(AP Photo/Douglas C. Pizac)
Rocky Anderson has long been a leading light among American progressives. As mayor of Salt Lake City for eight years, he championed important reforms in education, anti-drug strategies, housing, environmental protection, public transit and other key areas. Where many mayors focus solely on local issues, Anderson was vocal in his critique of Bush-era foreign policy, going so far as to lead a demonstration against the president when he came to Salt Lake to address an American Legion convention. After Anderson left office, in 2009, he went on to direct a human rights group that focused on torture and other issues of the day. In late 2011, he co-founded the Justice Party and announced that he was running for president in 2012 under its banner. I recently spoke with him in his office about his platform, the role of third-party “spoilers” in US politics and the slippery slope toward executive tyranny.
Sasha Abramsky: Why are you running what many might consider to be a quixotic campaign?
Rocky Anderson: I don’t agree with your premise about the nature of the campaign. It’s an uphill task, of course, but there have been a number of third-party candidacies in our nation’s history that have made a tremendous difference. Teddy Roosevelt, although he lost his election when he ran as a Progressive Party candidate, actually won, because many of the things he campaigned on ended up being implemented into law: the eight-hour workday, old-age pensions, unemployment insurance. Ross Perot made a tremendous difference. Neither Clinton nor Bush were talking about budget deficits, fiscal responsibility, until Perot became a very important part of that campaign. So I think that, especially now, there is a perfect storm brewing in connection with third parties. Almost all of the polls show a majority want to see a major third party. They are unhappy with what Republicans and Democrats have to offer.
Why not run as a progressive Democrat in 2016?
I don’t seek to participate with the Democratic Party because I think it is irredeemable. The party and its candidates are feeding at the same trough of special-interest money as the Republicans. They have sold out every bit as much or perhaps more. We have a plutocracy in place: government of, by and for the wealthy. Every public policy disaster can be explained by following the money. We’re the only nation in the industrialized world that doesn’t provide healthcare for all its citizens. We pay twice as much with very poor or mediocre medical outcomes. Why is that? Because of the influence of corrupting money from the insurance and pharmaceutical industries. Take a look at the stranglehold the military-industrial complex has on our country. Republicans and Democrats alike support the waste of billions of dollars simply so they can keep these contractors happy.
How do you propose to address such deeply rooted problems?
We need to take things in a completely new direction with a new system. Public financing of campaigns. Repeal, even if it takes a constitutional amendment, the incredible decision in the Citizens United case. It’s time to get back to the fundamental values underlying our constitution: the notion of a republic, with a balance of power, a system of checks and balances, due process, habeas corpus.
Do you consider the Democrats irredeemable on these constitutional issues as well?
What we see right now is a very fractured society, one in which we have a two-tier system of justice, where the laws are applied with a vengeance against the 99 percent but where there is an elite class of people able to skate by, commit federal felonies and have the president and his administration say, “Let’s just forget about it.” After Obama was sworn in, we had him say about war crimes, torture, “Let’s just move forward and not look back.” That’s the very definition of tyranny. He’s saying not only the law doesn’t apply to him but he gets to decide against whom the law will be applied and under what circumstances. It’s the same with those who committed felonies under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, in engaging in illegal, warrantless surveillance on US citizens. This is perhaps the most frightening thing: the executive branch can violate the law, and when it’s challenged by victims it argues the court needs to dismiss the cases because to continue would mean the disclosure of important state secrets.