Steve Chapman

When was the last time you heard a politician propose to abolish the Internal Revenue Service, as Ron Paul did in the GOP debate? When was the last time you heard a member of Congress recommend the impeachment of Vice President Dick Cheney, as Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, did? A candidate who embraces both of those positions might unite the country like nobody since Kelly Clarkson entered "American Idol."

Without the peripheral candidates, the debates would resemble the dining choices available on rural interstates: Wendy's or McDonald's? Uncluttered debates would also rarely yield moments of unvarnished candor. One came from Mike Gravel, who summed up his view of Iraq: "You know what's worse than a soldier dying in vain? It's more soldiers dying in vain."

If the lesser-knowns make fools of themselves or attract no support, they probably won't be around long. But they ought to get a chance to offer their ideas to the American electorate before the campaign turns into a poll-driven battle of bank accounts and spinmeisters.

If the problem is too many people trying to get their message across at once, the answer is not to exclude candidates but to hold mini-debates among two or three at a time. I for one would buy a ticket to see Kucinich and Clinton face off on the war, or to watch Rudy Giuliani try to keep his composure while arguing about the constitutional limits of federal power with Paul.

And for anyone who thinks we have way too many candidates, my advice is to wait until Nov. 4, 2008. When you get your ballot and see the few choices on it, you'll miss the clutter.

Steve Chapman

Steve Chapman is a columnist and editorial writer for the Chicago Tribune.

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