Duopoly Ideology and the Falsification of Reality

In its most extreme form, duopoly ideology amounts to nothing less than the overt falsification of reality. As I argued in a post on the ideology of the two-party state last week, the "limits of two-party ideology become readily apparent when one attempts to think third party and independent politics within the frames established by duopolist narratives and categories. The logic literally begins to break down, miring the thinker in both contradictions and tautologies." The conservative Republican enthusiasm for Doug Hoffman's third party campaign in NY's 23rd has led to the proliferation of such contradictions, in their most extreme form, precisely because the stance requires the partisan duopolist ideologue to fully endorse a third party candidate while still retaining credibility as a partisan duopolist ideologue, thus heightening the contradiction. Rush Limbaugh provides us with a prominent example of such dialectical gymnastics at work.

Since the first national tea party mobilization in April, Limbaugh has been a vocal opponent of independent and third party political activism. On April 16th, Limbaugh argued that the "tea parties were a great success, but [conservatives must] resist the third party temptation . . . there's a possibility that this is going to lead to a third-party movement, and that's death," as I emphasized at the time. In July, Limbaugh struck similar tones: "I'm telling you, there's a lot of talk about third party out there; that we ought to go third party. No. Let me tell you who ought to go third party, the people that hijacked our party" (see here also).

Yesterday, to justify his support for third party candidate Doug Hoffman, Limbaugh proffered the assertion that NY's 23rd "isn't a third party race"! We're all familiar with some version of this argument by now: Conservative Party candidate Hoffman is the "real" Republican, while the Republican candidate is a Republican-in-name-only; Hoffman will join the Republican Party once he's elected etc. Limbaugh's position is more well-developed, and so it offers a more nuanced perspective on the ideology that sustains the two-party state even in the defense of third party advocacy. However, one interesting thing about the radio host's monologue is – though he immediately hedges the statement – he begins from what can only be termed a radical independent or third party proposition, namely, that there is no difference between the Democratic and Republican Parties. Astounded that the GOP is running ads against Hoffman, Limbaugh states:
The Republican Party, as constituted, is as dangerous to this country as the Democrat Party is. "But, Rush, party loyalty is party loyalty, and the local Republican committee up there has endorsed Scozzafava." So? I'm saying the two parties are the same. I guess I need to amend it a little bit, but, man, when I saw that they were running ads, as I say, [it] ruined two hours of my day.
He then goes on to elaborate the circumstances of the current situation. Since Limbaugh emphasizes that this "teachable moment" is extremely "nuanced," let's consider his reasoning at some length:
In New York, the rules allow for very strong third parties in certain elections. The Conservative Party in New York generally, now, only runs candidates when the Republicans are liberal. Otherwise they don't work against the Republicans to help the Democrats, but here, you have an off-year election, you have an extreme liberal Republican. This is not a RINO. This is not a Republican-in-name-only. This is an extreme liberal Republican who may as well be a Democrat . . .

NY-23 is a special election. There was no primary. Doug Hoffman would have challenged Scozzafava in the Republican primary had there been one. He would have had the backing of New York's Conservative Party as is often the case there. You have to understand that the Conservative Party does not look at themselves as a third party. Only do they get in gear when the Republicans nominate some liberal. Ronald Reagan opposed third-party races because he believed that conservatives needed to take back the Republican Party . . .

Hoffman wanted to run as a Republican. He is a Republican. He was passed over by the GOP, who picked Scozzafava instead. So he's running on the Conservative Party ticket because the GOP passed him over, but this is a wake-up call for both parties . . .

I know the temptation for a third party is tempting, but right now conservatism is on the ascendancy, it's actually good to be a conservative, and this is the time to reassert control over the Republican Party. It's not going to be easy but the Democrats, the far left didn't go out and form a third party. They took over the Democrat Party . . .

So a lot of prominent Republican conservatives are stepping up here and look, I want to emphasize on this third-party business again, in a functioning two-party system the primary system is the check on the worst impulse or impulses of the party bosses. That's the theme here that I think people need to understand because it's easy to understand, and it's right on the money . . . When you have primaries, the rank-and-file cannot only overrule the party bosses, they can actually make the party bosses behave better.
Limbaugh thus argues that since this is a special election for which there was no primary, and since New York has a strong Conservative Party, and the Republican establishment's candidate is unpalatable, it is necessary to support the third party candidate Hoffman, who is a Republican, and who represents a third party that "does not look at themselves as a third party"; but, otherwise, conservatives should focus on infiltrating the Republican Party because that's what Reagan advocated and because the far left did not form a third party but rather infiltrated the Democratic Party.

