Interested in serving on a board or commission, but not a registered Democrat or Republican? The Common Ground Party may offer an answer. The party is seeking candidates to run for town offices in the November election. “Small towns in Connecticut depend on volunteers to populate local boards and commissions. Our towns cannot function without this support,” [Common Ground Party chairman Michael] Sanders said, adding that the avenue to appointment too often lies through the two political parties, who seek registered party members as candidates for boards and commissions. [Emphasis added.] “Some citizens want to participate in government in a non-partisan way, without the party labels. We think we can offer that type of participation.” . . . The new Common Ground Party seeks to attract residents who wish to contribute to local government, but don’t wish to be categorized by national political labels or ideology. Common Ground, Sanders said, will focus exclusively on local issues at this time “and rather than taking dogmatic positions, we want to encourage some open discussion, some freewheeling discussion, because we think that’s part of open government.” . . . In a small town where the November ballot lists 39 positions to be filled through election, it’s often difficult for the political parties to find candidates willing to run. The local Republican and Democratic parties frequently cross-endorse candidates, leave ballot slots unfilled for lack of qualified candidates, or chose candidates from the other party.
People bash "parties" and "partisanship", but large national organizations like these are the only way to aggregate, assimilate, and articulate the interests, values, and goals of large diverse polities . . . countries with multiple party systems and proportional representation electoral systems typically have weak and ineffective coalition governments.In other words, the two-party system is effective because it necessitates coalition building, but multi-party systems are ineffective because they necessitate coalition building.
The health care reform debate has effectively revealed the fault lines running through the Democratic Party's ruling coalition and, by extension, the limitations of 'big tent' politics under the conditions of the two-party circus state. In an interview with Rachel Maddow, Howard Dean recently asked: "What’s the point of having a 60 vote majority in the United States Senate, if you can’t produce…health care reform?" This is a question many liberal and progressive Democrats are asking themselves of late. The Kossacks, for instance, are getting restless. One disillusioned diarist writes: "It's time for a third party . . . If I wanted Republicans, I'd vote for them." The consensus being sought by the so-called Blue Dog Democrats is not pleasing conservatives either. The Other McCain writes: "Every Republican vote for such legislation is a nail in the coffin of the GOP . . . Kill the bill!" Conservative Republicans and progressive Democrats may have finally found some common ground, though a coalition is unlikely. The circus masters of the duopoly parties couldn't rent a tent that big these days.
Green Party activists, on the other hand, are beginning to capitalize on the discontent brewing on the progressive left. If Liz were Queen writes:
For at least almost 30 years we have had a one-party government. It calls itself by two names: Democratic and Republican . . . They do not represent ordinary Americans. They represent corporations over people . . . The plan they have devised will force 47 million Americans who can’t afford insurance now to buy it from the Corporate health care insurance companies that fund their campaigns . . . America needs a real second party. That appears to be the only solution short of another American revolution.In a similar vein, Pat LaMarche provides liberals and progressives with some friendly advice in the Bangor Daily News:
Next time, you could try going Green . . . During the 2008 election cycle, the Democrats told us that we didn’t get health care reform because the Republicans were in power. OK, the reason that we don’t have health care reform now must be because the Democrats are in power.And the Greens are not all talk either. Green Party Watch reports on Matt Reichel's ongoing bid for the congressional seat vacated by Rahm Emmanuel:
Matt Reichel, who ran on the Green Party line in the Special Election to fill Rahm’s seat in Congress earlier this Spring, is one of the first declared Green Party candidates for US House in 2010 and has hit the ground running. As reported here two weeks ago, Matt Reichel declared his intention to run for the Chicago area 5th Congressional District seat just before the Illinois Green Party State meeting. Reichel: "We were promised change we could believe in, and instead have gotten short changed. All the hope in the world isn’t going to bring Americans the peace and justice they so deserve and have so stridently demanded, not while we are stuck with the same two parties of Empire and Wall Street.”
Trevor Drown, 39, asked area residents to decide which public office he would seek in next year’s election, and respondents voted overwhelmingly for Drown — who will run as an independent candidate — to challenge U.S. Sen. Blanche Lincoln and her Republican opponent next November. Drown said Saturday at a meeting near Pelsor the federal government was out of touch with American citizens. “People are tired of not being heard,” he said. “A U.S. Senator, that is the conduit for the voice of the people in their state. The two-party system, in my opinion, has gotten to where they’re doing what’s better for their party rather than what’s better for the people.” . . . Drown, a former Green Beret now serving with the Air National Guard, spoke at TEA Party events in Russellville earlier this year and received what he called overwhelming support to run for public office . . . Drown’s exploratory committee will make preparations for his name to formally be added to the ballot in March, when official campaigning begins.Update: A commenter to this post points out that Drown has also launched an online grass-roots outreach organization: Dare to Make a Difference. The group's mission statement:
We want to ensure the government listens to the single largest, richest special interest group in the country: The American People! They transcend political party beliefs, ideological views and all have one thing in common, get the country back on track through our efforts of daring to make a difference. There are people who are members from every walk of life, and educational level, all over the United States. We are a grass roots cyber-movement seeking elected leaders who listen to the American people and make wise decisions. we help them by providing research and information they can use. Our concept of community involvement was created and developed by a core group of individuals who care about this country. Trevor Drown is one of our founders. He is the first of many to dare to make a difference and run for an elected leadership position as an independent.
Where to begin?
Needless to say, political consciousness of third party activism in the United States is quite low. Yet, countless political rants begin by voicing frustration with the two-party system and conclude with a call to form a third party. The depth of this discontent is demonstrated by the breadth of third parties active in the United States. The political parties page at Politics1 lists more than thirty.
Third Party News
Perhaps the most popular third party news site is Independent Political Report, which is "dedicated to covering America’s third parties and independent candidates, and providing a forum for the intelligent discussion thereof." Ballot Access News, edited by Richard Winger, follows stories at local, state and federal levels on various issues affecting third party and independent politics across the country: ballot access issues, petitioning guidelines, pending federal and state level legislation, court cases, registration numbers etc. The Thirds posts regular updates on third party and independent campaigns for office and tracks third party news. The Irregular Times covers independent progressive news.
