On the Necessity of Political Independence and the Insufficiency of Infiltration

In the on-going debate between myself and Paul Kroenke at Organized Exploitation on the merits of an infiltrationist strategy aiming to change the duopoly parties from the inside, on the one hand, versus a third party and independent strategy challenging the two-party political status quo from the outside, on the other, Paul has most recently made the case that infiltration is not a form of compromise, in response to the proposition that "if you compromise from the outset, you'll be compromised in the end." Rather than summarize the discussion from its inception up to this point, perhaps it makes more sense now simply to lay it out post by post:

OE: On Challenging the Two-Party System
PT: Don't Get Fooled Again: Duopoly Ideology, Infilitration and Independent Strategy.
OE: Discussing Duopoly: An Argument for Infiltration.
PT: Against Infiltration: If you compromise from the outset, you'll be compromised in the end.
OE: Infiltrating the Duopoly: Why It's not Compromise.

In his initial argument for infiltration, Paul referenced the US Senate campaigns of Rand Paul in Kentucky and Peter Schiff in Connecticut as examples of libertarian-minded activists seeking to change the face of the GOP. In response, I argued that by employing an infiltrationist strategy both Senate hopefuls will suffer the drawbacks of a third party or independent campaign (ex. marginalization) but have none of its advantages (ex. independence from the major party's apparatus). Paul responds at Organized Exploitation:
First, pertaining to access to financial assets, let us remember that the examples of Peter Schiff and Rand Paul are outside of the ordinary. Peter Schiff has become a star of the economy on television and Youtube. Rand Paul is Ron Paul's son, and therefore has instant notoriety. Not to say that he is not his own man, but needless to say, there are thousands of doctors or lawyers (ugh) or businessmen, I'm sure, with political aspirations, who have not had the inside track to political notoriety that he has had. These are the candidates, without an inside track, that would find better access to financial resources by infiltrating an existing major party.
Among the handful of cliches that partisans of the two-party political order employ when arguing against third party and independent candidates for office – and here, of course, I am not referring to Paul – is that they often have little or no name recognition. The fact that Peter Schiff and Rand Paul are "outside of the ordinary" insofar as both are well-known and respected figures would have been an even greater asset had they decided to run independent or third party campaigns challenging the Democratic-Republican electoral duopoly and the corresponding ideological straitjacket from the outside, rather than expend political capital by allying themselves with a party that stands in open opposition to freedoms and values held dear by libertarians.

With regard to Paul at OE's latter point above, arguably, there are more hurdles to infiltrating a major party for people who do not have "the inside track to political notoriety" than there are for those who do. Infiltrators of this sort are subject to what I have elsewhere called "internal exclusion" from the major party. These are the political mimes of big tent circus politics, locked into an invisible box by the party's local apparatchiks. Independent and third party organizations, on the other hand, provide everyday folks with leadership opportunities that would be unavailable to them within either of the major parties, while offering the chance to have a real, significant impact within the organization. This point was made succinctly by Kimberly Wilder at On the Wilder Side in a talk elaborating the top ten reasons to engage in third party activism. She writes:
Third Parties are a way of creating smaller organizations, where new people, people of diversity, and people without huge amounts of wealth or family connections have a chance to practice leadership and give input into a national platform. Who do you know that is a Democratic delegate to the Presidential Convention? On the Democratic National Committee? Could you, yourself, ever hope to be? Within a few years of me being in the Green Party, I was able to be a Presidential Delegate. And, later a National Delegate. I do not believe that someone like me would have had the ability to participate on that level if I tried to participate (and had to compete) in the major party structure.
Consider, in this context, the Republican Party's choice of Dede Scozzafava over Doug Hoffman as their candidate for the special election in NY's 23rd congressional district. Rather than back a successful local businessman and an outspoken conservative for the office, the party leadership chose instead to promote one of their own for the post, a professional, career politician. Having decided to run a third party campaign against the Democratic and Republican candidates, with the backing of New York's Conservative Party, Hoffman can now make the case for his own candidacy while speaking out against the evils of the Democratic and Republican Parties and the two-party system as such.

