The 100 Days Daze

While the collapse of the GOP coalition has led many on the right to question their preferred duopoly party's priorities, the new Democratic majority has led many liberals, progressives and leftists to do the same. At the WSWS, Tom Eley considers 'Obama's 100 Days' and concludes:
After only 100 days of the new administration, workers and youth are coming face to face with the fact that Obama represents no change from the anti-working class, anti-democratic and militaristic polices of his predecessor. His presidency has already established the impossibility of effecting real change in government policy by means of elections within the framework of the existing two-party system, or through appeals to the Democratic Party.
Glenn Greenwald reflects on Sen. Dick Durbin's admission that the US Congress is "owned by the banks," and states the obvious:
That Congress is fully owned and controlled by a tiny sliver of narrow, oligarchical, deeply corrupted interests is simultaneously so obvious yet so demonized (only Unserious Shrill Fringe radicals, such as the IMF's former chief economist, use that sort of language) that even Durbin's explicit admission will be largely ignored.
Last month, I noted Chris Bowers' complaint that he has . . .
helped raise over two million dollars for Congressional Democrats . . . who, upon their arrival in Congress, do whatever they can to openly distance themselves from both me and the causes I believe in. Why do I keep giving money to people who will respond by publicly slapping me in the face?
Liberals and progressives should ask themselves the same question with regard to their voting habits and party affiliation. Why support a party which does not represent your interests or uphold your politics?

Update: Kevin Hayden at the American Street responds to Greenwald's post, and asks:
So should we shrug and say “same old, same old” then bend over and say “thank you, Sir, may I have another?” Only if you consent to being a tool . . . Will there ever be a way to successfully bridge the gaps that the rich like to plant to keep the peasants distracted from their thieveries and predations? . . . is there a way to make it change?
Insofar as you support the duopoly parties you consent to be the tool of the bipoligarchy which they represent and which controls them. Insofar as you buy in to the ideology of the duopoly you are part of the problem. The surest way to "make it change" is to join the opposition to the two-party state.

The Institution of the Duopoly

In a post at TPMDC, Eric Kleefield considers whether the GOP should still be considered a national party. Summing up an interviewee's take on the question, he writes: "technically the GOP is still a national party -- but this is simply because the legal structures in this country have institutionalized the two-party system" (emphasis added). This is a perfect example of duopolist ideology at work, in which agency is obfuscated and the results of political antagonism are framed as if they simply materialized out of thin air. Of themselves, the country's "legal structures" have institutionalized nothing. Rather, the legal structures under consideration are themselves the institionalization of the two-party system, and they were institutionalized by duopolist politicians seeking the advantage of their mode of political hegemony.

The Politics of Purity

When we last checked in with Kevin Bliss at What Should Be, he argued for "a viable [centrist] third party or at least a third force, of independents." Today, he explains his falling out with the Republican Party, or more specifically, with what he calls "the purists" in the party:
Although I may not change my party registration, I am functionally an Independent these days, for the party has left me and the things it once stood for. It has become something else with which I rarely identify. At this juncture I am also tired of doing battle with the purists. I am of the mind that the only way the purists are going to learn their lesson is the hard way in a succession of devastating losses. Either that, or, the purist Republican Party needs to be isolated with the formation of a new political party in the center.
Ironically, the "purists" themselves are equally dissatisfied, if for different reasons. They argue that the Republican Party left them behind. John Hawkins maintains that the Republican Party is now 'psychologically out of whack' precisely because of its embrace of moderate, centrist policies. Faultline USA makes a similar case:
how on earth is the republican party too conservative? Are they too adherent to the Constitution? Nope! Have they been fiscally responsible? Nope! Oh yeah, some of them actually gave a hoot about keeping us safe. Don't worry, though, Barack Obama and his party will be sure to undo any strides they made in that arena. Were they against expanding the federal government? Hell no! They just expanded it less than democrats.
Paradoxically, the Republican Party became both too conservative and too moderate to maintain its national coalition. If it is true that most people who consider themselves conservatives "vote with a lesser of two evils mentality," as one commentator recently put it, then it would seem that many Republicans have begun to realize that in the duopoly there is no lesser of two evils, but rather, that we are dealing with a case of twin evils.

Duopoly Unchecked, Imbalanced

Perhaps one of the more insidious mystifications of duopoly ideology is the confusion of the two-party system with the constitutional separation of powers. I have remarked on this obfuscation before. Two recent quotes of note expose the extent to which duopolist politicians are in on the act too. Denying that he would switch his party affiliation in March, Arlen Specter stated that his remaining a Republican was best for the two party system, as mentioned yesterday. However, the full quote reads:
The United States very desperately needs a two-party system. That's the basis of politics in America. I'm afraid we are becoming a one-party system, with Republicans becoming just a regional party with so little representation of the northeast or in the middle atlantic. I think as a governmental matter, it is very important to have a check and balance. That's a very important principle in the operation of our government. In the constitution on separation of powers. (Emphasis added.)
In markedly similar terms, the Queen's County Republican Party has endorsed media mogul Michael Bloomberg's candidacy for a third term as mayor or New York City (via Urban Elephants):
The Mayor's stated belief in a strong vital two party system being a necessary check and balance in government, and Bloomberg's past support for the Republican State Senate conference and commitment to GOP Party building on a local level also were cited as major reasons to back the Mayor. (Emphasis added.)
This is all the more ironic given the fact that Bloomberg has been a Democrat, a Republican, and is now apparently an independent and has sought the endorsements of the Independence and Working Families Party, in addition to those of Republicans in NY's fusion ballot system. Nontheless, those who refer to the duopoly as if it were a system of checks and balances seem to mean that, in the two-party system, the ideal state is a state of relative equilibrium, within which each party works to 'check' and 'balance' the other. It is thus an argument against lop-sided majorities. In addition, it works as an argument for a specific division of labor between the parties in government - that is, for divided government -, which, significantly, presumes that the constitutional separation of powers is essentially non-functional when the same party controls both the legislature and the executive. There is certainly some truth to this position. An activist rubber-stamp congress coupled with a militant unitary presidency is a dangerous thing. Divided government could perhaps be considered an extra-constitutional guard "against those encroachments which lead to a tyrannical concentration of all the powers of government in the same hands," as Madison put it in the Federalist No. 48. But it is hardly a "check and balance," and it is certainly incapable of restricting the concentration of power in the context of the reigning bipoligarchy. In point of fact, it has become just another form for such concentration.

In the first half of the twentieth century, divided government was something of an anomaly, breaking up periods of undivided government by one party or the other, while in the second half it became a kind of norm, occasionally interrupted by periods of undivided party rule. (If the Wikipedia chart is to be trusted, that is.)

Is the apparently widespread sense that the two party system is a part of the system of constitutional checks and balances likely a relatively recent phenomenon then? Or does it have a much longer history?

Manage a Trois

Foreseeing the death, or at least the imminent splitting, of the Republican Party, Michael Hendricks provides a good thumbnail sketch of the history of the two-party system in the US and predicts a three-way race for the presidency in 2012: "it would not surprise me to see three strong contenders for the presidency in 2012, a democrat, a Reagan/Bush republican, and a Goldwater republican."

Irresponsible Party Government

Little more than a month before announcing that he would leave the Republican Senate minority to join the Democratic majority, Arlen Specter dismissed speculation that he would turn-coat, stating:
I am staying a Republican because I think I have an important role . . . to play there. The United States very desperately needs a two-party system. That's the basis of politics in America. I'm afraid we are becoming a one-party system, with Republicans becoming just a regional party.
Clearly, Specter's concern for the country and his fear of a one-party state were not strong enough to override his instinct for political survival, given the likelihood of a primary contest defeat from the right. Specter's "defection" thus supports the validity of the conservative critique of so-called Rinos, that is, Republicans-in-name-only. Of course, establishment Democrats, beginning with Obama, are more than happy to welcome yet another Democrat-in-name-only into the fold. And while many liberals are nonetheless not enthusiastic about the switch, conservatives are glad to see him go. None of which is very surprising.