General Third Party and Independent Group Blogs
The Melting Pot Project, a group blogging and third party networking site, aims to "encourage outside-the-box thinking about American politics in a way that extends beyond the dogmatic red-blue style, and to point out the ideological failings of both of the two dominant parties." Watchblog's Third Party and Independent column is a multi-editor blog focusing on current events from perspectives other than those of the duopolist mainstream.
America's Independent Party
Formed by supporters of Alan Keyes' presidential bid in 2008, the AIP has a simple platform calling for affiliation rather than membership. Keyes' blog, Loyal to Liberty, is worth checking out. The Catholic Knight is a vocal affiliate of the party, and follows issues the issues of the day from a conservative Catholic perspective.
Anarchist News provides "a non-sectarian source for news about and of concern to anarchists" as well as a forum for debate and discussion. InfoShop aggregates news, opinion and resources of interest to anti-state and anti-capitalist activists around the globe. Attack the System is a group blog aimed at synthesizing the anarchist and American revolutionary traditions.
American Conservative Party
The American Conservative Party has chapters in seventeen states. The party's umbrella site has an active blog, and members are also active at Tea Party Patriots. Daily Pundit is a supporter, and has regular commentary on the group.
So far as I can tell, the Constitution Party does not yet seem to have a well-networked niche in the political blogopshere. Joe Murphy, a party official in Pennsylvania, maintains Constitution Party News, which follows Constitution Party news from around the country. Kevin Thompson maintained the Rock County Constitution Party blog and follows many different issues relating to the group and its detailed platform.
There are many bloggers active in the Green Party across the country and around the world. The Green Party website has an extensive link-list of related sites and blogs. Green Party Watch, which calls itself "America's #1 Source for Green Party News & Views!", is a multi-editor blog and web portal for all things Green. At On the Wilder Side, Ian and Kimberly Wilder cover Green Party and progressive issues. A Green State of Mind is a "Green Theoretical Journal."
Independents – that is, persons who are not affiliated with any political party – span the political spectrum and are likely the largest and least predictable voting bloc in the United States. On the right, Independent Conservative Voters seeks "to encourage Independent and Conservative voters to act effectively in returning this country to Constitutional government and to restore our lost Liberties." On the left, the Independent Progressive Politics Network is a portal site "committed to the achievement of a national, non-sectarian, independent progressive political party, or an alliance of such parties, as an alternative to the corporate-controlled, Democratic/Republican system." Independent Voting is the umbrella site of the Committee for a Unified Independent Party. At The Hankster, Nancy Hanks supplies "a daily news feed of, by and for Independents across America." Politics in the Zeros is a anti-war, progressive independent blog that follows clean-tech and economic issues. Ross Levin follows third party and independent news and issues, and advocates progressive political reform.
There are a great many libertarian sites on the web, many more than there are specifically Libertarian Party oriented blogs. Lew Rockwell's site is a well known "anti-state, anti-war, pro-market" news and opinion clearinghouse. Libertarian Blog Place is just that, and has aggregated a long list of Libertarian or libertarian-leaning blogs. Delaware Libertarian is a good place to start to explore the Libertarian blogosphere, while Left Libertarian aggregates anarchist-leaning content from around the web. The Beacon is the blog of the Independent Institute, a libertarian leaning think tank. The Humble Libertarian's list of The Top 100 Libertarian Blogs and Websites is an indispensable resource for anyone interested in exploring the libertarian web. At Political Class Dismissed, which calls itself "the war room of the Tea Party Movement," James Ostrowski follows national and local politics from an independent libertarian perspective, writing, "I do not hesitate to praise leftists when they’re right and I’ll defend conservatives even when they hoist themselves on their own petard."
Modern Whig Party
Though the Modern Whig Party was founded only last year, it already has chapters in over thirty states. The party's umbrella blog is somewhat sparse, but many of the state affiliates maintain blogs with regular updates on local issues and developments. The Whig blog covers current events and is a fine portal to the Modern Whig blogosphere. Whigs in Virginia follows Modern Whig news around the country. The Florida Whig Party is fielding three candidates for Congress in 2010. Their website is consistently updated and contains a Whig internet radio portal. Gene Baldassari, a Whig candidate for the NJ State Assembly, covers Whig and general third party issues on his website and blog. The New York Whig Party blog has become quite active around election time '09.
US Pirate Party
The United States Pirate Party blog functions as a clearing house for information of relevance to Pirate Party activists.
Consistent with the fractious history of socialist politics, there are no less than ten active socialist parties in the United States. The Socialist Webzine is "the electronic version of The Socialist magazine," following news and issues of interest to socialists around the globe. Lenin's Tomb is a pillar of the hard-left blogosphere, with links to sites throughout the left-wing web. California's Peace and Freedom Party is currently in the process of building a national organization and has an active Blog for Peace and Freedom. The Socialist Party of NYC blog covers issues both local and national in scope. At The Marxist-Leninist, Comrade Zero collects resources and news while providing analysis and commentary aimed at radical activists and organizers in the US. The Socialist Worker provides news and commentary from a Marxist perspective and follows the "working class struggle" across the globe.
Working Families Party
The Working Families Party has chapters in New York, Connecticut, South Carolina and Oregon. The New York and Connecticut branches currently maintain blogs hosted on their respective sites.
State-Level and Local Blogs
There are numerous third party and independent groups active only in certain states, and there are innumerable blogs devoted to state level and local politics which also focus on third party and independent news. The Maine View is keeping a close watch on races shaping up for the 2010 elections in the state. Independence Minnesota is the official group blog of the Minnesota Independence Party. The Oregon Independent is maintained by Sal Peralta, the Secretary of the Independent Party of Oregon. The Prog Blog covers issues of relevance to the Vermont Progressive Party. The Utah League of Independent Voters offers "many resources to help connect to other independents who are tired of the partisan dead weight dragging our country down."
