Toward a Taxonomy of Duopolist Talking Points: Countering the Ideologues of the Two-Party State

As election day approaches we are likely to see proponents of the two-party state publish more and more articles railing against third party and independent voting, against third party and independent candidates for office and against third party and independent politics as such.  Any thoroughgoing analysis of the ideology that underpins the two-party state and duopoly system of government would eventually have to produce a taxonomy of the duopolist ideologue's arguments against third party and independent political activism.  Longtime readers of Poli-Tea might recall any number of posts detailing the inconsistencies and weaknesses of the most common arguments put forward by partisan Democrats and Republicans to dissuade others from building a viable opposition to the tyranny of the Democratic-Republican two-party state and duopoly system of government.  For example:
the historical argument states that because many third party and independent candidates have been unsuccessful in the past, they will never be successful in the future
the tautological argument states that third party and independent candidates will never win an election because we have a two-party system
the spoiler argument presumes that a vote for a third party or independent candidate is a wasted vote
the procedural argument states that third party and independent candidates cannot win elections because the rules of the game are rigged against them
• the hysterical alarmist argument states that there is no time to build a third party or independent political movement because if we don't vote for a Democrat or Republican in the next election, we're all going to die
• and so on . . .
It might be rather interesting to construct a psycho-political profile of the duopolist ideologue from these various arguments.  One might easily conclude, for instance, that the proponent of the two-party state is:
• an historical determinist, a fatalist even;
• incapable of independently-minded critique of the antiquated institutional forms that dominate our politics;
• a reactionary eager to prop up the ruling party-political establishment;
• always on the lookout for a means of rationalizing his unwillingness or inability to declare his independence from the politics of the two-party state;
• a perennial political apocalypticist, without a historical sense
• and so on . . .
It may be helpful to keep these potential traits in mind when countering the ideologues of the two-party state.  The onslaught of 2010 is already in full swing.  Let's consider but two examples.  At the Orlando Tea Party, Judson Phillips demonstrates that this tea party group has effectively betrayed its historical namesake and allowed itself to become an appendage of the ruling political establishment.  Phillips' article does nothing more than regurgitate the talking points of the duopolist ideologue.  He writes:
within the tea-party movement there is a small but loud group calling on members not to vote Republican, but instead to vote for a third party, such as the Constitution Party or the American Independent Party. Those who call for tea-party people to vote for these third parties point out that the Republicans cannot be trusted. The last time the Republicans were in power, they were as bad as the Democrats. They are absolutely right . . .
Unfortunately, we have no alternative. . . . this is America. We have a two-party system. . . . For those who still support these third parties, let me point out that none of them has ever elected a senator, congressman or governor. I am not sure they have even gotten someone elected as dog catcher. . . . This year, we need to stop the Obama/Pelosi/Reid axis of fiscal evil. We do that by electing Republicans.
In the space of just a few hundred words, Phillips manages to hit no less than three of the arguments listed above:  the tautological argument (it's a two-party system), the historical argument (third parties have failed in the past) and the spoiler argument (a vote for a third party is a vote for Pelosi).  According to our profile, then, might one not conclude that Phillips is a reactionary historical determinist who is incapable of independent critique of the two-party state?  Moreover, Phillips reveals the difficulty of determining whether the ideologue of the two-party state is motivated by ignorance or malice.  He states outright that no third party "has ever elected a senator, congressman or governor."  Of course, this is patently false.  There have indeed been third party and independent senators, congressmen and governors.  Phillips is either completely ignorant of the matter at hand, namely, US political history, or he is consciously engaged in a dishonest and deceitful effort to rally support for one faction of the ruling political class.

For an example from the other side of the duopoly divide, take this recent article by Robert Parry at Consortium News, entitled "The Teach-the-Dems-a-Lesson' Myth."  Parry writes:
If my e-mail inbox is any indication, many American progressives plan to use the Nov. 2 election as an opportunity to “teach the Democrats a lesson” by either not voting or casting ballots for third parties, even if this contributes to the expected Republican (and Tea Party) landslide.

The thinking seems to be that the loss of the congressional majorities will punish the Democrats for accepting half-measures and compromises on issues from health care and financial reform to job stimulus and war. The Left’s hope apparently is that the chastened Democrats will then shift toward more progressive positions and be more assertive.