For us, however, the question is: how is one to read Specter's 'change of heart' given his invocation of the two-party system as a primary reason for remaining a Republican? The Think 3 Institute provides the 'bipolarchical' context:
the Bipolarchy isn't about maintaining ideological consistency or even an illusion of eternal enmity that could be dispelled by Specter's defection . . . Part of convincing the public that the two parties are the only real choices is maintaining the existence of two major parties for people to choose from. The Bipolarchy can tolerate incidents like Specter's reported switch because it's still happening within a bipolarchical framework. Specter isn't raising the standard of a new national party, after all, and neither did Sanders or Lieberman.
While Least of All Evils adds: "Let's be clear on something: Specter is leaving the Republican party for one reason and one reason only, and that's because polls show him losing by 20% to his most likely challenger in the Republican primary."

Let's assume, however, that Specter in fact acted in the interest of the two-party system, or at least thought he did. He may well be forced to say something along those lines to rationalize his maneuver, which he has already likened to "independent voting" in his announcement. So Specter is either no longer afraid of a one-party system, and is now actively subverting the two-party system, or he is still afraid of the one-party system, but determined that this was the best way for him to help maintain the two-party system. But a middle-of-the-road politician jumping back and forth between the duopoly parties in furtherance of his career is not a subversion of the two-party system, but rather one of its primary mechanisms, and lends support to the old suspicion that there's not a dime's worth of difference between the duopoly parties. And so we are left with the charitable reading, which just happens to coincide with that of the megalomaniac: how has Specter saved the two-party system? Pat Toomey, who would have been Specter's opposition in the primary himself raised the specter of a third party opposition in the Pennsylvania Senate race. The Standard Speaker reports:
“He (Specter) has so thoroughly offended Republicans and is so disliked by so many Republicans to such a degree of intensity that if he were to somehow manage to win this primary, he would ensure a conservative third-party candidate getting into this race,” Toomey, of Upper Milford Township in Lehigh County, said. That third-party candidate would siphon away enough votes to ensure a Democratic victory, Toomey said.
Such speculation aside, the Democrats have a potential filibuster-proof majority (with which Specter, however, may or may not always side), while the Republican opposition has been purged of an anomaly and consolidated its base. We are thus left with what the American Political Science Association calls 'Responsible Party Government.' The Presidential Power blog recently addressed this issue, and they're not the first to warn that one should be careful what one wishes for in this regard.

The Independent Majority

A new Washington Post and ABC News poll found that 35% of respondents called themselves Democrats, while 21% identified themselves as Republicans and 38% affiliated with neither of the duopoly parties. Naturally, liberal Democrats focused in on the Republicans' "shrinkage problem," dismissing the fact that a plurality of those polled identified with neither of the duopoly parties. Clearly, many among the latter are disaffected former Republicans, but such a change is not without consequences for the two party system itself. Anderson365 considers the implications of the fact that 'the biggest party is no party' for Mesa County, Colorado, in which Democrats lag behind Republicans and independents:
An unaffiliated-dominated Mesa County could signal a drastic change in local politics. It could mean a greater mix of Democrats and Republicans, and possibly a third-party candidate, in office. It could mean more split-ticket results instead of the all-Republican win across the board in the 2008 general election in Mesa County. It could mean more aggressive campaigning, an earlier campaign season, and more gimmicks. It could also mean more campaign promises (and lies) and more contradictory pandering to appease those who don't take sides.

Three Party System

Over the course of India's 2009 elections, one facet of the debate has been between those who argue that the world's largest democracy needs to create a two party system and those who maintain that a multiparty system would better serve the people of the country. In a point-counterpoint style set of articles, Sify News covers both sides of the conversation. Salil Jose argues that a two party system would devolve back into a one party dominant state, and therefore a multi-party system is preferable, while Nagarajan Chelliah holds that a two party system with a strong opposition party is the only political framework capable of creating a stable government. As we have seen before, in the argument for the political simple life, for instance, the logical conclusion of the position in favor of the two party system is the one-party state. Chelliah writes: "the lesser the number of parties, the higher the probability of a stable government." Jose counters that a three party system (consisting of the two major parties and a third front coalition) would prove just as stable, while providing effective representation to a wider scope of the electorate.

Emergency (Photo-)Op

That the recent declaration of a state of emergency in response to the swine flu outbreak by DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano was greeted with neither skepticism nor panic from the US public demonstrates the extent to which "emergency" measures have in fact become "standard operating procedure" for dealing with normal courses of events, for everything from floods and fires to the inauguration of the president, as Napolitano herself emphasized. One could also add to the list a number of wars, both metaphorical and otherwise. It would be interesting to see a comprehensive archive of such states of emergency, including those which have expired and those which are still ongoing at both state and federal levels. Wikipedia supplies a handful, mostly related to matters of foreign policy.

The fact that fires and floods and inaugural events are seasonal and cyclical and thus neither unusual nor un-forseeable exposes the contradiction involved in such declarations of emergency. Napolitano, however, addressed another inconsistency in the practice during the news conference: "I just wanted to clarify — on the declaration of emergency, I wish we could call it declaration of emergency preparedness, because that's really what it is in this context."

The situation is made all the more absurd by the fact that an unpublicized Airforce "fly-by photo-op" for Air Force One and a couple of fighter jets over downtown Manhattan caused real panic in New York City, revealing the status of the country's base-level state of preparedness (which may be described as ill given the failure of communication between and among city officials, White House officials, the FAA, the DoD, the media and the public), not to mention the public's susceptibility to alarm.

The Torture Party and the Rule of Law

An interesting ideological feature of the torture-prosecution debate is that the liberal and conservative positions on the matter do not precisely fall along party lines. Generally speaking neither of the duopoly parties seems particularly interested in uncovering the truth and prosecuting any alleged crimes, and the reason why is not difficult to comprehend: high ranking members of both parties will be implicated in the matter. Liberals and civil libertarians want an investigation and potential prosecutions. Conservatives and a significant number of independents want neither. While conservatives allege that the calls for investigation and prosecution are politically motivated, liberals and civil libertarians argue that is a matter of upholding the law. Of course, impugning partisan political motives to your political opponents is itself an openly partisan gesture, and so the ideology of the duopoly becomes explicit. A bipartisan consensus is thus possible in which neither the agents who committed the alleged crimes (which Obama ruled out) nor their superiors (as the Republicans want) shall be held accountable for any crimes that may have been committed. If upholding the law is considered both partisan score settling and an attack on the two party system, as Republicans maintain and many Democrats would seem to agree, and these are held to be strong objections against executing that law, then the two party system is inimical to the rule of law.

Convergence, Polarization and the Appearance of Impossibility

Duopoly ideology is riddled with paradoxes and contradictions resulting from its binary form. Consider, for instance, that the phenomenon of increased polarization in the context of ideological convergence between the two parties leads to intra-party polarization on both sides of the duopoly divide. In other words, the more similar the parties become, the greater the need to differentiate them from one another, the greater the split internal to each of the parties.

This may go some way toward explaining low voter turnout in the United States, as well as the relatively high percentage of Americans who affiliate with neither of the duopoly parties: polarization turns off moderates while convergence repels hardliners. What are the implications of this for third party strategy?

The perception that third party activism, and, by extension, third party voting, is an exercise in futility is perhaps the greatest hurdle that needs to be overcome by any effective third party campaign. Duopoly ideology reproduces the reigning two party system by making changes to that system appear impossible. The question then is how to make the "impossible" appear possible. On the other hand, we may also ask how duopoly ideology makes the possible appear impossible. The latter question, clearly, is easier to answer than the former.