Third Party and Independent Issue Advocacy
There are a number of issues that galvanize third party and independent political activists across the political spectrum. Among these are ballot access reform, electoral reform, and anti-incumbency efforts. Ballot Access News is the best source of which I am aware for news on that front. Fair Vote advocates "a constitutionally protected right to vote, universal voter registration, a national popular vote for president, instant runoff voting and proportional representation." Open Debates is a "nonprofit, nonpartisan organization committed to reforming the presidential debate process . . . [and] has launched simultaneous campaigns to inform the public, the news media and policy makers about the antidemocratic conduct of the Commission on Presidential Debates." VOID is an anti-incumbency group that seeks to organize "voters dissatisfied with our politics and government results, to vote out incumbents in sufficient numbers to change how politicians conduct themselves and our government." Vote Anti-Incumbent covers independent candidates for office and independent voting issues. At Vote Out Incumbents, Thomas Daly advocates for independent and progressive alternatives to the false choices offered up by the Democratic-Republican Party. At Least of All Evils, Dale Sheldon makes a persuasive case for range voting, and voting system reform.
There are also many blogs devoted to systematic critique of the two-party system and the ideology that sustains it – you are reading one right now. The Think 3 Institute offers "political and cultural commentary from the perspective of radical common sense. Opposition to the AMERICAN BIPOLARCHY and ideological fanaticism in all forms." The World Loves its Own offers political, social and religious commentary from a Catholic perspective and a position of "alienation from the two-party system." The Jacksonian Party is dedicated to developing the "idea of a Jacksonian Party and what it means to run the Nation under the Jacksonian precepts." Folk Politics, An Ordinary Person is a consistent critic of the two-party sham from an independent progressive perspective. Opinione stands in opposition to the reigning two-party state and follows American politics and international relations from Italy.
Hopefully this post has opened a few windows onto the third party and independent political web and the third party blogosphere. This is an evolving page, which I intend to update regularly and fill out in greater detail. In the comments section, please note any glaring omissions, thematic suggestions, or nominations of individual sites and blogs (perhaps you maintain one yourself!) for inclusion in future installments of the guide, or send me an email.
When you have a one-dimensional spectrum of left-right politics, you have (only) one acceptable side to an argument, yours or theirs. Unless the weight of power is significantly in favor of one or the other, what do you have? Right: you have stalemate in most instances. This is especially true where ideological/philosophical issues are at stake—which is the usual case. Unless there is political compromise (Horse trading) or political intimidation (Arm twisting), nothing happens. Issues in need of resolution remain on the table unresolved, with each side accusing the other of the blame. What has this actually accomplished? Kudos, perhaps; defense of “ideals” and perhaps some succor for alpha-type personalities. But aside from such bragging rights, nothing gets done to solve the issue(s). That more often than not is what you get from severely partisan politics. An Independent option then is viewed as a means of overcoming this. So how do we go about accomplishing this, and what is our premise for doing so? At this point our premise for proposing such an option has been demonstrated with some degree of probability, to wit:
•(A) Independents now equal or exceed the number of voters who openly support either the Republican or the Democratic parties. Both require capturing a significant portion of this independent vote to win elections. None-the-less, their governing policies continue to reflect primarily if not exclusively the partisan nature of their ideology.
•(B) Such bipolar ideological approach to governing makes resolution of any number of issues of significance to all Americans difficult to achieve, exactly for the reason of partisanship.
•(C) Voter expression of political independence no doubt represents for some a dissatisfaction or disillusionment with either Party’s performance in governing. Just what percent of Independents hold such feelings is not at all clear, as many continue to regularly vote for one Party or the other much of the time. A primary reason for such continued if reluctant loyalty to these Parties may be the absence today of any practical political alternatives. . . .
What makes me believe that currently an Independent movement might be different? It might be different if it demonstrated to the voting public that its political agenda was both broad as well as different. That it didn’t represent just a different shade of the same political fabric. It might be different if it offered voters a clearly different deal; if it offered at least most Americans a different vision of governing. And it might be different due to the perceived state of affairs in government. We have on many occasions herein highlighted the degree of apparent political dissatisfaction evident in America today. It might be different if, as we hypothecate, enough Americans want a different outcome to make it different.
If the Change List were to capture a significant number of seats in the 111-member Kurdistan Regional Government parliament, it could have an impact at the margins on the way the confederacy is governed. But the likelihood is that the Kurdistan Democratic Party of Massoud Barzani and Talabani's PUK will continue to run the place jointly, and Barzani will retain all the extensive prerogatives of the presidency.The coalition's success has been driven by widespread dissatisfaction with the region's ruling parties. As Sam Dagher notes in the New York Times, "many Kurds consider the governing parties — which control the government, the security forces and the economy — rife with corruption, nepotism and cronyism." On that score, if the goal of Operation Iraqi Freedom was to deliver US-style democracy to the people of Iraq, we'd have to declare it a success.
I am amazed at the blind loyalty that we Americans give to our two party system. I assure you that this loyalty is exactly what the red and blue want. They want a base that will vote for party across the board, no questions asked; unfortunately, many Americans do exactly that.Foster goes on to argue that politicians should be judged on their character rather than on the basis of their party affiliation or their political rhetoric. Character, he states, is defined by what we do, not what we say. Seen in this light, few politicians from either party would not scurry back into the darkness like the cockroaches that they are. Foster concludes,
Let's dump the red and blue labels and focus on America. Let's be certain that we vote for those who love the Constitution and have a history of telling the truth. What we do defines our character.Though Foster correctly identifies one of the major problems afflicting the US body politic, his solution does not entirely address it. Loyalty to the duopoly system of government and the Republican and Democratic Parties colors the very perception of what "America" is, and the duopolists are well aware of this fact. Indeed, many of them would be the first to argue that "we should dump the labels and focus on America." This is the first presupposition of the bipartisan ideology undergirding the two-party system, and a formula for political alienation under the two-party state.
