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  We're in the homestretch here, folks. All the debates are over, the candidates' cards are on the table, and here we sit, less than two weeks from the so-called "most important election of our generation." But something's making you feel uneasy.

You know that George W. Bush is a boob who shouldn't be returned to office under any circumstances. But as much as you'd like to just walk into that booth and pull the lever (or push the touch-screen) for John Kerry, your enthusiasm is tempered by the fact that you still don't quite know his real stance on Iraq, you're not sure if he can pull off his social agenda without raising taxes and you feel that he's less presidential than his ketchup-heiress wife. Admit it. We've all thought it.

This dilemma is much like that famous "Treehouse of Horror" episode of "The Simpsons," where the aliens Kang and Kodos kidnap Bill Clinton and Bob Dole and impersonate them during the 1996 election. When their secret is revealed, they just laugh derisively at the crowd; "What are you going to do about it? It's a two-party system; you have to vote for one of us." When someone chimes in about third-party candidates, Kang says condescendingly, "Go ahead… throw your vote away."

But is it really throwing your vote away? If you feel like you're voting your conscience, rather than picking the guy who's most likely to get elected, then it's a vote well spent. And there are plenty of other candidates out there. As a public service, The Black Table presents its synopsis of the third-party candidates running in this year's election.

With each summary, we will provide a handy measure of each candidate's fitness to actually lead the country. Called the Loopiness Factor, it will rate the candidate's nuttiness on a scale of 1 to 10, 1 meaning that he might actually make a good president; 10 meaning that he is willing to sell us back to England for 50 bucks and a lock of Robbie Williams' hair.

Thanks to Politics1.com for the information on who's running where. Remember if a candidate is not on the ballot in your state, you can always vote for him as a write-in pick. Click on the candidate's picture to go to their Web site, if they have one.

 

 
 

Ralph Nader

We all know this guy… the "hipster" candidate in 2000, the guy who made many who voted for him come to regret it, thinking that their votes kept Al Gore from winning. But that's debatable, really. You weren't going to vote for Gore, and you know it. Gore was about as progressive as Rudy Guiliani is conservative: not much.

Nader, on the other hand, seems to fit right in with the progressive way of thinking. He wants to repeal the Patriot Act and initiate a controlled but rapid withdrawal from Iraq. He supports the use of industrial hemp as a renewable resource. He wants us to get away from our dependence on oil and supports the further development of hybrid vehicles and alternative fuels. He will tax the least basic necessities heavily (sin taxes, taxes on polluters) and tax necessary items (books, food) lightly. He will also tax interest and capital gains at the same rate as income. He supports instant runoff voting, which is similar to sports MVP voting: People get first choice and second

       
 

choice votes, and candidates are eliminated until someone gets a majority. He favors statehood for the District of Columbia and supports the lowering of the minimum voting age to 16. He advocates the elimination of NAFTA and the WTO. Nader also wants every worker to get a living wage and will encourage unionization. He supports equal rights for gays, including marriage. He thinks undocumented workers should get drivers' licenses. His running mate, Peter Camejo, once ran for President as a member of the Socialist Workers Party.

His health care plan is incomplete, and he doesn't really say how he's going to pay for all of these new services and initiatives. For the most part, though, he still sounds like the progressives' best candidate. Too bad he's an egotistical loon. Loopiness Factor: 5

(Speaking of egotistical loons, what the hell kind of candidate whores are the Reform Party? Remember, their candidate in 2000 was Pat Buchanan, who is ideologically closer to Stalin than Nader.)

 

 
 

Michael Badnarik

For those whose last exposure to the Libertarian Party was when Howard Stern ran for governor of New York, here is a refresher. The Libertarians think that the federal government should just stick to the duties they were granted in the Constitution. They feel that private industry should be able to do what the government does, only much more efficiently and for a lot less money. The Enron-like scandals are minor nuisances, if you're a Libertarian.

To that end, Badnarik supports much of the standard Libertarian platform. He wants us to withdraw all troops from foreign soil and privatize the police. Every industry should be deregulated to stimulate competition. All drugs should be legalized. All gun control laws should be repealed. He also supports the development of industrialized hemp as a resource.

   


   
 

Sounds like what the Republicans wanted to be oh-so-many years ago, before insane defense spenders and religious rightists took control. But for now, it seems to be the party of disenfranchised big-business conservatives and Unabomer-esque militia men in Montana. Overall, though, there's nothing to indicate that Badnarik wouldn't be one of the sanest Presidents of the last 40 years. Can't be any worse than Jimmy Carter. Loopiness factor: 4

 

 
 

Michael Peroutka

Take the small-government, strict constructionist nature of the Libertarians and combine them with a religious bent that would make John Ashcroft roll his eyes, and you have Mike Peroutka. While he thinks the government should be as small as possible and stay out of people's lives, he also will work to make an "abortion-free America by 2005." How does he know he can do it so quickly, you ask? Well, Peroutka feels he has the Constitutional right as President to not enforce any measure that is imposed on states by judicial edict. He'd simply "not enforce" Roe v. Wade, leaving it to the states to prosecute the alleged child murderers. How that makes the country "abortion-free" is beyond me, since many states on the coasts will not prosecute abortion doctors. But whatever.

