On the Temptations of Pragmatic Opportunism

For third party and independent activists there is always the temptation to slide back into the duopoly frame. Confronted with the difficulty of challenging Republican and Democratic political hegemony from the outside, they are often asked: why not work within the system by mounting a primary challenge, for instance, and seek to change the parties from the inside? This has been the strategy of innumerable progressives and libertarians, who have sought, in the name of pragmatism, to gain influence within the Democratic and Republican Parties. To paraphrase the old saying, pragmatism sounds good in theory, but it doesn't work in practice. As I have argued before, opportunism of this sort, the infiltration strategy, shares many of the drawbacks of a third party or independent run and has none of the advantages. Consider the following response to Rand Paul's announcement that he will seek the Republican nomination for Senate in Kentucky. Jonathan Gaby's Capital Conservative, a Kentucky-based news blog, writes:
With Senator Jim Bunning’s announcement that he will not seek re-election to the United States Senate, many promising candidates have announced their intentions of running for office. Rand Paul, a Bowling Green Opthamologist and son of Congressman Ron Paul (R-TX), has formally announced that he will seek the Republican nomination for candidate for the US Senate . . . Paul’s nomination effectively represents a different faction within the Republican Party, that of the anti-establishment. Paul’s campaign, in essence, has taken on a more “libertarian” feel . . .

He seems at least cold to especially the democrat party but also to the Republican party. A newcomer in politics and campaigns should know to win Republicans to his cause is critical.
As a registered Republican and party official I think he complains more about what’s wrong with our party than inspiring me toward becoming a better GOP . . .

A self-professed “independent Republican,” Paul continues his theme of independence, almost to the extent of a flavor of a third party run.
If he continues with that approach towards the GOP he stands at losing voters in the primary. If he is serious about securing the GOP nomination he needs to dial back the rhetoric and flavor of a third party candidate and get with the GOP to organize all counties for effective “get-out-the-vote” strategy. Instead, I predict that his cavalier attitude will trickle down to his supporters who will only help Rand Paul, not other down ticket candidates. Politically he would be more effective if cooperating with the overall GOP towards a more effective campaign apparatus. [Emphasis added.]
Ron Paul Republicans and Campaign for Liberty activists have been among the most vocal supporters of infiltration. In June, in a post on 'Infiltration or Independence,' I questioned one libertarian hopeful's strategy for "changing the face of the Republican Party in Massachusetts." Peter Schiff, economics adviser to Ron Paul's 2008 presidential campaign, has been controversially urging "Libertarian Party members work within the Republican Party," and is considering a challenge to Senator Chris Dodd in Connecticut as a Republican. Over the course of the next election cycle, we may well find out how well pragmatic opportunism works in practice.


RHKINC said...

Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe in the Republican Party could be said to not follow party line. The blue dog democrats also stray and almost form their own political entity in office. The two party system represents the majority of viewpoints in the country while allowing independant thought for its members. Sure, the political parties try to create a solid base but the people within still have their own minds. The "duopoly" is a generalization I believe misrepresents the actual situation of our political spectrum.

d.eris said...

RHK, thanks for the comment. Moderate Republicans like Snowe and Collins and the Blue Dog Democrats likely share more in common with one another than they do with many others in their respective parties; both groups, for instance, are often derided as RINOs and DINOs, respectively, by conservative Repubs and liberal Dems. I think it'd be good if they declared their independence.

I do not agree though that the two-party system represents the majority of viewpoints in the country. The country is multi-polar and multi-dimensional politically, socially, economically, but the two party system is necessarily bi-polar.

As for 'duopoly,' I think it's an apt term, defined as "an economic or political condition in which power is concentrated in two persons or groups."