Overcoming the Reactionary Political Theology of the Two-Party State: Lesser-Evilism and Third Party Strategy

At Babeled, Jack Gamble argues that all third party and independent political movements will fail so long as voters remain incapable of liberating themselves from the mentality of lesser-evilism fostered by the ideology of the two-party state:
Did you vote for Kerry or against Bush? Did you vote for McCain or against Obama? . . . With most people voting against and few people voting for, the two party system will always prevail. People will vote for the guy most likely to beat the guy they hate and not vote for the candidate who most resembles their views . . . What Keeks and I both failed to realize is that neither of us particularly liked the guy we voted for. We just really hated the guy we voted against. As long as people vote against, bipartisanship will dominate American politics.
The politics of the Democratic-Republican two-party state is a negative politics of reaction: the vote for the lesser of two evils is first and foremost a vote against the greater of two evils. But what conditions must hold to defeat a politics that is defined as a system of competing evils? At The Think 3 Institute, Sam Wilson argues that this requires overcoming the fear of the ideological other:
Learning not to fear the liberal, in his case, should mean admitting (if not necessarily embracing) the likelihood of liberal victory during the time it takes to build a genuinely principled conservative movement. In other words, conservatives have to be willing to let the liberals win if that's the price of breaking the Republican party's stranglehold on conservative loyalty. Vice versa, of course, is equally true for liberals, progressives or others on the "left." In order to break the Democrats' paralyzing stranglehold on liberal loyalty, they have to be willing to let the conservatives win as the temporary price of their principled uprising. Neither conservatives nor progressives should assume that they can win in their first great effort, and they should realize that, conditions being what they are, their efforts will most likely mean the triumph of an apparently opposite ideology unless two great uprisings occur simultaneously. That's a prospect that might require conservatives and progressives (or libertarians or socialists) to really swallow their fears, because they really ought to collaborate and encourage each other to fight against their respective pillars of the Bipolarchy.
Sam thus argues that, in all likelihood, spoiled elections will initially result from a refusal to engage in favorite betrayal, but that this is a small price to pay in the effort to defeat the Democratic-Republican duopolist order. However, the threat of the spoiler effect can also be strategically minimized in the choice of one's political battles: for instance, when Libertarians challenge Republican candidates in districts where the latter generally run unopposed, or in which the Democratic Party is extremely weak, or similarly, when the Greens challenge Democrats in polities where they generally run unopposed or in which the Republican Party is extremely weak – the threat of "throwing" the election to the "other" side is virtually non-existent.


Amanda Read said...

In response to your comment:

No party offers any new views. There is nothing new under the sun.


Erich Kofmel said...

On political theology, check out my blog, the "Political Theology Agenda":



d.eris said...

Amanda, the Democratic-Republican two-party state is built on the assumption that an issue is exhausted when a Democrat and Republican have come to a disagreement. What duopolist ideologues cannot allow, and rarely tolerate, is the articulation of interests and viewpoints that do not neatly fit into the bi-polar paradigm of the ruling political class because it undermines their Manichean theory of political practice. Though I am sympathetic to the philosophical position of the author of Ecclesiastes, positive innovation is possible within our political system, but it requires defeating the defeatists.

Erich, I'll check it out. Thanks for the link.

Samuel Wilson said...

d., thanks for the link, but doesn't your suggestion require a national consciousness on the part of third parties that would decide where to fight and assign resources and, presumably, refuse resources to fights elsewhere? I'm not sure we necessarily want independent parties to be so nationalized or centralized in their strategic decision making. Could you clarify how you think this process of picking fights would work and who would make the decisions?

d.eris said...

Sam, I wasn't thinking of a centralized national strategy. I actually had in mind that post I excerpted last month (?) from the Green Mass Group that argued MA Greens should concentrate efforts on opposing Democrats wherever they basically go uncontested in local and state government, in order to make the Greens into the opposition party in the state. One could imagine a similar strategy waged by the Libertarian or Constitution Parties in so-called red states. I imagined decisions being made at the state and local level within the parties. My question was basically: in what situation(s) would a given third party candidate have the best chance at winning a contest? I'm not saying this is the only question that should be considered, but it should be factored into any coherent strategy. Why wouldn't you devote significant resources to races you stand the best chance of winning? Maybe the party leadership does not want to show favoritism, or at least I saw a suggestion along those lines somewhere recently. But one problem I've been thinking about over the last couple days is how ballot access law more or less forces third party groups to field candidates in races they are very unlikely to win (president, for instance) because reaching the vote share threshold will assure them ballot access in the following election cycles.

I definitely see your point though in your response to my comment at Think 3.

Samuel Wilson said...

Okay, I read the Green Mass post and I get its (and your) point. I was worried that the strategy you described might have the effect of discouraging independents from running in some places, but that post contemplates an all-out campaign. As long as there isn't someone telling someone else not to bother running someplace, I don't have a problem.