In their second presidential debate, Barack Obama and John McCain faced a strange question from Tom Brokaw: "Do you think that Russia under Vladimir Putin is an evil empire?"
"I think they've engaged in evil behavior," Obama hedged.
"Maybe," McCain hedged even further.
When BW put the same loaded question to Ralph Nader, who is running for president for the fourth time, he gave a much more direct answer.
"Today, Russia is not an empire, it's a frightened country, very impoverished, ruled by about 2,000 oligarchs, and Putin and the Kremlin," Nader said. "We shouldn't try to talk belligerently to them."
While Obama and McCain jockey for room to condemn Russia for its August incursion into Georgian territory, Nader laid the blame on Georgia for starting the conflict and then segued into a denunciation of the U.S. empire led by "King George and the 50 colonies."
Nader, who is coming to Boise State Oct. 21, is one of five names on the Idaho ballot for president of the United States this year. Libertarian Party candidate Bob Barr and Constitution Party candidate Chuck Baldwin also made the cut and will appear on ballots.
"People can vote their conscience because it's a slam-dunk McCain state," Nader said.
While Obama supporters may disagree that it's a slam dunk, Obama is not likely to appear in Idaho in the next three weeks. Nor is McCain.
"You won't see candidate Obama or candidate McCain campaigning in Idaho, will you? Because Obama has written it off and McCain can take it for granted," Nader said.
Barr and Baldwin would probably do well to show up in Idaho, if they can afford the gas money. Libertarian and Constitution party presidential candidates garnered more than 3,000 votes each in Idaho in 2004.
Nader took in a remarkable 12,000 Idaho votes in a write-in campaign in 2000, but did not do as well in his 2004 bid. This year, running as an independent, Nader is on the Idaho ballot for the first time and expects to win a significant number of votes.
He has spent some time this election season appearing with other third-party candidates and failed Republican candidate Ron Paul, discussing the need for a broader spectrum of political parties in the United States.
"They are often for or against what you believe, but they give more choices to voters, they invigorate public discussion, they force you to defend your positions more vigorously," Nader said.
In a noteworthy joint appearance in September at the National Press Club, Nader, Paul, Baldwin and Green Party presidential candidate Cynthia McKinney offered a few principles on which they all agree.
Their shared policies include rapid withdrawal from Iraq and more diplomacy, protecting civil liberties and privacy, freezing the national debt and an audit of the Federal Reserve, including a prescient opposition to corporate bailouts.
And they all agree that third-party candidates who make the ballot in enough states should be allowed to debate the other presidential contenders.
But that is about where the agreement stops.
Darrell Castle, a Memphis attorney who is Baldwin's vice-presidential pick for the Constitution Party, said that, after the Constitution, his party rallies against abortion and illegal immigration.
"It sounds like a cliche, but we believe very strongly in the Constitution," Castle told BW. "We have a good party in Idaho."
Baldwin is a pastor at a large Florida church who emerged in 2004 as the party's vice-presidential nominee. The Constitution Party unites several strands of right-wing American politics including Christian fundamentalists, angry immigration opponents and anti-tax activists. They aggressively attack the Republican Party and George W. Bush, whom they accuse of selling out their conservative ideology.
"We're pro-America, and we believe that a nation without borders is not a nation," Castle said.
Constitutionalists oppose a "new world order" and "one-world government," and they believe that the U.S. government has entered into a secret agreement to form a "North American Union" with Canada and Mexico, a notion that anti-immigration forces have seized upon with blinding enthusiasm.
"The North American Union is a conspiracy," Castle told BW, "between President Bush and former Mexican President Vicente Fox."
The Barr campaign did not return repeated phone calls from BW, but Rob Oates, chairman of the Idaho Libertarian Party, said that the Republicans no longer represent his ideals either.
"The Republican Party that I grew up with has moved so far to the left that I just didn't recognize it anymore," said Oates, who serves on the Caldwell City Council.
Oates said he has met Barr and supports him, but that he was an odd pick for the party this year.
"Libertarians have kind of a challenge ... Bob Barr came from the Republican Party, and he was a sponsor and a great supporter of some things that Libertarians traditionally have issues with."
Barr, who was a congressman from Georgia, has espoused some of the moralistic positions found within the Republican and Constitution Parties, like condemning medical marijuana and support of the Defense of Marriage Act. Barr also voted for the Patriot Act but has since changed his views on surveillance and the War on Drugs to a more Libertarian bent.
Libertarian candidate Kent Marmon is making a bid for the U.S. Senate seat being abandoned by Larry Craig, and the party has four Idaho legislative candidates in this election.
Oates said that Libertarians agree on the goal, but not always on how to get there.
"There's a lot of people in the Libertarian movement who, in very good faith, believe, as I do, that our government is way, way, way, beyond the size that it should be," Oates said. "We differ in how to get to where we want to be."
Barr is from the more practical and less ideological shrinking-government school, Oates added.
Constitutionalists and Libertarians alike respect Nader for his opposition to the mainstream parties and for some of the positions that unite left and right.
Nader offered this unsolicited comment: "We also want Idaho farmers to be able to grow industrial hemp ... it has so many uses: replacing oil, for food, clothing, lubricants, paper, and it's illegal to grow it in the country, but it's legal to import it. Obama and McCain are for the drug war in its current composition."
And when he comes to Idaho, he'll offer an agricultural message: "We believe in strict enforcement of the anti-trust laws on the supplier oligopoly of seeds and fertilizer companies and the buying oligopoly of ADM, Cargill and the big meat packers who now own more livestock than the family farmer."
Now when is the last time you heard a discussion on oligopoly in a presidential debate?
Nader will speak Tuesday, Oct. 21, 1 p.m., at Boise State's Special Events Center for a speech and rally.