In his acceptance speech on election night 2008, Barack Obama stated, "we have never been a collection of Red States and Blue States: we are, and always will be, the United States of America." Obama's everyday discursive marker for the political precept that informs this sentiment is the phrase "Surely we can all agree . . ." Examples are not hard to come by:
On abortion: "We may not agree on abortion, but surely we can agree on reducing the number of unwanted pregnancies in this country."I can't be the only person whose reflexive response to such rhetoric is: "Stop calling me Shirley!" But, consider in this context Paul Rosenberg's analysis of 'Partial Perceptions of Obama' at Open Left. The piece attempts to account for Obama's unwillingness or inability to implement progressive reforms of government, despite appearances to the contrary, and offers two explanations which are not mutually exclusive but rather mutually reinforcing. On the one hand, he cites a lack of "progressive infrastructure" capable of forcing the president's hand, and, on the other, he cites the discursive frame within which the president operates:
On same-sex marriage: "there are differences on same-sex marriage, but surely we can agree that our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters deserve to visit the person they love in a hospital and to live lives free of discrimination."
On partisanship and patriotism: "surely we can agree that no party or political philosophy has a monopoly on patriotism."
one over-riding factor is that he has come of age politically during a period dominated by conservatives waging hegemonic warfare, while progressives have not even woken up to what is happening. And one result of that is that Obama accepts as given the way that conservatives have framed a great many issues. Locked into their ideological framework, he then tries to do some warm-and-fuzzy things within the confines of that framework. But their framework necessarily limits those warm-and-fuzzy things to mere gestures at best, if not deceptive packaging for genuinely evil policies.Undoubtedly, many conservatives would vehemently disagree with this assessment. Nonetheless, while Rosenberg is correct to focus on the effects of framing on policy outcomes, he fails to address the function of form on those outcomes. As a partisan of the duopoly system, that is, as a bipartisan, Obama's politics are necessarily recalcitrant to progressive reforms and interests. It is highly ironic that commentators at Open Left bemoan the lack of an effective progressive infrastructure while arguing that the Democratic Party is the only vehicle by which one can achieve progressive goals. As I've argued before, this contradiction is definitive of the closed left. Engaging in a politics beyond the scope of the two-party frame is the first step toward opening our politics to goals that lie beyond that frame. An editorial in Michigan's Western Herald sums up the situation nicely:
Probably the greatest crime perpetrated by the two-party system is that of depriving American citizens of a true voice in their government. With political opinions so varied and complicated as they are, how accurately can just two choices in every election truly represent the will of the people? If representation is so troubled, why then would we desire those representatives to have an easier time making law?
Republicans have been running attack advertisements against Democrat Darrel Aubertine in the race for the 23rd Congressional District. Such tactics are common in politics these days except in this case there's one problem: Aubertine is not running. The St. Lawrence County state senator said Thursday that he will not seek the Democratic nod for the Congressional race. Yet, television ads placed by the national Republican Campaign Committee were seen on television Friday morning attacking Aubertine.While the Democrats are seeking out a nominee, Scozzafava has already come under criticism from the right. Red State's Eric Erickson: "If Dede Scozzafava is the best the New York Republicans can come up with, let’s just hand the district over to the Democrats." The Conservative Party of New York is equally skeptical of Scozzafava's conservative credentials. The Watertown Daily Times reports:
Conservatives stepped up their attacks on state Assemblywoman Dierdre K. Scozzafava Thursday, vowing to find a more right-leaning candidate to run against her for Rep. John M. McHugh's congressional seat. "There's positively, absolutely no way the Conservative Party would be endorsing DeDe Scozzafava for this seat," said Jim Kelly, a potential candidate who was campaign manager for former Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's opponent in 2006. Mr. Kelly emerged Thursday as the main rival Ms. Scozzafava might face from the political right. State Conservative Party Chairman Michael Long said he could not rule out that others will come forward.
It's a clear message that we need an alternative in Trenton that is not part of the broken two-party system, which controls government at virtually every level in New Jersey. Only an independent can fix the mess in Trenton, someone who is not beholden to special interests or worried about raising money to ensure their party does not lose seats in the next election. It is time for the citizens of the state to look to a candidate who is not enmeshed in a political system which seems to breed corruption from state government to town halls . . . More than anything, this points out the continuing failures of politicians from both parties to put the interests of the people of New Jersey in front of their own. Until the 2.4 million independent voters in New Jersey wake up and realize it's time to put true independents in office instead of partisan politicians, all we are doing is letting the robbers and scam artists switch jerseys.Since qualifying for matching funds and a place in the gubernatorial debates, Daggett has received more attention from the local political press, not all of it positive. He was included, for instance, in a commentary by Neil Scheck urging that we "add Corzine's opponents to list of narcissists." Daggett, however, is not alone in challenging the stooges running on the Republican and Democratic Party tickets. Joining him are Libertarian Ken Kaplan, Socialist candidate Greg Pason, and a handful of other independent candidates.
Oakland Police: "Two Oakland police officers working undercover at an anti-war protest in May 2003 got themselves elected to leadership positions in an effort to influence the demonstration." (San Francisco Chronicle.)A more recent example of overt political profiling would include the Missouri Information Analysis Center report, uncovered in March, identifying third party activists as potential security threats. Given the history of the state's surveillance of lawful protest groups, it would be surprising if Tea Party organizers were not already being monitored by government organizations across the country. Faced with such scenarios, there is an almost spontaneous tendency among activists to identify the immediate object of their political ire as the formal cause of their suppression and surveillance. This temptation must be resisted as a reactionary reflex of duopoly ideology, one that short circuits the relation between the individual and the state, often resulting in ridiculous formulations, such as "George Bush shut down my anti-war protest," or perhaps "Barack Obama cancelled my Tea Party." Partisan, duopolist reactions of this sort obscure a more deeply rooted problematic. As I wrote in Surveillance and the Sphere of Consensus, whether on the left or the right, "from the perspective of the intelligence and surveillance apparatus of the two-party state, political opinions outside the bipartisan sphere of consensus are clearly perceived as real threats to the security of the system."
