Most televised political debate in the United States is a lifeless, platitude-laden sideshow with virtually no value except as a grim form of entertainment, like watching democracy itself fed to the lions at the Coliseum. That is why Vermont’s recent gubernatorial debate, in which every candidate on the ballot was invited to participate, was such a breath of fresh air.
Vermont’s Democratic incumbent governor Peter Shumlin has a virtual lock on the election, with a double-digit lead over Republican challenger Scott Milne. Fortunately, the five other candidates on the ballot made for a lively discussion October 9.
In a world where political campaigning has been largely reduced to platitudes and soundbites, Vermonter and revolutionary socialist Pete Diamondstone called for the overthrow of the entire capitalist system and the outlawing of private enterprise. His solution for the problem of illegal drug use is to legalize everything and make the government the national drug dealer. One need not pass judgement on the quality of his program, but if suggesting that Uncle Sam start slinging smack isn’t thinking outside the box, pretty much nothing is. Plus the whole time, he appeared to be wearing jorts with suspenders and tall white socks, which counts for something as long as we’re going to fight about whether or not the president is allowed to wear a tan suit.
So much is taken for granted when our politicians get together to argue. Not so in Vermont last week, when self-described “lightworker” and most-chill candidate ever Emily Peyton answered a question about healthcare by suggesting we start by alleviating poverty. With poverty a major player in our obesity epidemic, her point may be too often left aside in our debates on healthcare. Peyton’s comment that money spent on healthcare “ought to go to the healers” may be a little rich in New Age lingo but her point is worth considering, with administrative costs a major driver of the increase on the pricetag of going to the doctor.
And it’s not just the refreshing willingness of dark horse candidates to state the obvious that endears one to this debate, but the humble honesty on display. To a question about how to lower the cost of college in Vermont, Bernard Peters—who is either a Duck Dynasty fanboy, a very dedicated hipster or just extremely legit—said, more or less, that he had no idea. Later the Libertarian candidate Dan Feliciano was asked about the incumbent governor’s program to get drug offenders into recovery rather than behind bars. He said, without equivocation, that he’d do literally nothing different. Good luck finding a mainstream candidate who would publicly take that position.
There’s the pure entertainment factor too (which was in no short display at Idaho’s similarly bizarre debate earlier this year). Through it all Cris Ericson and her extraordinary hat were fighting the good fight for highway rest area enthusiasts, chemtrail conspiracy theorists and food stamp recipients, who, she noted for reasons unknown to the rest of us, might be using food stamps to buy lottery tickets to get rich to be able to afford fruits and vegetables. So there’s also that, whatever that is.
Two of the candidates said one of the most important things they’d do if given the power is ensure that debates are open to every candidate on the ballot. Until Game of Thrones comes back there’s no better entertainment out there and with the dark horses thrown into the mix we might actually have some useful discussion.
You can watch the entire debate here.