Don't Get Fooled Again: Duopoly Ideology, Infiltration and Independent Strategy

In Pennsylvania's Lehigh Valley, The Morning Call reports on the simmering antagonism between the the area's tea party activists, the Lehigh Valley Tea Party, and the leadership of the local Republican Party. Likening the movement to the "conservative populists" who drove Ross Perot's campaigns for the presidency in the 1990's, the piece in the end pushes an infiltrationist strategy that would fold the movement into the duopoly system. Scott Kraus has the story:
The group of concerned taxpayers, fiscally conservative Republicans, independents and even a few disaffected Democrats, is giving the local GOP headaches by criticizing party leadership. The party has paid lip service to its conservative base for too long, and shouldn't assume it has the new movement's support, said Kim Schmidtner, a leader of the Lehigh Valley Project 9-12/Tea Party group. ''The Republicans [say] it's all about the taxes, cutting taxes, lowering taxes,'' said Schmidtner, of Lower Saucon. ''But it's also the spending and borrowing. If you look at the records of the sitting Republicans now, they have borrowed millions of dollars.'' . . .

It all sounds remarkably familiar to Wind Gap attorney Nick Sabatine. He remembers sitting in a boardroom in 1992 with Ross Perot and leaders of a new fiscally conservative protest movement that would briefly become the Patriot Party, trying to map out a national strategy. ''The only thing missing is the national focus of a Perot,'' said Sabatine, now a Republican. ''But the types of people who are getting involved are really identical to what happened in the Perot movement.'' Sabatine, who served as Patriot Party chairman for a time, has actually run into people he remembers from Patriot Party events at Tea Party events. ''Conservative populists'' he calls them . . . Sabatine said he's advised group members not to launch a third party, but instead try to take over the GOP, nominate candidates they can back, and hold them to small government principles. ''Run for committee person, join the Republican party, take over the party,'' Sabatine said. [Emphasis added.]

The Lehigh Valley Tea Party group has set up committees, is holding regular meetings and working on the ''hold them responsible'' part of the equation, said Matthew Bencol, of Palmer Township. It plans candidate forums for the November local elections in both counties and will rate candidates on their adherence to limited government principles they say are spelled out in the Constitution. ''I don't know if we are going to affect them that much, but we are hoping to just educate people where the candidates stand,'' Bencol said. At the very least, it will be good practice for 2010, he said.

Lehigh County Republican Committee Chairman William Platt II said the 9/12 Tea Party movement's uncompromising approach and ''anti-politician'' ethos isn't going to help their cause. ''It's a concern to me that a group that stands for limited government, that principle only, is working against the Republican Party that is working for that same principle and many others,'' Platt said.
Reading this last line, I was unable to suppress a chuckle at Platt's apparently earnest belief in his party's propaganda. Nonetheless, at The Humble Libertarian, W.E. Messamore recently posed the very same question that is confronting the Lehigh Valley tea party organization: "Do we work within the two-party system?" At Organized Exploitation, Paul Kroenke argues in response that the ideal strategy would integrate infiltration of the duopoly parties and independent opposition to them: "I see no reason that we cannot infiltrate BOTH parties, WHILE growing a third party that stands ready to inherit the crumbling pieces of a failing major party." One reason might be limited resources. However, as I've noted before, the argument in favor of infiltrating the duopoly parties refutes itself: infiltration shares many of the drawbacks of a third party or independent effort and has none of the advantages; one moment, the would-be infiltrator plainly states that the Republican and Democratic Parties are hostile to the very idea of liberty itself, and then urges that we join up with them in the next; if it is better to work within an existing party than to build a new one from scratch, there are any number of already-existing third parties that would be a better vehicle for political reform than either of the duopoly parties etc.

