September 27, 2006

Libertarian Candidate Demands Debate Time

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While masses of Democrats and Republicans hustled and bustled into Bailey Hall to hear the heated debate between gubernatorial candidates Eliot Spitzer and John Faso yesterday evening, one group was left out in the Ithaca cold.

“We have no choice and we have no voice!” exclaimed one of the many signs held by the Cornell Libertarians and Ithaca Libertarians gathered outside of Bailey Hall, protesting the exclusion of Libertarian candidate John Clifton from the debate.

The League of Women Voters of New York (LWVNY), which sponsored the debate, ignored Clifton’s demands for an inclusive debate with third party candidates. As a result, Clifton took matters into his own hands and came all the way from New York City to Ithaca in protest.

“This is a puppet show stunt by the Democrats and Republicans!” Clifton declared.

“All Faso and Spitzer have to do is call each other on the phone and set up an inclusive debate. But instead, third parties are marginalized by [the bipartisan] structure,” he said.

One might ask, what is the Libertarian school of thought?

“The commitment to the individual and individual rights is a primary theme,” Clifton explained.

The basis of this political philosophy is the maximization of individual rights and minimization of the role of the government. An ethic of self-responsibility is emphasized and thus, forcing an individual to provide aid to another, as in the case of welfare, is wrong, according to Libertarians.

Accordingly, one of the issues on Clifton’s platform is ending of the restaurant smoking ban, which limits an individual’s choice as to whether or not to smoke. Data shows that this policy has hurt the business of many New York restaurants, especially those bordering states without a restaurant smoking ban.

“If there’s one restaurant in New York and just another one not too far across the border line, and somebody want to smoke, where do you think he’ll go?” Clifton asked.

Also on his platform is the elimination of the state income tax, beginning with those making less than $75,000 a year. This falls in line with libertarianism because “all taxation is theft,” Clifton explained.

On the issue of education, Clifton advocated creating more options for educating youth. He emphasized giving teachers more direct control of how things are run and taught rather than relying on the Department of Education, “which has more bureaucrats than Europe.”

“There is too much compulsion … and parents should take sovereignty in deciding how their children are educated,” Clifton said.

Yet despite his clear platform, Clifton was not invited to yesterday’s debate. Why, one might ask?

“Third parties are politically unessential. They rarely get more than a few percentage points and they lack a large constituent base,” said Alex Bulanov ’09, who describes himself as Republican.

Jennifer Ng ’08, a Democrat, thought along similar lines.

“The last time a third party candidate was elected governor of New York was back in 1800’s,” she said.

Libertarians, however, have different reasons for their exclusion.

“I think the major party candidates are afraid to have other voices heard and that’s why I think they exclude third party candidates,” said Nigel Watt ’10, who was among those protesting.

Curry Taylor, vice president of Cornell Libertarians offered his view: “I think it’s clear from the people protesting with us here today that there aren’t a lot of choices in the two major parties. We’re not happy with the fact that John Clifton was excluded today and we haven’t been given a satisfactory reason why.”

A simpler explanation was offered by Evan Mulvihill ’09.

“The League of Women Voters can’t count past two,” he said.

And indeed, for most students at Cornell University, two is the norm and third parties are essentially discredited and invisible. But with a platform that includes the lowering of the legal drinking age to 18, who wouldn’t give the Libertarian party at least a second glance?