicans debate on campus
October 31, 2006 2:04 AM
In the lead up to the Nov. 7 elections, two dominant political parties are slugging it out using the mainstream media as their boxing gloves. In the maelstrom of political punches, though, third parties often don't even get to step in the ring.
Unless it's at SF State, where a debate last week between a Green Party candidate and a College Republican offered a dose of democratic street fighting when the far left got a seemingly rare opportunity to spar with the right.
“I would like to respect you,” said Leigh Wolf, an SF State Republican running for the District 14 Assembly seat, to his opponent, socialist and Green party candidate for U.S. Senate Todd Chretien. “But honestly, after inferring that I am a racist – I expected more from you.”
Instead of a civil exchange of ideas between two people at the polar ends of the political spectrum, the debate dissolved into an onslaught of character bashing.
“College Republicans substitute racist stereotypes for facts,” Chretien said. Some of the nearly 30 people in the mostly-student audience applauded.
The 90-minute debate, organized by SF State’s chapter of the International Socialist Organization, or ISO, focused on the U.S. government's war on terror and immigration policy.
“The idea that the people of Iraq cannot run their own country is a racist fantasy,” Chretien said in rebuttal to Wolf.
Third parties, such as the Green Party, are often muscled out of high-profile state and national debates because, experts say, they lack political capital and electability. But when just two parties determine what is going to be said or not said in the political arena, some say it discourages people from even casting a ballot.
“When potential voters only hear the Democrats and the Republicans they may be turned off to even vote,” said Francis Neely, assistant professor of political science and scholar of political theory at SF State.
If it were up to Elizabeth Connely, an SF State student who attended the debate, the staged political debates unfolding across the country would include more than just humdrum Republican and Democratic jabs.
“I think there should be a third party, a fourth party and a fifth,” said Connely, 19, who is majoring in political science at SF State. “Democracy is a plurality of views that come together and get sorted out.”
To Wolf, however, the debate was less of a professional exchange of viewpoints and more of what he called a “character assassination” debacle.
“Intellectual debate is not what they are interested in,” Wolf said. “This was just a hit job on the College Republicans.”
When the moderator took a question from an audience member, Wolf was accused of being a “racist” for stepping on flags believed to contain the Arabic symbol for God at a College Republican-organized rally supporting the war on terror Oct. 19 in Malcolm X Plaza.
Green Party candidates like Chretien have largely been unsuccessful getting in on the big debate this campaign season.
Peter Camejo, Green Party candidate for governor, protested when he was not allowed to partake in the gubernatorial debate between Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Phil Angelides Oct. 7. A week later the League of Women Voters withdrew their sponsorship of a debate in New York when Howie Hawkins, Green Party candidate for the U.S. Senate, was excluded.
“We have a two-party system which ruthlessly opposes a third party, or anything else to the left in this country,” Chretien said. “The Democrats and Republicans agree much more than they disagree.”
The Green Party says when a third party is excluded, it’s anti-democratic and violates voters' ability to make informed choices.
Even so, it’s scrappy debates like last week’s, Wolf said, that undermine third party inclusion into the ring.
“I expected a higher level of discourse,” Wolf said.
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