I am hard on third-party candidates because I hope for so much from them. As a blogger and even as a Democrat, I believe we'd have much livelier and more instructive election discussions and debates if we had a viable third party, or at least a sufficiently strong Independent movement that would offer voters alternatives to the status quo. And I can't help rooting for underdogs.
I cast my first Presidential vote for H. Ross Perot. He fired up millions of supporters, entered the popular lexicon (remember the giant sucking sound?), and won nearly 19% of the popular vote. He had lots of facts and figures handy, and he was excited to talk about them. Plus, he used charts (and still does!). Perot came across as if he'd done his homework and was ready to do the job. Perot's running mate, the venerable Admiral James Bond Stockdale, alas, presented himself as shovel-ready... and not for the handle.
Listening to Independent B. Thomas Marking on SDPB's Dakota Midday yesterday, I heard more Stockdale than Perot. If passion and enthusiasm are suddenly anathema to good politics, then Marking ought to be the GOP's favorite. Not once did Marking sound fired up about his campaign or this 30 minutes of free air time to reach voters statewide. Marking gave his usual brief answers. That's a plus in some settings, but not in campaign mode. Every time a reporter asks you a question, you need to give an answer that shows how deeply you've thought through the issue. You need to tie that question into your preferred key messages and hit them hard. You need to own the airtime, own the microphone, talk like you are the boss. Instead, Marking comes across as a nice enough gentleman on the street, surprised to be interrupted by some reporter asking him political questions, and eager to return to his daily stroll.
Marking also has a bad habit of dodging questions. He doesn't dodge creatively. He doesn't buffalo or bluster to make listeners forget some uncomfortable question and come away remembering that he sounded smart and tough. Marking just declines to answer. He did it at the Sioux Empire Fair House debate. He did it Thursday on the radio. He declined to answer a listener question about helping people pay for long-term care because his mother was listening and is facing long-term questions herself. What, is Marking planning to put old folks on ice floes and doesn't want Mom to see it coming?
Come on, B. Thomas, that long-term care question is exactly the kind of question you should answer. It's a golden opportunity to show you understand the policy problem on a personal level. That's why your opponent Kristi Noem beats the drum on estate tax, because she has what sounds like a compelling personal narrative to tell. (Actually, given that the details of her story don't add up and that Congresswoman Herseth Sandlin has a better plan with more deficit responsibility, Noem might want to drop it... but that's another post!)
Marking also failed to answer a question about economic stimulus. He mouthed the armchair quarterback points anyone could get from two minutes reading the KELO forums. When SDPB host Paul Guggenheimer asked Marking for specific ways he would use the stimulus money better, Marking had nothing. He mumbled something about having to consult with economic experts. Bonk. It's September. If you haven't already consulted with economic experts and come up with some alternatives to the economic stimulus, you're not ready for the job of U.S. Congressman.
The rest of Marking's statements are more regurgitation. He toots the national 30% sales tax horn, like every other casual Libertarian radio listener. He says a national sales tax would be better than income and other taxes, because (paraphrasing) we would shift taxes away from investment and savings and all the things that make the economy grow and instead tax consumption. Never mind that consumer spending makes up two-thirds of the economy. Never mind that a national sales tax opens Social Security to more fraud and removes the same amount of money from the market economy as the current system (if not more). Marking just hears "Fair Tax" and thinks it must be good.
Even on his single best (his only) distinguishing idea, the online referendum, Marking shows a disappointing superficiality of thought. Guggenheimer asks how an online referendum differs from the current system of just writing or calling your Congressperson. Marking says (paraphrasing) that calls and letters give a distorted view of the general feeling of the population. Marking never confronts the obvious: implement an online referendum in Congress, and interested parties will wage concerted get-out-the-vote efforts, just as they do now with online polls and real elections. A random sample would likely give a better view of the general feeling of the population than Marking's online referendum... and Marking doesn't seem to get that.
I advocated for B. Thomas Marking to be included in all of the debates, hoping he would be a butt-kicker. Alas, he's not getting his boots off the ground. He's not showing the doubled fire in the belly he needs to make up for the inherent disadvantages of third-party/non-party status. He's not making the most of his media appearances to make headlines and drive the conversation. And he's not demonstrating any defining or deep grasp of the issues that promises great contributions to the election discourse.
Marking isn't ready for Congress. He's not even ready for a great quixotic campaign that would stir up the electorate and worry the frontrunners.
If you want to be a good third-party candidate, you don't have to be Ross Perot. But don't hang around being James Stockdale. B-Thom, save your money, quit now, and enjoy autumn in the Hills with your family.
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