New York Police: "For at least a year before the 2004 Republican National Convention, teams of undercover New York City police officers traveled to cities across the country, Canada and Europe to conduct covert observations of people who planned to protest at the convention, according to police records and interviews." (NY Times.)
FBI: "Counterterrorism agents at the Federal Bureau of Investigation have conducted numerous surveillance and intelligence-gathering operations that involved, at least indirectly, groups active in causes as diverse as the environment, animal cruelty and poverty relief, newly disclosed agency records show." (NY Times.)
NSA: "The National Security Agency has been spying on a Baltimore anti-war group, according to documents released during litigation, going so far as to document the inflating of protesters' balloons, and intended to deploy units trained to detect weapons of mass destruction . . . the Pledge of Resistance-Baltimore, a Quaker-linked peace group, has been monitored by the NSA working with the Baltimore Intelligence Unit of the Baltimore City Police Department." (Raw Story.)
DoD: "Pentagon documents released by the American Civil Liberties Union last week show the Department of Defense monitoring the activities of a wide swath of peace groups, including Veterans for Peace, Iraq Veterans Against the War, Military Families Speak Out, Code Pink, the American Friends Service Committee, the War Resisters League, and United for Peace and Justice, the umbrella group organizing January's protest." (Antiwar.com)
The surveillance society and the national security state are two sides of the same coin. When Thomas Jefferson stated that the price of freedom is eternal vigilance, he did not mean that the cost of liberty is constant scrutiny of the people by government, but rather the constant scrutiny of government by the people.
If you're reading these pages, you are likely already familiar with the article's first set of arguments against third party activism: such efforts have been unsuccessful in the past, a third party would take too long to build, and in the meantime it would strengthen the Democratic Party. Like his fellow advocates of the duopoly parties, the author makes virtues of historical fatalism, impatience, and lesser-evilism. The second half of the article begins from the premise that the hypothetical third party effort under consideration is successful:
At long last, the Republican Party goes into the dust heap of history and the new purer third party rises up, phoenix-like from the ashes to take its place. Then, everything would be right with the world! Well, not exactly.Since the assumption is that this party simply replaces the Republican Party, Hawkins' argument no longer effectively applies to third party activism, and thus his critique inadvertently and ironically provides a number of strong arguments against the reigning two-party system and in favor of third party politics. He first mentions, but dismisses, "the possibility that the Democrats would rig the rules of the game to make it all but impossible for an opposing party to get back into power." Of course, the system is already rigged in this fashion by bipartisan consensus: the Republican and Democratic Parties have fixed the rules, at local, state and federal levels, to ensure the exclusion of oppositional parties and voices from the nation's politics. This, of itself, is reason to support independent and third party efforts to expand the scope of political representation in government.
Next, Hawkins writes, "the exact same people who are ruining the Republican Party would move over to the third party and ruin it, too." This is not so much an argument against the hypothetical third party, as it is an indictment of the Republican Party and the rampant opportunism that drives duopoly politics. Yet, it also reveals the author's inability to conceive of a politics different from that peddled by the Democrats and Republicans, and divorced from the duopoly form. This becomes clear in his final point:
the Libertarian Party, Constitution Party, Green Party, etc. are much purer than the Republican and Democratic parties -- but there's a reason for that: they're not in power. They don't have a leech class that just wants to keep their cushy jobs. They don't get to hand out earmarks that indirectly put hundreds of thousands of dollars into the pockets of their families, friends, and political allies. They don't have to take electoral considerations into their policy positions because they don't ever get elected to anything. It's easy to be pure when you're on the outside looking in. When you have skin in the game and doing the right, but unpopular thing may cost you the job of a lifetime.Though the Republican and Democratic Parties are certainly filled with parasites who trade political favors for campaign contributions, and have no aspirations beyond gorging themselves and their friends at the public trough in the service of their careerist political ambitions, this does not imply that an effectively organized and disciplined opposition party could not defend itself against the trappings of power. In a piece on the outlines of a successful third party at The Jacksonian Party, A. Jacksonian points out:
To even think of forming a party that is different, one needs to put forward a different schema for it to come about. It does no good, whatsoever, to recreate the exact, same party structure of other parties as we have all been witness to what happens to those structures in the way of corruption and influence over time.The Libertarian Party platform states, "political parties should be allowed to establish their own rules for nomination procedures, primaries and conventions." Internal self-regulation is the first defense against political corruption. The Green Party, for instance, does not allow its candidates to accept corporate campaign contributions. Parties may freely decide to term-limit officials elected on their ballot ticket, as multiple chapters of the Modern Whig Party have done (ex. Delaware and New York). On a related note, Shafeen Charania makes this precise point in a post on focus and discipline, advocating for the self-imposition of term limits by elected officials interested in changing the reigning political status quo.
Hawkins' piece demonstrates, yet again, the unwillingness or inability of duopolists to imagine a political organization different from those of the duopoly parties, and a form of politics not constrained by the two-party straitjacket. Fortunately, not everyone on the right or the left has resigned themselves to historical fatalism and lesser-evilism. At The Daily Conservative, Patrick Britton writes:
Every couple years we vote and every couple years we chose the lesser of two evils. As a conservative I a can no longer accept the half wits the Republicans push on me. As a Democrat you should no longer allow your party to decide your worth. There’s an unnecessary stigma around third party candidates. They are not ‘the other choice’ anymore. They are the clear choice. The only way to break the cycle is to stop repeating the cycle. Simple enough, I urge you to vote Libertarian, to vote for the Constitution Party; to vote for anyone who speaks for freedom.Update: A number of other folks have weighed in on Hawkins' piece. At Renew America, Mark West focuses on Hawkins' various false assumptions, while Rust Belt Philosophy emphasizes the ways in which he simply misses the point.