First, we should register the deep irony of the fact that the "far left" here functions as a strategic model in Limbaugh's thinking. Nonetheless, infiltrationist strategy refutes itself. Conservatives and libertarians have been "taking over" the Republican Party for upwards of forty years, when has this strategy ever succeeded?

Second, Limbaugh emphasizes the importance of primaries: "in a functioning two-party system the primary system is the check on the worst impulse or impulses of the party bosses," he continues, "when you have primaries, the rank-and-file cannot only overrule the party bosses, they can actually make the party bosses behave better." Perhaps it has never occurred to Limbaugh that, in a functioning democratic republic, the people should not have to "check" the "impulses" of any "party bosses". Indeed, that the impulses of party bosses need to be checked at all is evidence that a "functioning" two party system does not function to the benefit of the people, the "rank-and-file." In the end, the best check on the Republican and Democratic Party political establishment is third party and independent opposition to the two-party system.

Finally, we come to Limbaugh's ideological falsification of reality. He states: "the Conservative Party does not look at themselves as a third party. Only do they get in gear when the Republicans nominate some liberal." Actually, the Conservative Party of New York State is not affiliated with any other party, national or local, though they are affiliated with the American Conservative Union. Limbaugh is correct to state that they often only nominate a separate candidate for a given office when neither the Republican nor Democratic candidates is deemed acceptable. However, it is in precisely these cases that the Conservative Party effectively functions as an independent third party against the stooges of the Democratic-Republican duopoly. And this is the case in the present race. How does the Conservative Party describe itself? On its "history" page, we read:
The Conservative Party was formed in 1962 to restore a meaningful choice to the voters of New York State. At that time, the three existing political parties espoused the doctrinaire liberal philosophy of the welfare state at home and the collectivist ideology abroad. In just four short decades, the party has grown from a small band of conservative-minded men and women to a statewide organization of almost 170,000 individuals dedicated to the traditional American values of individual freedom, individual responsibility and individual effort.

From a humble beginning garnering 141,000 votes on ballot Row F, our principles have attracted Empire State voters in sufficient numbers to raise the Party to Row C and twice received over a million votes for our candidate in a statewide election. From the founding of the party, it has been successively chaired by Kieran O’Doherty, J. Daniel Mahoney, Serphin R. Maltese and Michael R. Long. Through the leadership of these men and the hard work of committee members, the Conservative Party elected James L. Buckley to the U. S. Senate, William Carney to the House of Representatives, Serphin R. Maltese to the State Senate, Rosemary R. Gunning and Charles Jerabec to the State Assembly, and numerous county, city, town and village offices.
No matter how Limbaugh and his duopolist ilk choose to spin it, Doug Hoffman is a third party candidate, and his candidacy proves that third party candidates are viable contenders for public office.


Samuel Wilson said...

I'm not sure that Limbaugh isn't right about the Conservative Party, but I guess one's judgment depends on whether you think a viable third party should always field its own candidates in every election. But if you grant third parties the prerogative of cross-endorsement, aren't you conceding that the Bipolarchy is the default state of electoral politics? A more credible approach might be to nominate someone before the Republicans or Democrats hold their primaries and invite the other parties to endorse your candidate. The Conservatives in New York don't do this often because they seem more concerned about holding on to Row C than in trying for Row A someday.

d.eris said...

The Bipolarchy is the hegemonic ideological formation even in one-party polities. The interesting thing about this race, imo, is that an alternative third party campaign has basically succeeded in displacing one of the duopoly parties, by redirecting anti-third party memes and slogans against one of the major candidates, ex. Scozzafava is the spoiler etc. But this does not mean it's not a third party candidacy. Even though the Conservative Party often simply endorses one of the duopoly candidates, in this instance, they have a potential winner of their own. Hopefully, it will embolden them (and third party and independent activism across the board) to take more stands in future races, as you suggested in a recent post at Think 3.