Perhaps the single greatest political propaganda coup of duopolist ideologues over the last thirty years is their success in branding the Democratic Party as beholden to left-wing liberal-progressives, and the GOP as the party of small, limited government. Actual Socialists and Libertarians have been fighting such misconceptions for decades. For the present, let's consider the latter though. Writing for The Free Market, a publication of The Mises Institute, in 1988, Sheldon Richman detailed "the sad legacy of Ronald Reagan":

The budget for the Department of Education, which candidate Reagan promised to abolish along with the Department of Energy, has more than doubled to $22.7 billion, Social Security spending has risen from $179 billion in 1981 to $269 billion in 1986. The price of farm programs went from $21.4 billion in 1981 to $51.4 billion in 1987, a 140% increase. And this doesn't count the recently signed $4 billion "drought-relief" measure. Medicare spending in 1981 was $43.5 billion; in 1987 it hit $80 billion. Federal entitlements cost $197.1 billion in 1981—and $477 billion in 1987.

Foreign aid has also risen, from $10 billion to $22 billion. Every year, Reagan asked for more foreign-aid money than the Congress was willing to spend. He also pushed through Congress an $8.4 billion increase in the U.S. "contribution" to the International Monetary Fund.

His budget cuts were actually cuts in projected spending, not absolute cuts in current spending levels. As Reagan put it, "We're not attempting to cut either spending or taxing levels below that which we presently have."

The result has been unprecedented government debt. Reagan has tripled the Gross Federal Debt, from $900 billion to $2.7 trillion. Ford and Carter in their combined terms could only double it. It took 31 years to accomplish the first postwar debt tripling, yet Reagan did it in eight.

Just last week, in an interview for Reason TV, the Chairman of the Libertarian National Committee, William Redpath, made the case against the proposition that Regan Republicanism is small government conservatism:
During Reagan’s eight years in office, the federal government spent a total of about 22% of GDP. (That’s the biggest-spending eight years since World War II.) Spending grew from $678 billion to $1.14 trillion. So much for cutting government. Reagan also escalated the War on Drugs, heightened trade barriers, and increased farm subsidies. And of course, he sent the federal debt through the roof.
Ronald Reagan is of course the political icon and patron saint of small government conservative Republicans. When GOP apparatchiks argue that their party stands for limited government, and lecture us about the "dangers" of third party and independent activism, the only appropriate response is laughter, or perhaps contempt mixed with pity. The same goes for Democratic partisans of the political status quo. The Republican and Democratic Parties are no longer effective vehicles for the political representation of the people of the United States, but rather obstacles to such representation. This is not to say, however, that they serve no representative function at all. For it is entirely clear who and what they represent.


Liberal Arts Dude said...

Excellent post! I don't necessarily know of Libertarian and conservative blogs and sources of news that are exploring anti-duopoly ideas and viewpoints so the links you are providing here are very valuable. Especially the essay by C. Rich who is a conservative -- I found myself agreeing with much of what he had to say. This is a practical demonstration of the Left-Right overlap I was talking about in my blog posts on big picture issues.

Theresa Amato's Grand Illusion I think should be read widely by folks who feel this way regardless of their political ideology so they have a good idea of the obstacles third parties and independents face in the electoral arena.

I heard of another upcoming book that looks like it should also be required reading: Not Invited to the Party: How the Demopublicans Have Rigged the System and Left Independents Out in the Cold by James Bennett. Public education on these issues is sorely needed because most people just aren't aware these books, activists, and authors exist. We need to change that.

d.eris said...

Thanks, LAD. I haven't read the Amato book, but I've watched a couple roundtable discussions that she's taken part in an read a couple articles, very good stuff with tons of information. The Bennett is a good recommendation as well, I was not familiar.

In terms of conservative and libertarian blogs and sources critical of the two-party system, there are a number in my 'Rough Guide to the Third Party Blogosphere.' That link is from a reposting at IPR. In the comments, paulie supplied a ton more links, a lot of them libertarian leaning, that I haven't even gotten through yet, though it's been a couple months now.

Paul Kroenke said...

I've responded. This is going to be an interesting discussion. I look forward to it!