Paul continues at OE:
He [Damon] argues that in order to strengthen a third party, all available resources should be thrown into that third party's efforts. He argues that since these people are going to be marginalized as cranks anyway, they may as well be marginalized as cranks while moving a third party forward, by allocating all resources to the third party. The obvious question to follow with, then, is if they are cranks in both cases, and their objective is to best represent their constituents, why not chase the opportunity that allows them to achieve some progress once elected? [Emphasis added.]

Now, given Damon's previous arugments, he will respond with something like "they will just become subjects to the parties' pay masters at some point anyway; big labor on the left, or big military business on the right." He will relegate their campaigns to being mere rhetoric to mask their subjectivity to said pay masters, as he has regarding even the likes of such movement figureheads as Reagan, Goldwater and McGovern. [Emphasis added.]

I don't think this argument holds water. I think people of principle will act on their principles no matter their party. Similarly, men and women lacking in character to such an extent that they would abandon their principles and fall into corporatist corruption would do so no matter their party. [Emphasis added.] While more parties would theoretically make it harder for corporations to influence politicians via influence over parties themselves, the politicians are ultimately responsible for their own actions. Sell outs are going to sell out no matter what. Likewise, men and women of principle will hold fast to their principles no matter what.
When Paul asks, "if they are cranks in both cases, and their objective is to best represent their constituents, why not chase the opportunity that allows them to achieve some progress once elected?" he presupposes that an infiltrationist strategy will be able achieve some form of progress for a given movement. In his announcement at the Connecticut Libertarian Party Convention that he would seek the nomination of the GOP, Peter Schiff . . .
. . . tells the audience that it is a waste of resources running as a minor party. "We haven't won anything in 40 years" and "we don't have another 40 years to try." Instead, he recommends joining the Republican party.
One might turn this statement right around. Where have forty years of infiltrationism gotten libertarian-leaning Republicans? As the examples of Goldwater, Reagan and McGovern demonstrate, infiltration has been an abject failure on both the left and the right. Libertarians and progressives have been working to transform the Republican and Democratic Parties from the inside for decades, and what do they have to show for it? One wonders what could have been accomplished had that time and money been spent building a real, effective opposition to the Democratic-Republican Party and the system of 'organized exploitation' the major parties represent. (By the way, Schiff's announcement that he would seek the GOP nomination in his campaign for Senate sparked a long and informative debate on the issue of infiltration vs. independence in the comments section at Independent Political Report.)

While an infiltrationist strategy might ingratiate a given candidate with the chosen major party's political leadership, the election of the very same candidate on a third party or independent ballot line, on the other hand, would, of itself, represent significant progress toward the goal of creating a more representative government while striking a blow against the two-party political status quo, and forcing widespread reconsideration of the numerous duopolist ideologemes that pass for "common wisdom" in US politics today. As I've stated before, the infiltration strategy is incapable of addressing the problem that is the two-party system and the ideology that sustains it. Indeed, it reproduces this problem.

In regard to Paul's final point of emphasis above – namely, that "people of principle will act on their principles no matter their party . . . [while] sell outs are going to sell out no matter what," – I think this relies on a view of the individual politician which is too abstract, in the sense that it does not take into account the effect of party on the individual and his or her responsibilities of representation. As Richard Winger of Ballot Access News pointed out in the above-mentioned discussion at Independent Political Report:
If someone gets elected as a Libertarian, he or she has a clear public mandate to work for libertarian policies . . . how someone gets elected influences what he or she is able to get done, even though the person is the same person.
In other words, Democratic and Republican politicians represent not only themselves and their constituents, but their parties as well, and often they represent the latter and the latter's interests first. As a representative of a specific party, it is perfectly in line with "principle" to stand with one's party even against one's better judgment, or else everyone would be an independent. Indeed, the Republican and Democratic Parties have arguably made a principle of such betrayals of principle. They call it 'pragmatism.'