(SALEM, Ore.) - Senator Rick Metsger (D-Welches) said today, “A major injustice has been rectified.” Metsger is the chief sponsor and advocate for Senate Bill 326 which the Governor signed into law today. SB 326 ensures that every voter, no matter their political party, has equal access to the ballot box, or to stand for election, by repealing a previous statute which discriminated against over 430,000 Oregon voters who do not belong to a political party . . .
SB 326 repeals a law created in 2005 by HB 2614, which effectively discriminated against unaffiliated candidates by limiting their ability to run for office or sign a petition for others who wish to run for office. According to HB 2614, a voter was prohibited from signing a petition for a nonaffiliated candidate if they voted in the primary election, even if they did not vote for the office that was the subject of the petition. It also made it all but impossible for a nonaffiliated candidate to run for office because the signature threshold was too high to be reasonably achieved by a potential candidate . . . With the implementation of SB 326, a voter now has the ability to participate in the nomination of candidates outside of the two major parties while still retaining their right and ability to vote upon all issues in the primary election.
Metsger made the repeal of the 2005 law a primary objective of his candidacy for Oregon Secretary of State in 2008. Despite the pressure from the political establishment, Metsger was pleased to successfully push the repeal in the final week of the legislative session.
This is a major legislative victory for the Independent Party of Oregon, the Oregon Working Families Party, the National Open Ballot Project and State Senator Rick Metsger, who faced an uphill battle in pushing for the bill's passage.
In Kurdistan, where parliamentary elections will be held on June 25, a new party called Change is mounting the first significant challenge to the duopoly of Barzani's Kurdistan Democratic Party and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, led by Iraqi President Jalal Talabani. The new party is gaining ground by tapping into growing dissatisfaction with government corruption and nepotism.
The inconsistency of duopoly ideology is perhaps most apparent in partisan political Rorschach phenomena. Deanie Mills provides us with an example in a commentary on the 'misunderestimation' of Barack Obama by the political class:
on any given day, you can turn on Glenn Beck over at FOX news and see Obama raked over the coals for being weak on national security or being dictatorial on his domestic plans, and then switch over to Rachel Maddow and see him attacked for being "too much like Bush" in matters of national security or too weak in implementing his domestic program.Such incongruities are not confined to issues that polarize partisans across the duopoly divide, they are also apparent in intra-party disputes. An example is supplied by the ongoing struggle over the future of the Republican Party. Paradoxically, conservatives find the GOP too moderate, while moderates find it too conservative. This is likely one of the reasons why individual identification with the Republican Party is so low: people in both of these groups are exploring alternatives, which worries partisans on both sides of the duopoly divide. It is therefore no surprise that Democratic strategists are imploring the GOP to "get their act together" while their Republican counterparts seek to consolidate the base. Rush Limbaugh continues to plead for conservatives to stay with the Republican Party, rather than join explicitly conservative organizations such as the Constitution Party as many have begun to do. Limbaugh, yesterday:
I'm telling you, there's a lot of talk about third party out there; that we ought to go third party. No. Let me tell you who ought to go third party, the people that hijacked our party: Colin Powell, John McCain, some of these inside-the-Beltway types, let them go form their third party and let us have our Republican Party back. They're the ones hijacking this party from its days of victory. They're the ones that can take a hike and form your own third party, as far as I'm concerned.Ironically, this is already happening. Two examples spring to mind: Jana Kemp and Lincoln Chafee, both of whom are former Republicans running for governor as independents in Idaho and Rhode Island, respectively.
Independent voters are the fulcrum by which elections now swing in America, but that has long been true in New Jersey. Here in the Garden State the number of unaffiliated voters total more than 2.4 million, dwarfing the number of registered Democrats (1.8 million) and registered Republicans (1 million).
A recent survey by the Pew Research Center found evidence of the same political transformation taking place across the nation. The number of independent voters has soared to its highest point on record with 39 percent, up from 30 percent since the 2008 election. At the same time, the number of registered voters aligning themselves with the traditional parties has declined dramatically.
Perhaps more significant is the fact that independents are now the youngest voting bloc overall with 44 percent of Americans born after 1977 identifying themselves as independent . . .
New Jerseyans know it is time for a change. It is recognized not only by independent voters, but also by many of the Republicans and Democrats who after voting along party lines time and again have seen the state's fiscal problems only grow worse in the past 15 years . . .
Across America, voters have rejected major party candidates and elected independents to lead. In Connecticut, Lowell Weicker was elected governor as an independent. Maine chose independent Angus King to run its state for nearly a decade. Michael Bloomberg has governed so well as an independent in New York City, he is the overwhelmingly favorite to win a third term.
In New Jersey, both political parties have demonstrated repeatedly that they no longer know how to work together to resolve the state's fiscal crisis. It is time to shake up the whole political system in this state. We can no longer afford partisan approaches to non-partisan issues. . . .
Government bodies in New Jersey at all levels---municipal, local school districts, county and state-have been living beyond their means. We simply must get control of the fixed costs that are at the core of overall government spending.
The only way to change state government in New Jersey is to elect an independent. Only an independent has the ability to choose the best and brightest people to work on the many problems facing the state today. Only an independent will take on the special interests that have blocked real change in New Jersey.
Founded in July 2009, the California Moderate Party (CMP) is focused on results, not ideology. CMP represents the future of politics. Progress on critical issues has been stalled for far too long in California because the two major political parties are too far apart. Our goal is to bring the two parties closer together so that we can end the gridlock and begin to solve problems.Whether it's the economy, the state budget, or education, Californians know that there is a better way. A moderate way. CMP will recognize the best ideas from both sides and forge consensus by organizing a constituency for change . . .
In order to qualify as a political party in California, CMP must have 88,991 voters declare their affiliation on their voter registration forms by January 5, 2010. This goal will be tough, but we think that the demographics are ripe for a viable, mainstream third party. Nearly one-third of the state's residents consider themselves "middle-of-the-road" and one in five voters decline to affiliate with any political party at all.