By framing political discourse as a simple binary operation, duopoly ideology obscures the reality of political antagonism. In the mainstream media, this is most evident in "he said/she said" style political reporting, in which perspectives that lie outside the sphere of "legitimate controversy" are simply ignored, and a given issue is considered exhausted when a Democrat and Republican, or liberal and conservative, have come to a disagreement. The sphere of legitimate controversy is constituted by this very practice, and political debate is thereby reduced to a function of the Republican/Democratic divide.

How then to make the "impossible" appear possible in such a discursive context? The first step may be simply to enlarge the sphere of legitimate controversy by capitalizing upon rifts internal to each of the duopoly parties, what I referred to above as intra-party polarization. This, however, is undoubtedly not sufficient to mount a successful third party campaign. In a piece that details the factional components of the Republicrat and Demoblican Party coalitions, The Jacksonian Party provides a promising outline for a successful third party, and makes a strong case that any such political insurgency must peel off disaffected supporters from the duopoly parties and reach out to potential voters who feel disenfranchised from the system as a whole. Making the impossible appear possible is itself possible only on the condition that one recognizes the fact that there already is a wide base of potential supporters for third party candidacies.

The Victorious Faction

That the two-party system no longer primarily serves to promote the interests of the citizens of the United States but rather those of global political and business elites is today hardly a matter of dispute, and may even be considered a commonplace of contemporary political criticism. Mano Singham's series of posts on American oligarchy, and PJ Mulvey's take on the rise of global oligopolies since 1989 are worthy examples of the virtual genre, and make for such persuasive reading precisely because there is so little room for dispute. The truth of the matter is admitted even by the supporters of the duopoly parties themselves. Many among the latter have simply resigned themselves to this state of affairs and seek consolation in pitiable Pyrrhic victories in debates on the finer details of policy while the factions which constitute the elite class effectively determine the parameters of possibility and permissible outcomes in advance. This is a classic perversion of republican government.

In the Federalist No. 39, Madison discusses the form of the republic, writing:
It is essential to such a government that it be derived from the great body of the society, not from an inconsiderable proportion, or a favored class of it; otherwise a handful of tyrannical nobles, exercising their oppressions by a delegation of their powers, might aspire to the rank of republicans, and claim for their government the honorable title of republic.
Consider this passage in the context of Madison's famous definition of 'faction' in Federalist No. 10:
By a faction, I understand a number of citizens, whether amounting to a majority or a minority of the whole, who are united and actuated by some common impulse of passion, or of interest, adverse to the rights of other citizens, or to the permanent and aggregate interests of the community.
The leaders of the duopoly parties, conjoined with the financial oligarchy, have become nothing more than a handful of tyrannical nobles who have captured a republican government and perverted it for their own ends in opposition to the interests of the larger citizenry. They are the "victorious faction," as Hegel put it, and the two party state, the bipoligarchy, if you will, is the form of their misrule.

The Centrist Party

Derek Viger at The Maine View considers the fault lines and conflicts in each of the duopoly parties ("Blue Dogs" vs. progressives among the Democrats, social liberals vs. conservative hardliners among the Republicans) and asks:
Are we moving toward having one large viable third party? . . . Will the social liberal/fiscal conservatives in each party break tradition and join each other? While I don't think this is likely, it makes for some interesting speculation. What would a three party US look like? What would that do to the political structure of this country?
The question is thus whether moderates in both parties will eventually break ranks if the perceived political polarization of the duopoly parties continues apace. Though they are not non-partisan, moderates, by definition, are not given to factionalism. Incremental increases in political partisanship between the Republican and Democratic Parties would likely have to pass a qualitative threshold before these voters exited the two-party system en masse in support of a third party which better represents their views and interests. That being said, many such moderates have clearly already been turned off by the gamesmanship constitutive of duopoly politics, and register their discontent by registering as independents. Ironically, this may lead to the further polarization of the two party state as primary contests are then decided to a greater extent by partisan activists, especially in states with closed primaries. Calls for centrist or moderate parties are thus not unheard of. Somewhere in the Middle points out that, "there is such a thing as the Centrist Party," and the nascent American Moderate Party is testing the waters for potential supporters.

Mandatory Minimums

John Brummet relays word of a noteworthy report on the trials and tribulations of the Republican Party in Arkansas, which may lose its official status as a political party in the state if it fails to run a candidate for governor in 2010. At the state level, Arkansas is solidly Democratic. Its governor, Mike Beebe (D), is apparently wildly popular, while the AR state House of Reps currently has "71 Democrats, 28 Republicans and one Green Party member," and "the 35-member Arkansas Senate has 8 Republicans and 27 Democrats." Talk Business reports that the Green Party could gain if the Republicans do not field a gubernatorial candidate:
Incumbent Democrat Gov. Mike Beebe is enjoying immense popularity with approval ratings ranging from 60% to 80% throughout his first term, in large part due to strong legislative success and a middle-of-the-road governing style. So why would the GOP, with limited resources, a small pool of statewide talent, a large number of open State House and Senate seats, and a contested race for U.S. Senate challenge Beebe? They have to – if they want to remain a political party. Arkansas law defines a political party as a group of voters that poll at least 3% of the entire votes cast for Governor or President, depending on the election cycle. If they fail to get 3%, they no longer are recognized as a political party. If they fail to field a candidate for Governor and the Green Party does, it could usurp the GOP’s status as the minority party.

Two Front Opposition to the Two Party State

Given the GOP's complete failure to uphold its supposed core principles of small government, fiscal conservatism and individual liberty over the last thirty years, it was only a matter of time before actual conservatives began to ask themselves why exactly they continue to support that party and draw the obvious conclusion in greater numbers. Pink Elephant Pundit reflects on a piece by Rick Moran on the illusion of opportunity for Republicans in near term elections, and lays out the situation:
Even under the most conservative American President in history, government did not shrink. Reagan said that once government is there, it never goes away. And it’s entirely too true. This is not a new problem - this has been a long time coming. Pure logic - when something keeps growing, and never shrinks, it is eventually going to get too big. And the GOP can stand around preaching small government all day long, but the hard truth is that they have not EVER been able to make it happen. The fact that their credibility has been completely blown away is not going to help win elections.
She continues:
There is little logic to our fear of a GOP failure. As conservatives, we should understand that no institution is ever “too big” to fail . . . our country is not going to just hand itself over to a one party system . . . if the recent conservative/libertarian movements are any indicator, there will be a quick rise of another party. Maybe it would be nice to have the GOP out of the way to give someone else a chance.
This is yet another proof of the opportunity afforded to third party activists by the implosion of the Republican Party and the rise in political consciousness among previously a-political sectors of the electorate. Further, it supplements the idea that the reigning two-party system may be most vulnerable to third party agitation not in competitive locales, but rather precisely in those where it is the most stable. There are opportunities for real growth of an opposition to the two party state on both sides of this political equation.

Primary Follies

Yesterday, I considered the Republican argument that the proper response to the structural inability of elected officials within the two-party bipoligarchy to effectively represent the interests of their constituents is to continue to elect duopolist politicians, and countered that the lesser of two evils argument is itself the enemy of the greater good (see also: Tea Partisanship). Paul Ibrahim and John Hawkins' positions together constitute a core obstacle to effecting real political change, by which I mean, the election of representatives who are accountable and responsive to their constituents rather than their party bosses and corporate pay-masters. Ibrahim, for instance, argued that the best "way to deal with such politicians [is to] primary their a**. We always have more than two options if we act early enough." Yet the primary challenger is faced with the same problems as the third party candidate, while offering none of the advantages of an electoral bid independent of the duopoly party machines. King's Right Site provides a case in point. In the Senate race coalescing around the seat to be vacated by Ohio's George Voinovich in 2010, the contours of the primary races are already taking shape. King's Right considers the Republican side of the duopoly divide:
Ganley, a political newcomer, faces an uphill battle against lifetime politician & Bush retread, Rob Portman. While Ganley will face an uphill battle, saying some people have already dismissed his candidacy is an understatement. As soon as Portman announced he would be running for Senate the political hacks were tripping over their do-nothing asses as they lined up to support him.
The establishment supports its own. Ganley, who is emphasizing the fact that he is not a career politician unlike Portman, should consider an independent campaign to further accentuate the difference and provide the people of Ohio with a real choice in the upcoming election.