Paul closes his piece at Organized Exploitation by reiterating his initial position, which he promises to elaborate in a future post, one I'm looking forward to reading: "it is possible to infiltrate both parties, while creating a third that would ultimately become a fallback for a fragmentation of a major party." While the form of our debate over the relative merits of infiltration vs. independence may make our respective positions appear further apart than they are in reality, Paul's formulation here might very well make our respective positions appear to be more closely related to one another than they are in fact. Or perhaps not.

Given the diversity of interests constitutive of the US electorate, which is multi-polar, it is an absurdity and an anachronism to continue to maintain the fiction that the bi-polar Democratic-Republican duopoly system of government is an effective means for representing the interests of the people of the United States. Third party and independent activism is necessary today not in order to prepare for the potential future failure of the two-party system, rather, it is necessary because the two-party system has been failing the people of the United States for quite some time.

I would be remiss not to mention here, finally, the efforts of Michael O'Connor of the Rotterdam Windmill, a Poli-Tea reader and occasional guest poster, who successfully secured both an independent ballot line for a new third party (the No New Tax Party) and the nomination of the Republican Party in his campaign for town council in Rotterdam NY. In his last guest post, which might be of interest to Paul at OE, Michael reflected on the process and politics of petitioning to establish a third party ballot line while pursuing a primary campaign within a major party.

UPDATE: Sam Wilson weighs in at The Think 3 Institute: "Parties are built all the time, but the Bipolarchy won't be broken until people disabuse themselves of the notions that they can only entrust power to those who already have it, and that those who don't already have power are self-evidently incompetent to exercise it." Septimus has been following the debate at The Whig as well.


Paul Kroenke said...

Good thoughts throughout.

I think I'm going to abandon the back and forth now that we've both articulated some thoughts for both sides.

My piece on a two (or three) pronged approach is going to develop as something of a strategic plan. It's rattling around in my brain at the moment. If it's not up tonite, then sometime tomorrow.

I'm hoping to be fairly comprehensive but all commentary once it's up will be very welcome.

Anonymous said...

Rand Paul is for the people, unless you want your children to have human implant RFID chips, a National ID card and create a North American Union and see an economic collapse far worse than the great depression. Vote for Rand Paul he speaks the truth and the media and government is afraid of him. This is the last honest politician left to bring this country out of this rut from the war profiteers and Obama administration has created. Get motivated America, don't believe the lies of the media! Go Rand Paul! Value freedom and liberty instead of corporate lies and corruption. Bypass this media blackout they are doing to Rand Paul, tell your family and friends and get involved in the official Rand Paul 2010 campaign and make your voice heard! He will end the war In Iraq immediately, He will do everything he can to eliminate the IRS and wasteful government spending, and expose the Federal Reserve and restore power to the people. Can any other runner make these claims or give Americans the true freedom we were all raised to believe? We are all economic slaves to the banks and the illegal Federal Reserve. This is why our currency is worth nothing because of the hidden inflation tax and also the IRS taking everything you make!


Rand Paul will NEVER vote:

* to raise taxes
* for an unbalanced budget
* to raise congressional pay
* for a federal restriction on gun ownership
* to increase the power of the executive branch

He WILL vote:

* against the Iraq war
* against the inappropriately named USA PATRIOT act
* against regulating the internet
* against the Military Commissions Act

Video Rand Paul Goes Head to Head With the Establishment at Fancy Farm
High: Must See: http://tinyurl.com/ychxzt3

He will eliminate the IRS, wasteful government spending & stop The Iraq war immediately! Most importantly, he will vote NO on anything in Congress that is not allowed by the U.S. Constitution. And he despises any politician that does not do their job for the people and does not live up to our Constitution! Google.com & Youtube.com Search: "Rand Paul" Kentucky needs a real Senator that will restore and protect Americans! Stop the war! Protect America's borders!

