On the Dialectic of the Subjective and the Objective in the Reproduction of the Two-Party State

At The Kansas City Star, Dave Helling reports on the state of the independent movement and the potential for third party activism:
In dozens of polls and surveys, more people than ever before now describe themselves as independents — angry and frustrated with Republicans and Democrats. At the same time, the number of voters pledging allegiance to either major party has plummeted to a near-record low . . . “They want to get past special interest politics,” said Jackie Salit, president of the Committee for a Unified Independent Party, a group formed to make independents a “force” in national politics.
The question for independent and third party activists, as always, is how to turn this discontent with the Democratic and Republican Parties into positive support for alternatives to the duopoly system of government. Though there are a great many objective hurdles to third party and independent politics – from draconian ballot access laws and institutionalized discrimination against independent and third party campaigns for office to the duopolized dialogue and the sheer inertial momentum of the political status quo – it may well be the case that the greatest barriers to third party and independent politics are subjective in nature, the set of political prejudices that constitute duopoly ideology and create the conditions necessary for the reproduction of the two-party state even against the better judgment of a majority of the population. And, of course, the two stand in a reciprocal relationship with one another that reinforces the prejudice in support of the political status quo: the objective hurdles faced by independent or third party campaigns reinforce the subjective impression that success is all but impossible. The subjective impression itself becomes one more objective hurdle that must be overcome by any successful independent or third party campaign, paradoxically, even despite widespread discontent with the reigning two-party political status quo. For this reason it is necessary to counter the prejudices constitutive of duopoly ideology at every possible turn.


Liberal Arts Dude said...

Great, timely article which lays out the biggest hurdles to organizing independents into a political force. I think the biggest hurdle is how to define "success" in organizing independents and from there trying to organize towards those goals.

Is winning electoral office the best measure of success? Is the best way to do this on the national level or state by state and local electoral races? Does success for one local effort mean success for the entire effort nationwide?

Is injecting independent perspectives in public policy a good measure? If so, what perspectives qualify as "independent?"

Is toppling those who have disappointed you from their electoral office the best measure of success? Who should replace him or her -- are there independents in your area running against major party candidates? Is this the type of independent you would see yourself voting for?

As you can see I have more questions than answers. This is a really tough nut to crack not just on the conceptual level but also how to translate that into real-life political victories. I agree there is enough anger against the two major parties to go around. But how to harness that anger into something productive and tangible?

Samuel Wilson said...

What does it mean to be independent, anyway? Consider the nature of dissatisfaction with the major parties. Some complain because neither has ideological integrity. Others complain that each is too ideological. This confusion forces the question, "Independent of what?" The answer has to come from the grass roots, not from the think tanks and not from the radio. The first goal to set before another election is contested is to find some new way for people to choose candidates and set priorities based on their own understanding of their interests rather than somebody else's dogma.

d.eris said...

LAD, "how to harness that anger into something productive and tangible?" I think your preceding questions begin to unpack the answer to this one. I'm going to have to reflect on them a bit more myself. Lot's of good stuff there.

Sam, indeed. And if one votes for Republicans or Democrats, can this person be called independent at all? Yet, it seems like calling, identifying oneself as an independent is a first important step toward real autonomy. Nate Silver at 538 recently offered a helpful break down of who independents may well be:

"1) People who are mainline Democrats or Republicans for all intents and purposes, but who reject the formality of being labeled as such;
2) People who have a mix of conservative and liberal views that don’t fit neatly onto the one-dimensional political spectrum, such as libertarians;
3) People to the extreme left or the extreme right of the political spectrum, who consider the Democratic and Republican parties to be equally contemptible;
4) People who are extremely disengaged from politics and who may not have fully-formed political views;
5) True-blue moderates;
6) Members of organized third parties."