I swear, I’ll stop talking about last week’s debates held here in Columbia … right after this.
The Kansas City Star’s Steve Kraske threw me a bit of a curveball when he asked me during our live broadcast of the U.S. Senate debate in Columbia on Friday: “Should the Libertarian candidate be a part of this debate?”
Ultimately, my rambling answer was a ‘yes,’ with hopes that Libertarian Jonathan Dine would contribute to the dialogue at the forum. In the Governor’s debate, Libertarian Jim Higgins was admittedly unprepared for one of the questions asked about the Army Corps of Engineers and management of the Missouri River.
Graphic by Mondayne/Flickr
One of my favorite characters on television right now is Ron Swanson. On NBC’s Parks and Recreation, he is the head of the Pawnee, Ind. Parks Department. But if it were up to him, the department — and probably the whole city government — wouldn’t exist. Here’s one exchange with his polar opposite and #2 Leslie Knope. If you watch the show, you know Knope basically runs the department – and thinks working in government is just about the most admirable thing a person could do.
I, of course, don’t mean to generalize here and say Ron Swanson represents Libertarian stances in the U.S. He is usually a caricature — “Income tax is illegal!” — and the time he gave an elementary schooler a landmine to protect her property. He is incredibly likeable, and, as the show’s creator says, “It’s gotta be the most sympathetic portrayal of a libertarian that’s ever existed on television.” The character provides an interesting commentary on how a libertarian-minded person might function in a leadership role.
If it works in Pawnee, could it work in the real world?
In the Senate debate Friday, Dine eloquently represented his views. He also delivered two of the more memorable lines from an otherwise predictable debate:
Dine: “I promise to keep the Republicans out of your bedroom, and the Democrats out of your wallet,” and, regarding Rep. Todd Akin’s comments about rape and abortion, “I was astonished to find that Akin sits on the Science Committee, yet he fails to understand basic eighth grade biology.”
Dine’s closing statements also talked about a generally smaller government, lower tax level and more personal freedoms. He regularly attacked the institution that he is asking people to vote for him to join. That’s an interesting dynamic, and one that would be fascinating to see play out if he actually were elected.
Of course, according to the polls, Dine doesn’t stand much of a chance. But the St. Louis Beacon’s Jo Mannies, who joined Kraske and me on the broadcast Friday, had a much better answer to Steve’s question. Yes, she said, Dine should be part of the debate, because in such a close race, he might be a factor that ends up determining who wins the election — especially considering Akin’s vulnerability. She says some Republicans who are upset with Akin might not vote for him, but also might not vote for McCaskill — and she sees a possibility that Dine could receive some “protest votes.”
Higgins had a good point during his debate, too. On a question about fairness in media coverage, Higgins said, laughing, “They don’t cover us enough!” While the debates gave the major party candidates chances to recite their talking points, for the Libertarian candidates, it’s their one, big chance to get their voice out to a statewide audience. Even if they still end up as a footnote in the paper the next day — or in a blog post the next week.
Meantime, you might not have to wonder how Ron Swanson would vote in this election. Parks and Recreation creator Mike Schur has said in the past that they purposely don’t use the phrases “Republican” and “Democrat” on the show, even though the show’s plotlines regularly surround politics. But, Schur also talked about the characters’ politics in a recent interview with GQ, and he had some opinions on Todd Akin, too. After all, the show is fictional.