Two Party Statism

IPR and BAN relay a report on a lawsuit filed by the Libertarian and Green Parties against the state of North Carolina to sue for less draconian ballot access laws. The state's deputy attorney general, Alexaner Peters, argued against any such change to the law. His reasoning reveals the morally and politically bankrupt attitude that undergirds the two party duopoly on the political process:
“The larger the ballot, the greater the potential for errors and complications,” Peters said, arguing that allowing third parties to proliferate would complicate the administration of elections. Judge Sanford L. Steelman Jr., one of the three justices hearing the case, asked Peters if that was sufficient grounds to make ballot access more difficult. “We could solve all of it by just having one party,” Steelman quipped, sparking chuckles from his colleagues. Peters said that there would probably at least always be two parties. (Emphasis added.)
By Peters' logic, we might as well repeal the constitution and do away with elections altogether.

Tea Partisanship

The internal debate among tea party activists on the way forward following their first national mobilization on tax day can be split up into three distinct camps: 1) Republicans who argue that the current crop of GOP representatives need to be challenged in upcoming primaries; 2) independents who recognize that their interests are not served by either of the duopoly parties, but who have yet to break from the system as such, and could conceivably vote Republican, Democrat or even third party in future elections; 3) activists who have broken with the two party system, and advocate third party insurgent campaigns.

In the first group we find conservative apologists for the duopoly and advocates for lesser-of-two-evils voting such as John Hawkins at Right Wing News. He writes,
If you're conservative or even a libertarian who places a high priority on small government and restraining spending, there is no perfect option. All you can really do is try to get the Republicans back in power.
Paul Ibrahim argues in a remarkably similar vein: "Remember that our two-party system is by no means perfect, but it does give us a way to deal with such politicians: primary their a**. We always have more than two options if we act early enough."

In the second group, we find disaffected and disillusioned conservatives who have declared their independence from party politics as such. Capm's Blog makes the case:
I have left the Republican party, not for the Demo party, that could never happen, and not to the Libertarian party or Green or any other party. I have registered as an "Independent". It seemed that the media always referred to the independents, in the middle, as the voters that will make or break an election. So why not join them, they seem to have the power, don't they. And I propose to make this, becoming an "Independent", part of our Tea party movement.
Finally, Tom Mullen, in an article for the Daily Paul, argues for the fielding of candidates who are independent of the two party system, and hence not beholden to the duopoly machine:
We cannot continue to vote one political party out and vote the other one in and expect any substantive change. Instead of succumbing to voting for the lesser of two evils, I would suggest a third alternative. We can select representatives from among ourselves, affiliated with no political party and committed in writing to what most Americans truly want – a government that protects their life, liberty, and property and otherwise stays out of their lives.
Interestingly, since the 2008 election, Ron Paul's base have been actively supporting third party candidates across the political spectrum. In an article for OpEd News, Matt Reichel recounted his experiences running on the Green Party ticket for the congressional seat formerly held by Rahm Emmanuel, and reported that among his supporters "the majority of door-knockers and petitioners came from the Ron Paul movement." This group was undoubtedly also quite active in organizing local tax day tea party protests, and did so largely under the radar of the mainstream media and commentators on both sides of the duopoly divide. To win the internal debate, they are going to have to bring it out into the open.

The Lesser Evil: Enemy of the Greater Good

A Rasmussen poll on views of the tax day tea party protests reveals a deep divide in the American electorate. "While 83% of Republicans and a plurality (49%) of unaffiliated Americans have a favorable view of the tea party protests, only 28% of Democrats say the same." Of course, such a breakdown according to party affiliation was to be expected, however, the real divide is found between the nation as a whole and its 'Political Class': "While half the nation has a favorable opinion of last Wednesday’s events, the nation’s Political Class has a much dimmer view—just 13% of the political elite offered even a somewhat favorable assessment while 81% said the opposite."

In reaction to these results, the neo-con-artist Bill Kristol panders to the protesters in a post at the Weekly Standard, emphasizing that he is "out of touch" with his political classmates, and stating, "I have a very favorable opinion of the events." Concerns that the wave of public anger will be effectively hijacked by the Republican Party to the benefit of the political class's self-interests are thus all the more justified, especially when conservative apologists of the duopoly openly admit that even though Republican politicians will "sell us out," alternative choices, in this instance Libertarians and Constitutionalists, will not help the cause of conservatism, by which they clearly mean the Republican Party. For all intents and purposes, John Hawkins' claim that "the perfect is the enemy of the good" reveals the extent to which the lesser of two evils argument is the enemy of the greater good.

The War on Common Sense

As all reasonable people are well aware, the war on drugs has been a colossal failure, unless success may be defined as radically expanding the prison industrial complex, empowering violent international drug cartels, criminalizing the activities of law abiding citizens, and providing alarmists and hysterics in the radical prohibitionist movement with a sense of self-satisfaction. It being 4/20, why not have a look at the website of the United States Marijuana Party?

Decentering the Duopoly

In an op-ed for the NY Times, Nate Silver and Andrew Gelman of Five-Thirty-Eight consider some of the reasons why US elections have become less competitive. They provide three: 1) the power of incumbency; 2) the ideological self-segregation of voters; and 3) the inflexibility of party ideology. Clearly, within the confines of the two-party system, all three of these factors mutually reinforce one another to the benefit of the political status quo. Because duopoly party ideology has become more uniform and rigid, solidifying the Republicrat/Demoblican divide, and support from interest groups, fundraisers and national committees is tied to this ideological commitment, the Republican or Democratic challenger to an entrenched opponent is less likely to modify his or her positions to acquire a competitive edge in drawing the votes of a more ideologically homogenous voting public. How could any third party campaign compete in such an environment if the established opposition party is already incapable of mounting a competitive campaign?

When bipartisans trumpet their calls for compromise, and bray about the devaluation of centrism, what they fail to consider is that political discourse is always radically de-centered. More often than not, the political center is not to be found between the duopoly parties. The political center in Idaho, for instance, is located within its Republican majority, while that of Massachusetts is constituted by the wrangling of Democrats. While this would seem to constitute an intractable obstacle to any sort of political change, it only appears so because the political blinders of duopoly ideology obscure from our view the idea that such a state of affairs may well be the condition of possibility for real political change.

In a close Republican/Democratic race a Green Party candidate is likely to peel off votes from the latter, while a Libertarian is likely to attract voters away from the former, and thus either could effectively decide the election one way or the other. Voters who may well agree with the Green or Libertarian candidate on most issues will be less likely to cast their vote in that direction for fear of handing the election to the duopoly candidate with whom they disagree more. We see then that lesser-of-two-evils voting is closely related to the perceived potential of an electoral spoiler effect. However, in a non-competitive Republican/Democratic race, this danger is less acute precisely because the political center is already skewed to the left or the right as the case may be. The question thus becomes: how can this situation be exploited to the advantage of a third party campaign?

The Political Simple Life

Last month, I remarked that the global financial crisis seems to have kindled a desire for the political simple life among political, business and media elites the world over, who seek to exploit the situation in order to consolidate their own hold on power by reducing multi-party political frameworks to variations on an American style two party system. Something similar may be afoot in Japan as well. The AP reports that the withering of the Japanese economy has led to a surge of support for the Communist Party, headed by Kazuo Shii:
While the Communist Party - which is the fourth-largest party in parliament, but has only 16 of the total 722 seats - is not likely to take over anytime soon, it is making itself felt . . . [but] . . . Outside of parliament is where the Communist Party has been making its biggest strides . . . While not expected to win big, the communists are looking at modest gains when the next parliamentary elections are held - sometime before October - because of the growing unpopularity of Prime Minister Taro Aso and his ruling Liberal Democratic Party. The [opposition party] Democrats are dogged by scandals of their own. But Shii complained that the focus of the media on the potential emergence of a two-party system has created an even darker shadow from which his party must emerge. (Emphasis added.)
In a piece that provides a fair amount of background, Michael Auslin of the AEI considered the current state of Japan's political economy, writing:
With the upper and lower houses of the Diet controlled by different parties for the first time, Japan entered into a new political era in 2007. The result was not a strengthening of a viable two-party system, but rather political paralysis . . . The changes Japan is undergoing could result in new political parties and a more fluid economic system.