In addition to the abortion-free America of his

   


   
 

dreams, Peroutka will eliminate the IRS and income tax (he calls that kind of taxation "Godless"), thinks faith-based initiatives do nothing but subject religious organizations to bureaucracy and corruption and will deport all illegal aliens. Oh, and he doesn't think women should be in the military.

He's probably the most conservative candidate out there right now, but he still feels that we should be out of Iraq. Hmm… a pattern is starting to emerge.

Anyway, if you're a pro-life, small-government, anti-feminist, anti-war person who goes to church more than once a week, Peroutka is your guy. That should get him at least one or two votes. Only one or two. Loopiness Factor: 6

 

 
 

David Cobb

David Cobb is pretty much the same candidate as Ralph Nader, except he's not crazy. In addition to the environmental protection issues that make the Green Party the usual choice of Ed Begley, Jr. and other fans of ecology, Cobb also supports the use of industrial hemp and decriminalization of marijuana and supports reparations to the descendants of slaves. Cobb also believes that the time is right for a publicly funded, universal health-care system in this country.

Jumping on the bandwagon, Cobb also calls for the immediate withdrawal of troops from Iraq. Like Nader, Cobb believes an overall policy of non-violence and a posture of peace will undercut the efforts of al-Qaida. Fair Trade! Hybrid Cars! Peace and Love! That'll keep them from hating us! Sounds nice, doesn't it? You be the judge if

       
 

that actually is going to work. Loopiness factor: 4

 

 
 

Leonard J. Peltier

Finally, a candidate who's already in prison! Leonard Peltier, who is the leader of the American Indian Movement, is serving a life term in prison for the 1975 murder of two FBI agents in South Dakota during a gun battle on Peltier's reservation. Essentially, the candidacy is to bring publicity to his cause and to the AIM, which is looking to protest the various atrocities that have been suffered by the Native American population over the last 200 years. Since Peltier's co-defendants were acquitted by reason of self-defense, Peltier claims that he is also innocent and is only in prison for political reasons.

Before you start to snicker and go "Yeah, right, they all say they're innocent," know that he also has Amnesty International and Archbishop Desmond Tutu on his side. Also realize that he was almost granted clemency by President

       
 

Clinton until the FBI protested the move.

I'm sure that he wants the troops out of Iraq (I mean, who besides the Bush gang doesn't?), but he's a little tied up with other issues right now, like how many cigarettes he's going to need to buy time on the computer in the library. Loopiness factor: 7

Oh, by the way, Nader went to the party's convention seeking their nomination. He came in second to Peltier. For Christ's sake, if he can't win the nomination from a (perhaps wrongly) convicted murderer, what chance does he have against The Big Two?

 

 
 

Charles Jay

Charles Jay is a Libertarian of the highest order. He owns guns. He thinks the federal income tax should be eliminated. If Social Security was eliminated and the FDA scaled back, more private money would be able to flow through the system, providing more money and better opportunities for all.

Charles Jay also loves to gamble. Well, I don't know that for sure, but if you look at his Web site, he spews about four thousand words on legalizing gambling nationwide and creating a gamblers' bill of rights, while he only managed to peck out about 200 words each on the environment and education. Jay feels that gambling is the most libertarian of pursuits, and the best way for the state governments to make money and bridge the gap between spending and income. His program is called "Gamblers Autonomous" (get it?), and it calls not only for

       
 

nationwide legalization, but the elimination of all state boxing commissions (which would give Mike Tyson the ability to bite off opponents body parts wherever he chooses to do it. It also allows him to fight a wallaby, but that'll never happen… right?).

He doesn't come out and say that he wants the troops out of Iraq, but I'm pretty sure he does.

Jay's running mate is former porn star Marilyn Chambers, best known for her stunning turn (and bob and swallow) in the seminal Seventies flick Behind the Green Door.

(I'm sorry, did I say her name was Marilyn Chambers? It's Marilyn Chambers Taylor -- she's married now. Oh, and did I say she was a former porn star? My mistake… she's still doing porn. At 52. She makes Nina Hartley look like a virgin.)