In Westchester County, where the Spano name has dominated politics on both sides of the aisle for a generation, voters are used to seeing double, even triple, on ballots. There is the affable three-term county executive, Andrew J. Spano, a Democrat from northern Westchester. Then there are the Republican Spanos of Yonkers — a father and two sons who had held state and county positions — who are no relation. One of the sons in that family, Assemblyman Mike Spano, ratcheted up the confusion in 2007 when he turned Democrat. But voters will face a bigger challenge this November: Two Spanos are planning to run for county executive — and they are father and son. David Spano, one of Andrew Spano’s four adult children, is collecting signatures for a spot on a third-party line, tentatively called Abolish County Government. [Emphasis added.]One of Spano the Younger's primary backers is local businessman and political gadfly Sam Zherka:
The idea [to run] crystallized, he said, after he met Sam Zherka, a strip-club owner and provocative publisher of a weekly newspaper called The Westchester Guardian, which castigates Republicans and Democrats alike. Mr. Zherka, a local leader in the fight against county government, has made millions in real estate and is backing David Spano’s bid.
Some supporters of the county executive say they believe Mr. Zherka, long a critic of Andrew Spano, is simply using his son to embarrass him . . . Susan Tolchin, the deputy county executive, agreed, saying Mr. Zherka’s support of David Spano was part of a history of creating public spectacles at the expense of elected officials.
Last year, for instance, Mr. Zherka offered a $100,000 reward for any information about the Westchester County district attorney, Janet DiFiore, that would lead to her conviction of any crime. “Zherka is a showman — it’s theater of the absurd,” Ms. Tolchin said. “I was at his Abolish County Government rally, and he called everyone a moron. The governor was a moron. Every politician was a moron.”
Though Tolchin apparently believes that such an opinion discredits Zherka, it is likely that many New Yorkers more or less agree with his position following the recent debacle in the state's legislature. Nonetheless, the Abolish County Government rally, as you might have guessed, was part of the nationwide Tax Day Tea Party protests held last April. The third party line being sought by David Spano is the direct result of that organizational effort. In the run-up to the protest, Zherka produced a number of videos advertising the events. Here's one:
• An article from May at the Constitution Party website begins, "The Constitution Party, the fastest-growing third party, is poised to pick up the pieces of the broken Grand Old Party as more Americans consider the option of an alternative choice."Of course, though comical, this is not meant to slight the above parties. If anything, it underscores the vitality, and the level of competition between them, as well as the widespread interest of voters across the political spectrum in alternatives to the duopoly charade. But it also raises the issue of truth in politics.
• The welcome page for the Green Party states: "The Green Party is America's fastest growing political party."
• America's Third Party calls itself, "America's fastest growing political movement."
• The introduction at the Libertarian Party website reads: "The Libertarian Party is America's third largest and fastest growing political party."
• A post from last year at the Boston Tea Party site is entitled: "The Fastest Growing Party in America."
• In June, the Modern Whig Party blog wrote that "the Modern Whig Party has attracted media attention as "the fastest growing mainstream political movement in the nation.""
• In a press release from the National Committee of America's Independent Party, we read: "The American Independent Party is the nation's third largest and fastest growing political party based on voter registration."
Cognizance of the tenuous relationship between political rhetoric and what is called 'the truth' is likely as old as politics itself. In Plato's Republic, for instance, it is famously asserted that a 'noble lie' is necessary to maintain social and political order. Today, as the corporate media have taken to accepting the truth claims of preferred politicians and ideologues of the duopoly parties at face value, it sometimes appears as if the greater portion of independent and amateur political commentary consists in nothing more than exposing the lies of the author's political opponents, present company not excluded. The cynics among us may well be justified in wondering whether the chains of lies and distortions peddled by the political class are not primarily intended to deceive, but rather simply to keep us busy while they go about their business.
The plasticity of truth, however, allows for it to be bent without necessarily being broken. It is in this gray area between truth and lie that much of our contemporary political discourse comes into its own. This holds as much for the partisans of the duopoly as it does for their opposition among third parties and independents. The intensity of political competition virtually requires it.
In the likely vain hope that I might be able to offer a clue, here are some things to consider. First, not every voter in the country is beholden in slave-like fashion to one of the two major parties. Some us don’t find a comfortable fit with either, and when we do vote for a Republican or a Democrat, it’s often a compromise ballot, settling for the better of two flawed candidates who don’t fill up our dance card completely. And when we find somebody we like better, it’s not a “protest vote” if we fail to “grow some balls and pick a side” and vote for one of yours.
She also breaks out the tired old strawman of claiming that Barr voters are somehow smug traitors who wish to claim a mantle of “moral superiority” for our vote. I’m not sure about the rest of Bob’s backers, but it’s rather hard to muster feelings of any sort of superiority when your candidate does’t pull a single electoral vote. But it doesn’t mean that we regret trying, voting for the best choice for what we want for the country, and keeping alive the tradition of recognizing that neither the Democrats nor the Republicans are mentioned by name in the Constitution.You want to know why the Republicans have been getting their butts kicked for the last four years, Melissa? Because you fielded candidates that didn’t convince enough voters to cast their ballots for them. The end.
The Other McCain responds rhetorically:
When the Republican Party nominates a guaranteed loser who -- surprise! -- loses, how is this result to be blamed on those who opposed the nomination, who specifically, accurately and concisely predicted what events would happen?
And, finally, Q and O refutes the spoiler argument and takes Clouthier to task for taking the Libertarian vote for granted:
Apparently Clouthier believes that libertarians are a wholly owned subsidiary of the GOP and due a righteous lecture for their lack of support. It may be time for a little reality check for the good doctor . . . The reason the GOP sucked so badly in the last election has absolutely nothing to do with Bob Barr and/or libertarians. It had to do with how poorly your party governed . . . Barack Obama sits in the White House not because of Bob Barr or the libertarian vote. He sits there because the GOP has completely and totally failed to live up to its claimed philosophy and its word for decades. John McCain’s nomination told libertarians all they needed to know about the lack of seriousness within the GOP to remedy that situation.