Fertile Ground

Among bipartisan fetishists and apologists of the two party state, it is virtual dogma that compromise between Republicans and Democrats, "the constant push and pull between left and right," results in moderate and effective centrist policy. Yet, as Fear is Tyranny notes, the partisan dialectic paradoxically "never fails to bring more government, more police, more imperialism, and less freedom." With Democrats in control of the executive and legislative branches of government, on the heels of undivided Republican government under the Bush administration, calls for the 'restoration' of the two party system admittedly ring hollow, especially when they are sounded by partisan hacks from either of the duopoly party machines whose primary preoccupation is ensuring the electoral advantage of the special interest groups they represent.

Changing election laws in favor of open primaries to give independents more sway in primary votes, and hence a voice in the choice of duopoly party candidates for political office, as the bipartisans demand, will do nothing but undermine the independence of voters who find that their political views and interests are not represented by the candidates fielded by the duopoly parties. Such voters would be better served by opening up ballot access laws to provide them with a choice other than that between the 'lesser of two evils' in any given election.

The strength of independent affiliation, and the proliferation of new political parties over the past few years (ex. the Boston Tea Party, the Modern Whig Party, the nascent American Moderate Party) lends credence to pleas for the overturning of the two party system. The "realist" response to such proposals (ex. third party candidates are not viable, to vote third party is to throw your vote away, etc.) is often nothing more than a cynical fatalism masquerading as political pragmatism. The most fertile ground for third party organizing today are states and districts which are considered 'safe' for either of the duopoly parties because of a lopsided majority in their favor. Greens and Socialists should be hard at work in solidly Democratic locales while their Libertarian and Constitution Party counterparts chip away at Republican majorities in conservative strongholds elsewhere in the country.

American Bipoligarchy

Reflecting on the continuity of policy between the Bush and Obama administrations, Mano Singham writes:
the same interests that caused the financial crisis are the ones that control both the Bush and Obama administrations and . . . they are making sure that they are the ones who benefit most from the various high-cost "rescue" and "stimulus" packages that have been floated . . . Obama's administration seems to be acting consistently with the model that states that the US is run by a pro-war/pro-business one party oligarchy with two factions that differ only on some social issues.
This is the genius of the two-party system, providing cosmetic changes to the face of the bipoligarchy (to adapt a term from the Think 3 Institute) while maintaining the global warfare and corporate welfare state.

The Death of Them

Since the tax day tea party protests, to counter the mainstream liberal and conservative narrative of the events, I have been highlighting the reactions of participants and observers who argue that insofar as this nascent movement has been co-opted by the Republican Party and neatly fit into the parameters of duopoly politics it has been a disappointment if not also a failure. In addition, I have shown how this specific failure represents the success of duopolist ideology itself, effected by the efforts of partisans on both sides of the Republicrat/Demoblican divide who fear, perhaps more than anything else, the destabilization of the system which maintains the political status quo and the tyranny of two-party rule. Evidence that this is in fact the case continues to mount.

The Greedy Capitalist voices concern:
I have absolutely zero confidence that anything will change after these Taxday Tea Parties . . . Nothing will ever change in this country until people stop electing Democrats AND Republicans. And sadly most of those at the Tea Parties will continue doing exactly that.
Ian Cerveny, though similarly disappointed, was heartened by conversations with participants in Denver:
The entire event may have been a loss were it not for my conversations with those in the crowd who assured me that they no longer felt adequately represented by their party, so long as I no longer felt adequately represented by mine. Once again proving that bitter partisan resentment can be circumvented by ignoring leadership that panders to polarity, and instead speaking directly to one’s fellow citizens.
Finally, Christopher Dowd, at the Boston Libertarian Examiner, provides a detailed critique of duopoly politics and concludes:
If you were an attendee at one of these Tea Bag events and the end result of your experience there was that you will vote for the GOP then that event will have achieved nothing- just as a DC Beltway step n’ fetchit like Rush Limbaugh wants.
Limbaugh, of course, hailed the protests as a "great succeess," but as Dowd emphasizes, the radio talker fears the potential for third party agitation contained in them. Limbaugh warns:
My greatest concern about this is that there are -- I don't want to impugn anybody here -- but there's a possibility that this is going to lead to a third-party movement, and that's death. Third-party candidates succeed in one thing, and that is electing their alternatives. John Anderson, 1980, you had Perot in 1992. The temptation here is to go third party 'cause the Republican Party is not responsive. (Emphasis added.)
The "death" Limbaugh fears, naturally, is that of the Republican Party, and by implication that of the two-party system. The partisan ideologues of duopoly politics fear nothing more than determined opposition to the simplistic binary logic of the two party system precisely because it would be the death of them and their political hegemony over the national political discourse.

Third Party Tea Party II

In Third Party Tea Party I, I highlighted grievances with the two party system articulated by participants in the tax day tea party protests, and argued that both Republican operatives within it and the Democratic critics of it shared a common program: "to tie this movement as quickly as possible into the fabric of the two-party system." It is striking how quickly the purveyors of duopolist ideology are capable of creating a working consensus when it suits their purposes. Of course, both sides have seized upon a perceived opportunity. Democrats seek to discredit the swell of activism by connecting it to well-connected Republicans, while Republicans seek to capitalize upon it by identifying themselves with good old fashioned grassroots organizing. Yet, as we know, for the duopolists 'opportunity' is another word for crisis. Their frenetic activity is arguably an effort to avert any potential destabilization of the two party system. Their worry is likely warranted, and their efforts have not been unsuccessful, but fortunately they do not control all of the debate all the time.

Many who were attracted to the idea of the tea party protests were propelled by a reasoned critique of the two-party system, which is now reflected in criticism of the protests themselves. Briggs Armstrong at the Mises Blog writes:
I couldn't help but feel a bit dirty when it was all over. The cognitive dissonance arose from the fact that the event was hosted by the College Republicans. The Auburn University Libertarians later joined them to co-host the event . . . The problem was that for the majority of the time when Republicans were speaking, I couldn't help but think "where were you for the last eight years?" My overall feeling of uncleanliness derived largely from the hypocrisy emanating from the Republicans.
Patrick Britton at The Daily Conservative more or less agrees:
At the core, the idea of an anti-tax rally is great. I was initially excited to see how much interest there was in the protests. My excitement was quickly dampened when neocons and their comrades began to take over the scene. It went from an anti-tax rally to a pro-Republican rally. We all know how foolish that is. The Republicans are fiscally conservative all of-a-sudden?
While Jeff at An Utter Waste of Time refused to attend on the very same grounds:
On the surface, the idea of organized protests against excessive taxation and the increasing government interference with our lives seems very worthwhile and something I would support. The reality, however, is that these protests had very little to do with reforming the tax code and everything to do with partisan politics and the pervasive "Us versus Them" mentality that exists in the two party system.
The surge of activism, awareness and political consciousness represented by the protests is a golden opportunity for third party organizing. Libertarians, among others, should not let the crisis go to waste.

