Pyrric Strategy and Two-Party Ideology

Partisans of the Democratic-Republican Party and the duopoly system of government will often admit their disdain for the major parties, but justify their continuing loyalty, rationalized as pragmatism, on the basis of the brute fact of the two-party system. The rigidity of this ideological formation is nowhere more clear than in their defenses against the appearance of advocating third party or independent activism. At Open Left, John Emerson asks: "Why is the Democrat Party so worthless?" But he is careful in pointing out: "But before anyone gets hysterical, I am not proposing a third party, at least not nationally." On the other hand, at Axis of Right, Sal draws attention to a purge of the Liberty Caucus from the Florida GOP, concluding:
If Conservatives start to be shut out from the primaries, what is the recourse then? One thing is for sure — if the GOP continues to try to court conservatives at election time, but treat them as unwanted children the rest of the time, the GOP will die a slow and painful death. I am not advocating a third-party here, as it will almost certainly lead to electoral defeat.
Given that self-described progressives and libertarians both clearly recognize that the Democratic and Republican Parties are hostile toward their interests and the aims of their activism, one might reasonably wonder how much longer they will continue to entertain the fiction that the Democratic and Republican Parties are the appropriate vehicle for securing those interests and achieving those aims. The liberal progressive strategy of electing "more and better Democrats" is fatally flawed, insofar as "more" Democrats are not "better" Democrats, as the current congressional majority demonstrates. Ironically, progressives could have learned this lesson from the failed conservative libertarian strategy of electing "more and better" Republicans, which resulted in the disastrous Republican congressional majority under the previous administration.

It is almost comical how vociferously some progressives and libertarians will argue against third party and independent activism, asserting that it leads only to defeat, while they opportunistically espouse the virtues of Democratic-Republican partisanship, even though this strategy demonstrably leads only to Pyrrhic victories.


smijer said...

Speaking as a liberal... I feel the same conflict. Why should I think that if I (and numerous other liberals) scoot, the most prominent result won't be another rightist regime in power in the next 2-6 years?

Personally, I'm to the point - or nearly to the point that I'm willing to bail on the system and let the chips fall where they may. But what would make me comfortable and eager to do so - and probably many others - is some type of guarantee that doing so won't guarantee our own complete irrelevance and the unchallenged ascendency of something akin to the Bush years.

d.eris said...

I think that's precisely the deadlock of the lesser-evil strategy. But there are never any guarantees in politics. Progressives and conservatives both seem to have adopted a simple primary opposition strategy to incumbents they find problematic. But at the same time, there are dozens, if not many more, election contests every cycle where the incumbent pretty much goes unopposed by anyone at all. This is where the two-party system devolves to one-party rule. A strong third party or independent contender in such races could change conventional ideas of what is viable, or possible, and does not rule out supporting Democrats or Republicans in elections that are actually competitive.

Samuel Wilson said...

smijer points to the real issue: conservatives and Republicans don't exist alone in a vacuum, nor do Democrats and progressives. Each is all too conscious of the ideological enemy and sees the enemy's triumph as the worst case scenario that must be prevented at all costs. There's a reductionist tendency to assume the existence of one big enemy, and this is crucial to bipolarchial thinking. Dissidents need to be simultaneously more and less tolerant; more tolerant of the ideological enemy and more willing to risk "let[ting] the chips fall where they may," and less tolerant of those who only seem similar and sympathetic by comparison to the ideological enemy.