It is reasonable to suppose that most third party and independent voters do not vote the way they do out of a sense of moral superiority, but rather on the basis of the determination that a third party or independent vote is politically superior to one in favor of the status quo. That partisans of the duopoly parties are often unwilling or unable to countenance this possibility reveals less about the mindset of the third party voter than it does about the moral impotence of the duopolist's political inferiority complex.
I left the GOP because it is moving away from its Christian Conservative Constitutional roots and is no longer for less federal government, less taxation, and more expensive, beloved, and valued liberty. I believe our politicians in D.C. are making a mockery out of the highest governing document in our land, the Constitution. People say we are no longer under the old Constitutional laws; I would have to say to you, why, yes we are, friend. The Republican Party is moving to the Democrats former bearing and inching themselves more rapidly to socialism. What can we, the Constitution-loving Americans, do to keep our Constitutional rights? We are losing rights and freedoms left and right under both parties. If we are going to preserve the America we love then we need to get up and put our money where our mouths are.Change your voter registration to Constitution Party, run with that party, and only vote for candidates who will stand up for the Constitution of the United States of America.Allen's pathetic response is duopolist boilerplate, but the very fact that the chairman of the local Republican Executive Committee found it necessary to respond at all demonstrates the fear of effective local third party activism that motivates partisans of the duopoly parties. In response to Ward, Allen writes:
While some conservatives may feel that the Republican Party has abandoned them, it is this party that remains the only hope for conservative principles to again emerge victorious. It is important that these conservatives realize that it will be much easier and take less time to mold the Republican Party into its previous conservative image than to build a new party into an effective alternative, which history has shown rarely happens. Historically, conservative, minor third party efforts have accomplished just the opposite of what was intended. For example, Ross Perot's party drained off enough conservative votes from the first President George Bush to ensure the election of Bill Clinton. Independents, although not a party, wield more power as a voting block than almost all of the minor parties put together. Yet Independents have very few elected officials, control very few, if any, committees in legislatures and have held very few governor seats. They can, however, make a difference in election outcomes . . . The state and local Republican organizations will continue to court the conservative Democrats and unaffiliated in an effort to attract these voters to help build a stronger conservative base in the Republican Party that can make a difference.Ideologues of the duopoly parties really are an unimaginative bunch. Since March, when I first started maintaining Poli-Tea, I have responded in one way or another, and on multiple occasions, to all of the arguments put forward here by Allen, of which there are four: 1) the brute fact argument, 2) the argument by impatience, 3) the historical argument, and 4) the spoiler argument. First, in the present context, the brute fact argument is a mere assertion, and, ironically, it is unsupported by the facts. Allen states that the GOP "remains the only hope for conservative principles to again emerge victorious." This claim is completely undermined by the dialogical context in which it is uttered. That conservatives are leaving the Republican Party for the Constitution Party proves that the GOP is not their only hope. Next, the argument by impatience is often coded as pragmatism. Allen writes: "it will be much easier and take less time to mold the Republican Party into its previous conservative image than to build a new party into an effective alternative, which history has shown rarely happens." Again, no facts are supplied to support this assertion. It is noteworthy, however, that Allen sees the problem primarily as one of 'image' and branding, rather than substance. Conservatives do not desire the mere appearance of conservatism, they want an effective alternative, which is why they are seeking out third party and independent alternatives to the duopoly charade. Thirdly, the historical component of Allen's remark is, of course, technically true. Ironically, however, the Republican Party itself is the best evidence of the fact that third parties can become major organs of political power. And finally, just for fun, let's assume that the spoiler argument does indeed hold water, but also that it cuts both ways. If President George Bush had the decency, for the good of the nation and the future of conservatism, to withdraw his candidacy for president, he never would have spoiled Perot's chances of defeating Clinton in 1992.
The twenty-first century has already witnessed, in quick succession, two periods of undivided party rule, first under the Bush administration and now the Obama administration. Accordingly, "divided government" has gone from being the rallying cry of Democrats to that of Republicans. The complaints lodged against undivided party government by partisans on both sides of the duopoly divide have been rather similar over the last seven years, as are the distortions on which they are based. A common grievance claims that undivided government leaves half of the public unrepresented, as the majority party pursues its agenda. The assumed conceit, an axiom of duopoly ideology, is that Democrats and Republicans represent the entirety of the political populace. The reality, however, is that taken together the duopoly parties only garner the support of roughly two-thirds of the public. It is no coincidence that voter turnout rarely exceeds 60% in presidential elections, and hovers around 33% in midterm contests.
The argument for divided government is often paired with a flippant dismissal of independent and third party activism. A number of cynical formulas spring to mind: "a third party isn't the answer, we need a second party," or "we need to establish a two party system before we worry about a three party system." Such rear-guard actions reveal a blind spot of two-party ideology. Given that there are now so many elected offices for which there is only one candidate in a given election, it may well be the case that there cannot be a strong second party without strong alternatives to the duopoly parties. Proportional representation is one potential solution to this problematic. The Truth Shall Set You Free lays out this alternative to plurality voting:
A fully representative system, which seats people in legislatures based on their proportion of their supporting vote. Under this proportional representation system, everyone is represented, as long as they make up at least 1% of the vote. Thus, if your party gets 10% of the vote, they would get 10% of the legislative seats. We would not longer be stuck in an inflexible and unresponsive two party system. Everyone would have representation and feedback in the government. The end result is greater diversity, and greater creativity, in our political system.Teresa Amato also recently argued for proportional representation in a panel discussion with Rick Perlstein at the Chicago Tribune Printer's Row Literature Festival. (C-Span's Book TV has the whole video of the panel at their website, it's well worth a viewing.) Such reforms, however, face the usual contradiction, the limit of the two-party system: they would have to be carried out by the duopoly parties themselves. And few foresee them ceding any significant power any time soon, though there are distinct possibilities in certain locales. On this reading, the implementation of proportional representation presupposes minor and alternative party representation in government. How can this be facilitated? Score voting, or range voting, is one possibility.