Third Party Tea Party

The liberal critique of the tea party protests held on tax day rests on the claim that, contrary to the opinion that it is a grassroots movement of everyday Americans, they are rather the result of a coordinated Republican astro-turfing campaign, a point which is now being parroted by Democratic leaders in the House. However, this position is undermined by the fact that the said Republican astro-turfing campaign arguably arose in response to the groundswell of support for the actions among grassroots organizers. Jane Hamsher's 'Brief History of Tea-Bagging' could even be said to support this idea. The second entry in her timeline reads: "December 16, 2007, Ron Paul supporters have the first anti-tax Tea Party, reinact dumping of tea into Boston Harbor by tossing banners into a box." Ron Paul and his many supporters are, of course, to a great extent reviled by mainstream Republicans, and can hardly be considered corporate shills. In addition, Hamsher also fails to mention the founding of a new libertarian political party, significantly named the Boston Tea Party, in 2006.

Moreover, though Republican operatives were likely involved in the tea party protests at all levels, and even spoke at some events, many organizers in fact turned down bids by prominent Republicans to speak at their events. Republicans have thus redoubled their efforts to capture this movement for their own electoral advantage, proving that they are not yet the owners of it, despite their efforts and their cheerleaders in the corporate media. None other than Karl Rove writes in the WSJ:
the open question is whether Republicans will be boosted by the nascent tea-party movement . . . to tap into that constituency Republicans will have to link lower taxes to money in voters' pockets, and economic growth and jobs. They must explain why the GOP approach will lead to greater prosperity. Such arguments are not self-executing. (Emphasis added.)
On the other hand, local tea party organizers themselves have been vocal in their rejection of both the Republican and Democratic parties in addition to duopoly-style partisan politics. More evidence of the latter continues to surface. Dashiell at Some Wicked:
The protesters were not protesting Obama, they were protesting the bullshit that is the two party system . . . hopefully, these TEA parties will evolve into other real parties, the Libertarian Party has a great opportunity here, but knowing them they’ll probably blow it. They ain’t getting media coverage either, so… The thing that has to happen is the protesters have to get away from any kind of associations with the two party system that is in bed with each other. Big Business and Government are in bed, and the mass media are their cheerleaders.
Kenny's Sideshow likely echoes the views of many others who attended the rallies:
I was disappointed that none of the speakers came right out and called the two party system a sham. I did hear some calls from the crowd for independent candidates. My feel is that there are many who don't trust any politician of any party. No one called the politicians by their rightful name.....criminals.
Jason at the Western Experience also draws attention to this facet of the internal debate in calling attention to the fact that many participants . . .
argue that in order for it be successful the movement itself must lead the change in politics and not the other way around. To work outside of the two party system and lead them back to sensibility or make them obsolete.
It should come as no surprise to readers here that both Republican strategists and operatives as well as their liberal Democratic 'opponents' and critics share a common program, namely to tie this movement as quickly as possible into the fabric of the two-party system. The Democrats did their duty to the duopoly by co-opting the strength, message and momentum of anti-war movement via the Obama campaign. Now the Republicans are seeking to do their part to maintain the political status quo. All should be opposed at every turn.

Bringing Down the House

When we last checked in with billionaire media mogul and Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, both he and his opposition were looking to lead the political simple life, and reduce Italian politics to the simplistic binary of an American-style two party system. It seems, however, that not all the members of his new right-wing bloc-party are on board with the timing of his proposed reforms.
An ally of Italy's Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi threatened to bring down his government over the timing of a referendum, Berlusconi said on Thursday, acknowledging friction in his coalition for the first time. At issue was a referendum on electoral reform that aims to bring greater political stability to a country which has seen 62 governments since 1945. But the Northern League, Berlusconi's main external ally, and other smaller parties fear the referendum could weaken them . . . Berlusconi said he favoured an American-style two party system but added he had to make a difficult choice about the referendum's timing, given that the Northern League would have brought down the government.

The Global Warfare and Corporate Welfare State

Because the Obama presidential campaign was run on a platform of change, the continuity of Bush-era policies under the Obama administration are all the more disheartening and disappointing to the new president's liberal and left-leaning supporters, who hoped, against all odds, that the change they desired was achievable within the confines of the two-party state. Their sense of regret is palpable, and warranted in terms of both foreign and domestic policy.

Cup O' Joel focuses in on the administration's invocation of the state secrets privilege to continue to squash lawsuits aimed at revealing government abuses of the fourth amendment in its warantless wiretapping program, as well as the transferral of the Guantanamo Bay prison system to Bagram, Afghanistan, in order to elude due process, and concludes:

Since 2000, many liberals repented that they cast votes for Ralph Nader and (perhaps) accidentally gave the presidency to Bush. The lesser of two evils they (and I) came to believe might be evil, but it is still less evil. Right? Perhaps. But it seems that partisans on both sides of America’s political divide ought to uphold minimal standards of not-evil-at-all.

Anarchy Jack at Manifestos from the Decline, on the other hand, fixes upon the continuity of policy in the harboring of war criminals and the kleptocratic bipoligarchy centered on Wall St., and admits:

I’ve given my support, not only in money but in hope to the idea that this time, it could be different. But it can’t, because this time, like last time and the time before that, the moneyed and the well-connected did what they do best: they used our hopes and desperation to steal what little we had left. I didn’t come to this conclusion via the endless right-wing or left-wing demagoguery that fouls the airwaves. I just looked outside after hearing there was a new sheriff in town, and saw for myself that America was still a kleptocracy.

The contruction of the surveillance society within the context of the national security state will continue unabated so long as the duopoly party for global warfare and corporate welfare is allowed to remain in power.

The Impermanent Majority

At the Huffington Post, Thomas B. Edsall talks up a report by the Center for American Progress on the New Progressive America, in a post entitled "Permanent Democratic Majority." If the meme sounds familiar, that's because it is. Most recently, it has been associated with Karl Rove's campaign to create a permanent Republican majority on the basis of Bush 43's presidency, and we all know how well that turned out. Despite his hedging and the satirical allusion to Rove's failure, Edsall nonetheless embraces the concept of the one-party state, so long as it's his party that holds the reins of power, thus revealing the deeper irony constituted by the delusions of grandeur common to ideologists of the duopoly on both sides of the Republicrat/Demoblican divide.

White-State America

It is a commonplace of contemporary duopoly ideology that the American electorate is "split down the middle," with roughly half the country represented by the Democrats and the other by Republicans. Daniel at Investment Watch reflects on the American-style accumulation of stuff, which leads into a critique of Obama's stimulus plan. He then writes:
I have made my many objections very clear to those that say they represent me. They disagree with me. They believe spending is the way out. So because we strongly disagree I am no longer represented . . . This two party system is a failure in that the losing party which usually makes up half the country is thus not represented. Nothing good can come of the failure to be represented. (Emphasis added.)
Of course, the situation is much worse than this. With approximately 56% voter turnout in 2008 (which represents a forty year high!), Obama was voted into office with 53% of the vote, which comes to just over one third of eligible voters by my calculations. This correlates roughly with Americans' stated party affiliation, according to Rasmussen, which reports that over the last four years roughly a quarter to a third of Americans consistently claim affiliation with a party other than the Republicans or Democrats. By framing the political disposition of the populace in terms of the red-state/blue-state divide, the conventional wisdom effectively obscures the fact that a significant number of Americans simply do not find their views represented by either of the two major parties, call it white-state America, if you will, to round out the tricolor of the good old stars and stripes.

The Abilene Paradox

A common argument against third party alternatives to the duopoly system is that their candidacies are not viable because they have no chance of winning, and would hence be a waste of a vote. Yet, the only difference between a viable and a non-viable candidate is whether a significant number of voters is willing to cast a ballot for them. The fact that a majority of Americans tell pollsters they agree that a competitive third party would be "good for the United States" indicates that we have stumbled here upon a form of the Abilene paradox, according to which "a group of people collectively decide on a course of action that is counter to the preferences of any of the individuals in the group." What are potential solutions to this conundrum?

