INDIANAPOLIS — If Gary Johnson, Libertarian candidate for president of the United States, had been allowed by the Presidential Debates Commission to participate in last Wednesday's debate, viewers would've heard from a candidate who doesn't comfortably fit in either the left or right of the political spectrum.
As Johnson, a former two-term Republican governor of New Mexico, noted during a campaign stop last Thursday at IUPUI, he believes marriage equality is a constitutionally guaranteed right, the war on drugs should be a health issue rather than a criminal justice one, the federal budget should be balanced now and not over several years, federal income and corporate taxes should be replaced with one consumption tax, and the Federal Reserve and legal tender laws should be abolished and replaced with ones that allow for competing currencies. And that's only part of his ideological platform.
But alas, the CPD only allows for candidates garnering at least 15 percent support in three national polls to participate in its debates. Johnson, who's currently on 47 of the 50 state ballots (and having to fight swing states and those with tough ballot laws to reach that point), is currently polling about 6 percent nationally. That's despite little media attention.
So instead the American people got a presidential debate between Democrat incumbent Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney that, in Johnson's words, was "much ado about nothing."
"I find it remarkable that Obama and Romney are debating over who's going to spend more money on Medicare, when we have to slash the spending for it," Johnson said during a meet-and-greet with supporters Thursday before a scheduled speech on the IUPUI campus.
As it stands, he says citizens are paying an average of $30 into the program and getting $100 back.
"That's not sustainable, and of course that's everything we're doing now as a government," Johnson said.
He's in the camp that believes a Greece-like monetary collapse is imminent here - thanks to a national government that borrows and prints money to the tune of 43 cents for every dollar spent.
If elected, Johnson promises to submit a balanced budget to congress in 2013 that cuts spending by 43 percent - or $1.4 trillion. Unlike many pundits, he also thinks the public recognizes that spending cuts are necessary too.
"I think we're hungry to elect leadership," Johnson said. "The country's in deep doo-doo. We have to fix it, and it has to be mutual sacrifice on the part of all of us."
That includes our military spending. While Romney has paid lip service to budget cuts, he's campaigning on the promise of adding to the military's budget. Johnson's proposed cuts would take those levels back to what they were in 2003.
"We have an obligation to provide ourselves with a strong national defense," Johnson said. "But the operative word is 'defense' and not 'offense' and 'nation building,' and that's what we're doing."
Johnson's poll numbers are the highest yet for a Libertarian presidential candidate, and that holds true for the party's Indiana candidates too. Chris Spangle, the party's state executive director, said Rupert Boneham, the Libertarian gubernatorial candidate, has managed to raise a record $70,000 for his campaign.
"It's always tough running a third-party race," Spangle said. "You don't have the corporate sponsors like the other two, so it's more difficult to raise money and get attention."
Indeed, Boneham frequently has 20-hour work days on the campaign trail. He says he recently apologized to his wife for creating a scenario in which he doesn't get paid to work so much.
"But I said two years ago, win or lose we're getting our issues out and showing if you're not happy with the status quo, then work to change it," said the former star of the reality TV show "Survivor." "And if someone says you can't, show them how you can."
Spangle sees a bright future for the Libertarian Party. It's not just that they increase their poll numbers and contributions with every election. It's also that, anecdotally, most of their candidates, chairs, and supporters are younger than 40.
"It is a young-skewing party, and it's only going to get better as those people become more established and experienced," said Spangle, noting Johnson's IUPUI visit sold out in four and a half days.
There's still that belief, though, that voting for a third-party candidate in a one-winner election system is essentially throwing your vote away. Johnson says he's making the pitch that he's not the third choice. He's the only choice.
"A wasted vote is voting for someone you don't believe in," Johnson said. "If everyone wastes their vote, I'm the next president of the United States."
For more information on Johnson, visit his website at garyjohnson2012.com.