So far, they're only on the ballot in one state: the rootin'-tootin', gamblaholic, porn-lovin' state of Utah. Loopiness factor: 8

 

 
 

Earl F. Dodge

Earl F. Dodge has run for President on the Prohibition ticket in every election since 1984. Of course, in '84 he actually got 4,200 votes. In 2000, he got 208.

Why is that, exactly? Is it because the guy is "Against the Homosexual Agenda"? Maybe it's because he wants to put prayer and Bible readings in the public schools? Or is it because he wants to ban alcohol and gambling? Or is it because the man generally uses each candidacy to further his campaign button business? Can't really be sure.

Since there are virtually no people left who were even old enough to drink when Prohibition was repealed, Dodge's 1920s agenda appeals to almost no one in the country. Hell, even the

       
 

Osmond family would rather see Marilyn Chambers be a heartbeat away from the top than see this guy in office. Loopiness factor: 8.5

 

 
 

Gene Amondson

You think that infighting, back-stabbing and underhandedness were only confined to Republicans and Democrats? Gene Amondsen would beg to differ.

He was nominated by the faction of the Prohibition Party that was sick of seeing Earl Dodge push his button business while he continued to court the ever-dwindling 100-plus age demographic. This was after Dodge invited eight of his relatives to dinner, called it a party convention and got the nomination.

Earl follows pretty much the same platform as Dodge (no alkies, gays, or gamblers allowed in his world), but at the very least, he is open to finding the right First Lady, as evidenced by his personal ad. Loopiness factor: 8.6 (the personal ad is creepier than the button business)

   

   
 

 

 

 
 

Walt Brown

Walt Brown is 78 years old and ready to be an energetic leader of this nation! He's a member of the Socialist Party USA (the party name sounds like a late-afternoon cable dance show from the Eighties), whose platform could be called anti-Libertarian. They basically look for the government to provide a citizen services and protection. Standardized state-run health care. Free post-secondary education in state schools. Full benefits for all workers. Freedom to unionize without restrictions.

Essentially, he just stops just short of saying the government should take care of all citizens' needs (hey, he ain't no stinkin' pinko commie!). Strangely enough, the only issue on his site that has no link to a policy statement is under "Taxes." Hey, he might be a Socialist, but a

       
 

miracle-worker, he isn't. Loopiness Factor: 8.1

 

 
 

Bill Van Auken

The Socialist Equality Party is even more Socialist than the Socialist Party (oh, I'm sorry… Socialist Party USA!). They are looking for a worker revolt akin to the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917. In fact, Van Auken thinks that the revolution might have worked if that pesky Joe Stalin (there's his name again!) didn't turn a true worker revolution into the jack-booted thuggery that became modern Communism.

Just like everyone else, he wants all the troops out of Iraq immediately.

Speaking of Iraq, isn't it nice that there's an issue that porn stars, career gamblers, trippy environmentalists, religious zealots and pinko commies can all agree on? It's almost like they should be standing on a hilltop and singing while

   
   
 

drinking a bottle of Coke. Loopiness factor: 9

 

 
 

Roger Calero

Roger Calero was not born in the United States. Arrin Hawkins is somewhere between 24 and 28 years old. Neither is constitutionally eligible to be President. Yet both are running and have made it onto the ballot in some states (in other states, the ballot will have the names of the 2000 candidates for President and V.P.). As Yakov Smirnoff said about 20,000 times in 1984 alone: "Vhat a country!"

The Socialist Workers Party is about as hard-line communist as you can get without actually calling the party "Communist." Not only do they support worker-based revolutions, but they also think that Castro's iron-fisted rule of Cuba is appropriate and necessary. Mainly, they are trying to get the support of the poor immigrant (and even the undocumented; I said "support", not "votes") labor whose numbers in this country

   
   
 

have increased over the years. They might actually have a shot, if someone was able to go back in time to 1969 and have Calero born in the U.S., and push Hawkins' parents to start using the rhythm method instead of those pesky condoms. Loopiness factor: 9.5

 

 
 

John Parker

Trumpeting another hard-line worker's revolution platform, Parker and Gutierrez support both the governments of Cuba and (gulp!) North Korea. Of course, they support all human rights -- gay rights, civil rights, worker rights, immigrant rights. But they also think that the community standards should prevail.

They like the fact that Cuba, despite the embargo, is run by the people instead of the "owners of casinos and sugar plantations." After all, it has a low infant mortality rate, universal health care and free education. Never mind that the educational system teaches kids that "2+2" = "Fidel Is God," and that anyone who decides to think for themselves is thrown in jail and/or killed. At least they get health care, right?

Oh, and they want the troops out of Iraq, too.

   
   
 

Just thought I'd say it. Again. Loopiness factor: 9.9

 

Joel Keller is a freelance writer. He also has a full-time job, which is where he did a lot of this research. He hope he doesn't get fired for cruising all this "political porn."