In a post on the drawbacks of the two-party system, and the political cost of lesser-of-two-evils voting, Bo "Knows" writes:
I would like to see the growth in size and popularity of some of the smaller political parties. What I would really like to see is the development of a web of political parties with a wide variety of issues that they are concerned about and aren’t just to the left or the right of the political spectrum.
Such an effort should be central to third party political strategy, and would be a strong step toward addressing the problem posed by the Abilene paradox. There are a few positive signs that things are moving in this direction: the "we agree" statement endorsed by Ron Paul, Ralph Nader, Cynthia McKinney and Chuck Baldwin last fall, the recent meeting of third party activists in Minnesota, and the ballot access suit filed by a third party coalition in Pennsylvania.

Ya Basta

Rather than engage in rhetorical self-delusion, or fall prey to the duopoly's political master-narrative, a report on local tea party protests in Washington's Tri-City Herald emphasizes the event's position against the two-party bipoligarchy.

In some cases they'll be setting aside their political differences -- forgetting for an afternoon that they're Republicans, Democrats or Libertarians, whether they're liberal or conservative on social issues -- to unite for a common cause, to tell the federal government, "Enough is enough."

"We're not pressing one party over the other, but we are going to kick the bums out," said Leon Howard, one of the event organizers. "The major parties -- I call 'em Republicrats -- have both been taking us down this road."

However, it may not be enough to simply "kick the bums out." Big business is more than happy to invest in the system when Republicrat panhandlers go begging for bucks. In a column at the Socialist Worker, Lance Selfa provides a materialist analysis of how both old and new sectors of the economy navigate the partisan divide within the federal system, and maintain their influence despite personnel changes in the Congress and White House.

It would be misleading to conclude that the Democrats simply represent one section or coalition of business, while Republicans represent another. The operation of the two-party system assures that these divisions within American business are ad hoc and don't congeal into permanent ideological camps. Business must learn to operate within the U.S. federal system, which means that industries that may be big Republican donors at the presidential level may also support local Democratic political machines.

Politics without Politics

In a defense of the upcoming tax-day tea party protests against liberal critics, Donald Douglas writes at American Power:
Probably the best explanation for Krugman and Hamsher's frustration is pure jealousy, even panic. Leftists were the opposition for the last eight years. They had their run at power. What's interesting to me is that today's grassroots activism is not particularly partisan. Over and over again, on blogs and message boards, I see folks saying "we are not political." Many folks confess that this is the first time they've gotten involved politically. (Emphasis added.)
How can we explain the contradiction embedded in the logic of this passage? On the one hand, there is the claim that organizers and participants of the protests "are not political," while on the other hand there is the admission that such organization and participation is highly political in nature. Douglas provides a hint in his observation that the current form of grassroots tea party activism is "not particularly partisan." Of course, at face value, this is demonstrably false. A political movement galvanized by its opposition to government policy, organized and executed by motivated adherents to the cause falls squarely under the definition of political partisanship. However, when activists claim that they are not engaging in partisanship, or even politics, in this fashion, they mean that they are not motivated by party politics, which, in the case of US politics, means two-party politics, duopoly politics. Obviously, in the present case, this is not entirely true either, since many who are involved in the tea party movement explicitly argue that it should be diverted into an effort to "take back" the Republican Party.

Tea party organizers and enthusiasts flatter themselves if they believe that their actions are virtually unprecedented in the recent history of the United States. Douglas, for instance, writes, "I can't really recall quite the phenomenon as this buildup for the April 15th Nationwide Tax Day Tea Party Rallies." He should remind himself of the buildup to the protests against the Iraq war held in countries all over the world and cities and towns across the United States on February 15, 2003, a month before the war even began. That campaign led, of course, to a sustained anti-war movement in the United States and across the world, the message and momentum of which was, of course, eventually co-opted by the Democrats when it was deemed politically safe to do so, and helped propel Obama into the White House, where he has begun to systematically backtrack from his pledges and promises on issues dear to many people involved in those efforts, leaving many with a sinking feeling of buyer's remorse, as Cynthia McKinney recently put it.

While a number of tea party organizers have rejected the overtures of Republican politicians to speak at their events, not all have proven capable of resisting the temptation to book a big name. Newt Gingrich, for instance, is slated to speak at the events in New York, and Fox News spokes-mouths will be broadcasting directly from actions in other cities. In a post on why he won't be tea-bagging at Delaware Libertarian, Steve Newton, writes, "Because the participants in this tea party movement are, unknowingly, helping to cement the two-party system even more firmly into place." The latter is all the more likely the more people convince themselves that their activism is non-political and non-partisan. The duopoly feeds off such self-delusion.

The Duopoly is Dead, Long Live the Duopoly

Duopoly ideology is so entrenched in our political thought that apologists of the two party system speak as if it were somehow part and parcel of the constitutional separation of powers, confusing so-called 'divided government' (when one party controls the executive while the other controls the legislature) with the system of checks and balances, as has been shown here before. Perhaps even more insidious is the way in which it smuggles itself back into the discourses of commentators (present company not excluded) who consciously put it in question.

A self-described "Democrat (recovering Republican)" at the TPMCafe, by the moniker of Stillidealistic, asks, "Is it time to reconsider the two party system?" The author provides a short historical sketch of the early development of the two party system, emphasizing the fact that the Constitution does not address the party system in any significant way, and then expresses exasperation over the contemporary state of partisan polarization. We read: "I know there is no practical way to do it, but I'd like to see the 2 party system go away, have an open election and the 2 biggest "vote getters" have a run off." But, for all intents and purposes, is this not how the two party system already effectively functions? Is this not that same as saying: abolish the two party system, but maintain the two party system? Perhaps the surest way to make the two party system "go away" is also the simplest and most practical. Support third parties and their candidates for office.

Discontent and Third Party Strategy

In a post on the entertainment value of Glenn Beck's rants, tirades and other assorted monologues, Gun Toting Liberal states as an aside something that is likely on the minds of many Americans:
I’m “sick up and fed” with this ridiculous, never ONCE mentioned in the Constitution, two-party system cartel. They’re (both of them) nothing but a bunch of Police-Stater and Nanny-Stater (again, respectively), stinking authoritarians whose only real gripe amongst each other over whether or not twelve or thirteen bucks a week is the right amount of money to take from American workers.
The recognition that the two-party state does not represent the interests of the American people but rather those of powerful corporations, global capital, and entrenched special interests is not confined to newly disenfranchised conservatives, but the implosion of the GOP coalition over the last two election cycles has led many on the right to renew calls for third party activism against the two-party system. The Static Noise Journal sees the need for a new party:
The Democrats will have nearly destroyed the US economy with their multi-trillion dollar social programs by the time the next few election cycles roll around, however the GOP will still be like a bitter poison to the electorate. The people should be ripe for something new. A new party should focus on constitutionally sound principals and not flowery social justice rhetoric on one hand or moralistic dogma on the other.
Though a welcome development, the proliferation of new parties runs the risk of further fracturing that portion of the electorate which is already plagued by political Balkanization, namely, the third front opposition to the two party system. Third party activists must work in concert to overcome the obstacles raised by duopolists in the major parties. In this regard, the recent meeting of representatives from numerous third party campaigns in Minneapolis is a step in the right direction.

Glenn Beck and American Fascism

Glenn Beck's over-the-top rhetoric and antics on his relatively new Fox News show are remarkable for the effect they have had on our political discourse. His 9-12Project has heightened the profile of the tea party movement, provided liberals with an object of scorn, split conservatives into oppositional factions, and raised the specter of "fascism with a happy face." (Clearly, Beck has been reading Jonah Goldberg.)

In his critique of Beck's diagnosis of American fascism, David Neiwert argues that Beck's analysis rests on the faulty premise that fascism exerts total social control "indirectly through domination of nominally private owners," whereas . . .
fascism was an economic phenomenon only secondarily at best. Primarily, fascism is a political and cultural pathology; its leading ideologues in fact explicitly rejected economics as a driver in human affairs. Fascism was all about blood and iron and will, a love of violence and a contempt for the weak. Only in its mature stages -- when it has actually obtained power -- do economics come into play for fascism.
Neiwert then goes on to debunk Beck's claims via a comparison with historical fascism. However, this fails to address the point that American "fascism" (i.e. in the secondary, economic sense) has already reached a relatively mature stage, perhaps even the most advanced stage witnessed in the modern era, in the form of global corporatism.