****VOTE RAND PAUL 2010****

d.eris said...

Thanks Paul. Good debate and discussion. I'm looking forward to the two (or three) pronged strategy piece. Check out Michael O'Connor's guest post and blog, he's already put something similar into practice.

d.eris said...

Hey Anon, thanks for writing. I appreciate your zeal, but perhaps you're overestimating what one senator would be able to accomplish. A question though: if Rand Paul is anti-war, anti-corruption, pro-freedom and pro-small government, why is he seeking the nomination of one of the two highly corrupt, pro-war, anti-freedom, big government duopoly parties?

Samuel Wilson said...

Will the Anonymous poster please explain how one Senator can end any war immediately? Meanwhile, I'll answer Damon's question with reference to Mr. Paul's father: because it's a shortcut to power and an instant bully pulpit. The problem with such a shortcut is that you don't actually build a mass movement of like-minded people, no matter what your personal virtue, but are stuck leeching off a system that needs you less than you need it. I don't doubt that young Paul, if elected, will vote or at least speak as promised, but that will no more change the Republican Party than old Paul's presidential campaign.

Ross said...

Don't underestimate one Senator's impact. I don't know much about Rand Paul, but if he's as passionate and ballsy as Mike Gravel was he can get a lot done. Gravel released the Pentagon Papers (which brought the Vietnam war closer to ending), used the filibuster to move the draft a lot closer to being ended, and ended nuclear testing in Alaska - he did those three major things largely by himself. So a single Senator can have a large impact if he's determined. They can't end a war, but they can do a hell of a lot to bring it closer to ending.

As for third parties, I think it could be worth embracing the major parties in some cases. Look at Bernie Sanders. He's the only real socialist in Congress and he's an independent, but he got the endorsement of the Democratic Party (and the Progressive Party) in his run for Senate. They helped him, and he caucuses with them (I mean, if you get into Congress you pretty much have to caucus with one of the major parties), but he retains a lot of his independence.

d.eris said...

Good points Ross. No one should underestimate what's possible in such situations either. But I think the example of Sanders demonstrates how fierce and determined independence from the duopoly parties turns the tables on them, the individual is no longer "stuck leeching off a system that needs you less than you need it," as Sam put it. He didn't "embrace the major party," as I understand it, rather his independence forced them to seek him out in order to endorse him!

Gene Berkman said...

Mentioning Doug Hoffman's campaign on the Conservative ticket in New York as a challenge to the two-party system is ludicrous! In all his campaign material, including on his website, Hoffman refers to himself as a Republican, and says he will be part of the Republican caucus if he is elected.

The New York Conservative Party totally went along with George W Bush and his multiple wars, as well as Governor George Pataki with all his big government programs. They do not represent any kind of alternative to the bipartisan party.

d.eris said...

Gene, Hoffman's campaign I think is a good example and illustration of many conservatives' frustration with the Republican Party. But the Republican Party establishment clearly perceives him and his candidacy as a threat, whether Hoffman calls himself a Republican or not. Similarly, if conservatives argue that Scozzafava is not a Republican, but rather a Republican-in-name-only, that does not make her a third party candidate, though her candidacy may well relegate the GOP to third party status in the district.

With respect to your second point, re: the Conservative Party, I think this is one of the drawbacks of fusion voting, minor parties basically become lapdogs of the Dems and Repubs. One could, for instance, level similar criticism against the Working Families Party with respect to the Democrats. But I think we're seeing some of the advantages of fusion for minor parties in NY's 23rd. Without Hoffman in the race on the Conservative Party line, it would be a moderate/liberal (depending on your view) Republican against a fairly conservative Democrat. However, it may now become a referendum on the strength of the conservative movement and its independence from the GOP. Or maybe not.