"Did we have opening statements," former CNN and current Ora.tv host Larry King asked after candidates at Tuesday's minor-party debate in Chicago had each answered the first question.
"Unfortunately, no," debate co-host Christina Tobin of the Free and Equal Elections Foundation answered. "Grassroots!"
"OK, this will be the opening statement, and then we'll go to the second question," King said, and that was that.
So it went onstage at the Hilton Chicago, where Tobin's group hosted a debate between four minor-party presidential candidates who have made the ballot in enough states to win the presidency: Green Party candidate Jill Stein, Libertarian Party candidate and former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson, Constitution Party candidate and former Virginia congressman of both the Republican and Democratic parties Virgil Goode, and Justice Party candidate Rocky Anderson.
Free and Equal will host a "runoff" debate in Washington, D.C., Tuesday between the two candidates who receive the most votes on the group's website, FreeandEqual.org.
The candidates beat up not only on the two major parties, but on mainstream policies. Free college education, term limits, marijuana legalization and an end to political action committees were among the ideas proposed at Tuesday night's debate, which was broadcast by C-SPAN, Russia TV, and Al Jazeera English.
"We've all suffered through the sellout of our government to Wall Street," Anderson, 61 and a former Salt Lake City, Utah, mayor, said. "Young people are burdened with crushing, record tuition debt. Millions of families have lost their homes … while Wall Street fat cats who are buying our elections have made out like bandits."
"When it comes to political campaign contributions, the candidates should be required to wear NASCAR-like jackets with patches on the jackets commensurate" to contributions, Johnson said. "Regardless of whether or not Romney gets elected or Obama gets elected … we're going to find ourselves with a continued, heightened police state in this country; we're going to find ourselves continuing to militarily intervene in the world, which has resulted in hundreds of millions of enemies to this country that wouldn't otherwise exist."
Opposition to political money was on full display across the stage.
"I want to pass an amendment that clarifies that money is not speech and corporations are not people," said the Green Parry's Stein, 62, a Massachusetts physician.
Former Virginia congressman Goode, 66, said, "I'm for no political action committees; individual contributions only. No super PACs. And I believe Congress can craft legislation with presidential leadership to stop political action committees."
Goode was the only candidate onstage not to support marijuana legalization, a major plank in Johnson's Libertarian platform, and the major plank when he began touring college campuses in advance of his run for president in early 2011.
"Let's end the drug wars. Legalize marijuana now," the former Republican 59, said. "Let's repeal the PATRIOT Act. I would have never signed the National Defense Authorization Act, allowing you and I, as U.S. citizens, to be arrested and detained without being charged. That's the reason we fought wars in this country."
The full political spectrum was on display, from Stein's support for free, government-funded college education and a "Green New Deal," to Anderson's proposal of a WPA-like program and protections from sexual-orientation discrimination, to Goode's insistence that the government can't afford more Pell education grants, to Johnson's call for a 43-percent cut in military spending and opposition to government's involvement in marriage and drug policy.
The common thread was opposition to corporations, political spending and staid power structures.
"Imagine if there had been a candidate included in the Obama-Romney debates to challenge our plutocracy, our government that is run by and for the benefit of monstrous corporations rather than in the interest of the people of this country," Anderson said in his closing remarks.
Larry King offered a compliment, and a literary comparison.
"You're kind of Don Quixotes in a way," King said, "but the windmills have a way of stopping, and we have a way of saluting you just for getting into the fray."