Extra Support for Third Party Politics

You know the two-party system is in trouble when women's undergarment manufacturers start to tap into the anti-duopoly segment of their market. In an article cross posted on a number of different websites, A. Jacobsen makes the case for Tatiana bras:
The Tatiana brand is synonymous with fashion bras in hard to find sizes. Being a leader in charitable giving is the mission of this company, and it is doing it in a unique way. They do not ask their customers to give anything, instead they take a percentage of each sale and give to social and environmental charities. Ishopconscious is the company that makes this philosophy possible for Tatiana. It is seeking to make a network of businesses and customers that share its vision. The founder of this company designs the Tatiana label . . . Ishopconcious has political aspirations as well . . . Using the power of its customers to finance a campaign, it will endeavor to bring a new political party to power. A political party that shares a common belief, and will allow our nation to break away from our failing two party system.
Submitted without comment.

The Three Party System

The headline at New West is both deceptive and instructive: "Three Party System Fractures Idaho Legislature." Of course, Idaho is a solidly Republican state with a small Democratic minority. The state's Senate has 28 Republicans and 7 Democrats, while the House has 52 Republicans and 18 Democrats. The fracture (which may or may not be confined to the House) is internal to the Republican majority, and has allowed the Democrats to defeat two recent bills by siding with the one Republican faction or the other. The report notes, "It’s not unusual in states where one party has a lopsided majority for the majority to split in this way, making for themselves a “two-party” system where the second party does not constitute enough of an opposition."

A split majority, as in this case, is no majority at all. The question is how deep the split goes, and whether it can be exploited in the interest of actually opening up the two party system to represent a wider array of interests and views. Voters in states, or even districts, with such lopsided but fractured majorities may be most amenable to third party activism; people may not sense the same sort of "danger" in supporting a third party candidate that they do in races that are closely contested (the politics of the state of Minnesota notwithstanding). Consider, in this context, the recent election of Progressive Party candidate Bob Kiss for mayor of Burlington Vermont. Though this may have been a "perverse outcome" of the newly instituted instant runoff ballot system, the fact that a third party candidate even had a chance of winning at all is itself newsworthy. However, as Dale Sheldon at Least of All Evils has persuasively shown, this is likely a function of the fact that the Republicans effectively are the third party in liberal Burlington, while the Democrats and Progressives together constitute the major parties.

The Post-Bipartisan Era

The conceit of bipartisanship is one of the many sources of partisan hypocrisy in the two party system. How can anyone take seriously Republican demands for bipartisanship from the Obama administration when the likes of Karl Rove accuses an ideological opponent of being a "divisive figure"? On the other hand, how could anyone take seriously the administration's stated goal of inaugurating a "post-partisan" era when Democrats control the executive and legislative branches of government? While Democrats and Republicans argue amongst themselves over who's in the right on what issue and who's to blame for what crisis, many on the outside looking in realize the charade for what it is, and understand that neither side is wrong when they each blame the other.

One of the unintended consequences of bi-polar politics is thus a paradoxical unity of opposites among the disenfranchised on both the left and the right. Paul Steele, a conservative Christian, calls on his readers to challenge . . .
the concept of a two party system. Far too many people are living without representation because they have no representation, because neither Republicans or the Democrats (which could be a single party as far as I am concerned) truly represent what they believe. I am one of them . . . We need at least a third party, if not more, to break up the political monopoly the two corrupt parties have on the government.
On the other side of the political spectrum, Alan Maki, a socialist, opposes the two party state from the left, arguing that the Obama administration's labor and war policies . . .
demonstrate the need to initiate and organize a working class based labor party in the United States which will take on the thoroughly reactionary, warmongering and anti-labor policies of Barack Obama, the Democrats and the thoroughly corrupt and incompetent "leaders" of organized labor who are content holding up the tails of a bunch of dumb donkeys.
Despite what the Demoblicans and Republicrats would have us believe, neither of the duopoly parties has been close to garnering the support of a majority of Americans for quite some time, or at least that's what Americans tell Rasmussen. If only they would put their vote where their mouth is.

Saving America from Itself

With the upcoming tax day tea party protests, and the media blather heightening their profile, the question for many of these activists has become: so what to do next? As has been noted here before, infiltration is high on the list of strategic proposals. Asking "Where do we go from here?" Free America makes the case today:
The simple fact of the matter is in America, we have a two party system. The Democrats are wholly owned by George Soros, Moveon, Acorn and other radical groups. That leaves only the Republican Party. I know many will scream the Republicans got us into this mess. I agree . . . But if we just throw out the party, we will not stop the Democrats . . . I tell people I do not want the Republican Party to take over the Tea Party Movement. I want the Tea Party Movement to take over the Republican Party. We have to act now to save America. If we do not, there maybe no America left to save.
The author agrees that the Republican Party is half of the problem while holding that it is simultaneously the only solution. Thus, this is nothing more than the same old lesser-of-two-evils argument, a rearguard plea to sustain the reactive politics of the two-party system. That this argument must be made at all indicates a significant weakness in the two-party front. The simple fact, however, is that to save America from itself, Americans must free themselves from the ideology of the duopoly.

Update: In turning down Michael Steele's request to speak at their protest next week, the organizers of the Chicago tea party demonstrate their recognition that, like the Democratic Party, the Republican Party is part of the problem.

Internal Exclusion

There is no lack of evidence to support the proposition that the duopoly parties systematically exclude third party interests from everyday political discourse and activity, while framing this disenfranchisement as a triumph of democracy and non-partisan law-making. As Douglas Schoen recently wrote in a piece on the potential for third party activism on the conservative right: "the two major parties, who appear to disagree on virtually everything, agree on the need to keep any alternatives off of the ballot." However, it should also be noted that such exclusionary policies and practices are not confined to eliminating external threats to the order of the duopoly. Two-party discipline also necessitates what we may call internal exclusions, which maintain the 'integrity' (and I use this term loosely) of the established structure of power.

This is especially clear in the case of Massachusetts. The stated goal of the Patriot Initiative blog, for instance, is "to restore a two party system in Massachusetts and beyond," which, of course, means the resurrection of the Republican Party in liberal New England. Aside from the fact that such endeavors are greeted with opposition from Republicans nationally, who are loath to placate so-called RINOS (i.e. Republicans-in-name-only, see, for instance, the reception of Rockefeller Republican's prescriptions by the folks at RedState), there are in addition entrenched local and state interests which do not appreciate any encroachments onto their own turf. Sam Adams at the Patriot Initiative writes of the MA Republican Party:
The ineptitude of this party's leadership, from the entrenched State Committee members who treat their positions as an exclusive social club designed to keep people OUT, instead on bringing people IN, to the local party Chairs who have seen their active members dwindle to the point of some clubs not even meeting or disbanding, is KILLING any chance for growth in our ranks.
A case in point is supplied by Bobby Constantino at The Dot, who launched a long-shot Republican campaign in MA to unseat an incumbent House Democrat in 2006, and recognizes it now as a dreadful error:
I had no idea what I was getting into. My friends and former colleagues distanced themselves from me. People I didn't know avoided me. Even the people in the State Republican Party treated me like a plague, looking at me like I was from Mars when I talked about the things I had seen in Roxbury. I thought I was being bold and brave and doing something meaningful when I decided to run. Instead, I now know that I put my career on the line for, well, nothing. (Emphasis added.)
The two party system maintains and reproduces itself by means of external exclusions possible only on the basis of the bipartisan front, as well as internal exclusions which consolidate the power of party elites via the discipline of the good old boys and girls clubs.