Against Historical Fatalism: the Politics of Possibility

Agitation for third party activism on the right continues to rile partisans of the political status quo. As I noted in 'Tea Partisanship,' John Hawkins of Right Wing News is an unabashed apologist for the duopoly system of government and lesser-of-two-evils voting. At Townhall, he has published an article entitled, "Three Reasons Why a Successful Third Party Wouldn't Solve Anything." Though he initially proves incapable of supplying his readers with anything other than the usual duopolist platitudes, the brunt of Hawkins' piece ironically reveals the inherent weaknesses of US two-party politics.

If you're reading these pages, you are likely already familiar with the article's first set of arguments against third party activism: such efforts have been unsuccessful in the past, a third party would take too long to build, and in the meantime it would strengthen the Democratic Party. Like his fellow advocates of the duopoly parties, the author makes virtues of historical fatalism, impatience, and lesser-evilism. The second half of the article begins from the premise that the hypothetical third party effort under consideration is successful:
At long last, the Republican Party goes into the dust heap of history and the new purer third party rises up, phoenix-like from the ashes to take its place. Then, everything would be right with the world! Well, not exactly.
Since the assumption is that this party simply replaces the Republican Party, Hawkins' argument no longer effectively applies to third party activism, and thus his critique inadvertently and ironically provides a number of strong arguments against the reigning two-party system and in favor of third party politics. He first mentions, but dismisses, "the possibility that the Democrats would rig the rules of the game to make it all but impossible for an opposing party to get back into power." Of course, the system is already rigged in this fashion by bipartisan consensus: the Republican and Democratic Parties have fixed the rules, at local, state and federal levels, to ensure the exclusion of oppositional parties and voices from the nation's politics. This, of itself, is reason to support independent and third party efforts to expand the scope of political representation in government.

Next, Hawkins writes, "the exact same people who are ruining the Republican Party would move over to the third party and ruin it, too." This is not so much an argument against the hypothetical third party, as it is an indictment of the Republican Party and the rampant opportunism that drives duopoly politics. Yet, it also reveals the author's inability to conceive of a politics different from that peddled by the Democrats and Republicans, and divorced from the duopoly form. This becomes clear in his final point:
the Libertarian Party, Constitution Party, Green Party, etc. are much purer than the Republican and Democratic parties -- but there's a reason for that: they're not in power. They don't have a leech class that just wants to keep their cushy jobs. They don't get to hand out earmarks that indirectly put hundreds of thousands of dollars into the pockets of their families, friends, and political allies. They don't have to take electoral considerations into their policy positions because they don't ever get elected to anything. It's easy to be pure when you're on the outside looking in. When you have skin in the game and doing the right, but unpopular thing may cost you the job of a lifetime.
Though the Republican and Democratic Parties are certainly filled with parasites who trade political favors for campaign contributions, and have no aspirations beyond gorging themselves and their friends at the public trough in the service of their careerist political ambitions, this does not imply that an effectively organized and disciplined opposition party could not defend itself against the trappings of power. In a piece on the outlines of a successful third party at The Jacksonian Party, A. Jacksonian points out:
To even think of forming a party that is different, one needs to put forward a different schema for it to come about. It does no good, whatsoever, to recreate the exact, same party structure of other parties as we have all been witness to what happens to those structures in the way of corruption and influence over time.
The Libertarian Party platform states, "political parties should be allowed to establish their own rules for nomination procedures, primaries and conventions." Internal self-regulation is the first defense against political corruption. The Green Party, for instance, does not allow its candidates to accept corporate campaign contributions. Parties may freely decide to term-limit officials elected on their ballot ticket, as multiple chapters of the Modern Whig Party have done (ex. Delaware and New York). On a related note, Shafeen Charania makes this precise point in a post on focus and discipline, advocating for the self-imposition of term limits by elected officials interested in changing the reigning political status quo.

Hawkins' piece demonstrates, yet again, the unwillingness or inability of duopolists to imagine a political organization different from those of the duopoly parties, and a form of politics not constrained by the two-party straitjacket. Fortunately, not everyone on the right or the left has resigned themselves to historical fatalism and lesser-evilism. At The Daily Conservative, Patrick Britton writes:
Every couple years we vote and every couple years we chose the lesser of two evils. As a conservative I a can no longer accept the half wits the Republicans push on me. As a Democrat you should no longer allow your party to decide your worth. There’s an unnecessary stigma around third party candidates. They are not ‘the other choice’ anymore. They are the clear choice. The only way to break the cycle is to stop repeating the cycle. Simple enough, I urge you to vote Libertarian, to vote for the Constitution Party; to vote for anyone who speaks for freedom.
Update: A number of other folks have weighed in on Hawkins' piece. At Renew America, Mark West focuses on Hawkins' various false assumptions, while Rust Belt Philosophy emphasizes the ways in which he simply misses the point.


Michael said...

Once again, our worlds of thought have collided! Your post resonated especially with me today - we were forced into a premature unveiling of our independent effort yesterday when the press became aware of what we were doing and reported on it. We're out actively collecting petition signatures to try to create our independent ballot initiative, the No New Tax Party.

There is no doubt that the task is enormous, but already we're experiencing the expected "backlash" from certain party interests. The positive thing about that, I suppose, is that at least we've got their attention! Check out more details on my post at The Rotterdam Windmill. We're still a long way from making it to the ballot but we're working hard to make it happen.

d.eris said...

Ha, cool. Good luck with the petitioning! I went to the Windmill, but couldn't find the article in the Daily Gazette, is it not online? I'd be interested in seeing the press.

Michael said...

Yeah, surprisingly and unfortunately they didn't include it online. If/when a link becomes available I'll update it.