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A third party candidate to replace Obama?

December 21, 2011 |  3:41 pm

GOP Debate
Centrist political organization Americans Elect won a spot on California’s 2012 ballot Monday, bringing the privately funded group one step closer to offering an alternative to President Obama and his yet-to-be-decided Republican challenger. Washington columnist Doyle McManus has described the group and its mission in previous Op-Eds: "The third-party wild card" and "Another presidential gene pool." With news of Monday’s local development, the Times editorial board is debating how seriously we should take Americans Elect. Normally the board meets three times a week to hash out issues face to face. In this case, the debate began over email. Here’s a peek into their discussion in advance of an eventual editorial.

From: Healey, Jon

Sent: Tuesday, December 20, 2011 3:46 PM

Subject: Any thoughts on the new third party winning a spot of the Cali ballot?

Seems like a topic worth editorializing on:


From: Greene, Robert

Sent: Tuesday, December 20, 2011 4:05 PM

I've been wrong many times, so this may be yet one more, but this really seems like a gimmick to me. What do they stand for? What is their political philosophy? Seems to me that what makes them different is that they have an online angle. But so what? That's got nothing to do with why their candidate, if they ever get one, would be any good or any different.

And I say this as a former John Anderson and Ross Perot voter. (Yes, I know. Happy to try to explain myself, if you're interested. But, mea culpa).

From: Klein, Karin

Sent: Tuesday, December 20, 2011 4:12 PM

the idea's supposed to be a more moderate party, but they have not been clear about a platform or where their money comes from--same place we were last time. Of course, Americans tend to like a lot of fuzziness in their candidates' beliefs....

From: Greene, Robert

Sent: Tuesday, December 20, 2011 4:16 PM

I know there's a common assertion that what America needs is someone or something to split the difference between liberals and conservatives. But I don’t buy it. Leadership is about setting a course and persuading people to follow. It isn’t about surveying the political landscape, splitting the difference and then wondering why no one is enthusiastic about lukewarm people and positions. If Obama is failing, for example, I don’t believe it's because he's too liberal. I believe it's because he's trying to hard to be all things to all people. More of that? No thanks.

From: Healey, Jon

Sent: Tuesday, December 20, 2011 4:41 PM

That's a good editorial.

The thinking behind this group, evidently, is that people know what they care about but not the leader who's best suited to deliver on those issues for them. So the first step of the nominating process is to find out what people care most about. The second step is to match public figures with those issues. The third step is to persuade one of the public figures surfaced by the process to run.

It seems like followership more than leadership, but there is something more purely democratic about it.

From: Greene, Robert

Sent: Tuesday, December 20, 2011 4:48 PM

I get the philosophy. I'm not sure, though, that it's more democratic, any more than a suggestion box is democratic.

From: Klein, Karin

Sent: Tuesday, December 20, 2011 4:51 PM

maybe a suggestion box is more democratic. Is it democratic to lead people where they have no interest in going? Is the idea of voting to vote for the person who will set the agenda regardless of what Americans favor, or who will move in the direction you want to see the country [move] in?

From: Hernandez, Sandra

Sent: Tuesday, December 20, 2011 5:04 PM

Where voters want to go or what they like isn't always fair or legal. I think the initiative system has taught us that.

And candidates change direction, sometimes because events require them to do so, and sometimes they do it for purely political reasons. George W. Bush was opposed to nation building and yet his administration did exactly that.

I'm concerned about playing the role of spoiler, and also where the group's money comes from.

From: Greene, Robert

Sent: Tuesday, December 20, 2011 5:04 PM

Makes sense. I just don’t believe it really works that way -- that there are millions of people who know exactly what they want and how they want to see it achieved. I see democracy as more of an interplay between leaders, ideas, conscience, pocketbooks, social movements and voters. I didn’t like Reagan or his policies, but he was a leader, and got people not merely to follow him but to say, "Yes, that's my vision too." I didn't like Clinton, but I liked his policies better -- and he too was a leader who got some of the very same people who were Reagan fans to sign on with him. It's not because people are stupid or switch too easily or don’t know what they want or are easily manipulated. It's because leadership and ideas are ingredients that are just as crucial to democracy as plebiscites. The people always rule, even with a super-strong leader, because we always have to power to get rid of him or her. But leadership is necessary. That's the stuff of Madison, Hamilton, etc.

One of the most agonizing aspects of our recent interviews with City Council candidates is the degree to which neither is prepared to commit or lead on anything. Taxes? Let's poll and see. Cuts? I don’t know, I'll ask around. A leader isn’t simply a pass-through device or a piece of software that does what the people tell him or her to do. Give us a vision! Tell us why we should make it our own! Then we'll decide whether to embrace you, correct you or reject you. Otherwise, why do we need a leader?

From: Klein, Karin

Sent: Tuesday, December 20, 2011 06:05 PM

I agree, what voters want isn't always fair; if it's illegal, that's something for the courts to fix, as they often do. And spoilers are a concern, but there's also a concern about the Republican and Democratic parties holding the entire thing hostage because (to put it in free-market terms) there isn't any real competition to their way of doing things. Not that we have any indication so far that these folks are about doing anything different. They are unimpressive, to say the least, so far.

I suspect it's much like Rob says, a back and forth between the two. What's fair? What's right? People disagree on these. One person's view of fairness is very different from another's. And people are going to vote for the person whose idea of fairness or right hews most closely to their own. Yet at the same time we do want some level of candidate who forges his or her own path. It would be nice to see a president say the death penalty is really the wrong thing and needs to be rethought. 

From: Newton, Jim

Sent: Tuesday, December 20, 2011 8:16 PM

Am I right to read this string to discover that Rob voted for Ross Perot? I think we have a problem on our hands...

From: Greene, Robert

Sent: Tuesday, December 20, 2011 8:22 PM

OK, look. Here's the thing. It was like this. I was mad at the debate commission or whatever it was called because it seemed to me he had earned (from his previous run and the percentage of the vote he got) the right to participate in the debates. And they denied it to him. It was the only way I could express my objection. I've matured since then. My agony over that vote made me decide to never again vote for anyone who I [really didn’t] want to see in the job. That's my story and I'm sticking to it.


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Photo: The Dec. 10 GOP debate was held on the Drake University campus. Centrist group Americans Elect would like to see a third-party candidate challenge President Obama and his eventual Republican challenger. Credit: Matthew Putney / Getty Images

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