However, modern American political history tells us that this strategy never works. After the four key elections in which many progressives abandoned the governing Democrats – in 1968, 1980, 1994 and 2000 – not only did Republicans take U.S. politics further to the right, but the surviving Democrats tacked more to the center and grew more timid.
Parry's piece is thus an extended variation on the historical argument.  However, his choice of historical precedents is rather revealing.  Parry chooses to compare the 2010 elections with those of 1968, 1980, 1994 and 2000.  But only one of the latter is a so-called mid-term election, 1994.  In his discussion of the other three elections, Parry obviously focuses on the dynamics of the presidential race under consideration.  The flaw?  This is not a presidential election year.  Parry is a member of the cult of the executive that views all political antagonism and struggle through the prism of presidential politics.  In a response to Parry's piece, Digby from Hullabaloo provides us with an example of the type of pop-political psychology that is dominant among supporters of the corporate parties.  She argues that the opposition between Republicans and Democrats can be understood as some sort of metaphysical opposition between "the lovers and the fighters":
The two political tribes in America attract different kinds of people. Let's call them the Lovers and the Fighters. (I think you can figure out who's who.)  The majority of people in those tribes tend to react to pain differently. When the fighters feel pain they instinctively hit back. When the lovers feel pain they instinctively withdraw . . .  [etc.] . . .

Parry clearly lays out the case in his piece that this technique of "teaching the Democrats a lesson" has resulted in failure over and over again. They learn the opposite lesson we are seeking to teach them every time. And I guarantee you that once again, the lesson they will learn from this upcoming election will not be that they weren't liberal enough. 
What is striking about the latter passage, however, is how similar Digby's point is to that of Phillips above.  Phillips agreed that it is "absolutely right" to assert that "Republicans are as bad as Democrats," but concluded that "we have no alternative."  Similarly, Digby recognizes that attempts by liberal and left-wing activists to move the Democratic party in their favored direction have "resulted in failure over and over again," and that the Democrats will likely learn the "wrong lesson" once more.  But still, Digby continues to urge support for Democratic candidates. 

The likes of Phillips and Digby are equally incapable of liberating themselves from the ideology of the two-party state and both labor under the delusions propagated and promulgated by that very ideology.  Digby continues to believe that Democrats are the "liberal" party despite all evidence to the contrary, and, she presumes that she is a liberal despite the fact that she supports the Democrats, who, she agrees, are complicit with Republican in "taking US politics further to the right."  On the other hand, Phillips continues to believe that Republicans are the "conservative" party despite all evidence to the contrary, and, he presumes that he is a conservative despite the fact that he supports Republicans, who, he admits, are "just as bad as the Democrats."

I've said it before and I'll say it again:  the Democratic Party is not "liberal" and the Republican Party is not "conservative."  They cannot be.  They are the vehicles of the ruling corporate-political class in its ongoing war against constitutional government and the people of the United States.  If you support the Democratic Party, you are not liberal.  If you support the Republican Party, you are not conservative.  If you support the Democratic or Republican party, you are a reactionary supporter of the reigning corporatist state, and are providing popular cover for the ruling political class.  In other words, you are part of the problem.


Cranky Critter said...

The historical and tautological arguments are IMO without merit. As is the hysterical argument.

The procedural argument isn't an argument against 3rd parties as much as it is a tacit admission that the system ought to be revised to better deliver what more and folks want.

But the spoiler argument is not refutable in the context of valuing real-world consequences. In the current reality of 2010 America, a vote for a 3rd party candidate will not elect that candidate.

One can of course construct an argument about how rejecting the viable candidates in favor of a vote for someone who cannot win might have a cumulative effect of weakening 2-party dominance and bringing about more and better options.

But there's no good evidence that there is any cumulative effect. It's entirely possible that the 2-party system can continue to dominate while 3rd parties keep chugging along with irrelevant single-digit results.

And every refutation of the spoiler argument invariably declares that whatever the stakes are in the current election, they can be dismissed. In other words, breaking 2-party dominance is so important that one can safely dismiss the possibility that there could be a very undesirable outcome in the current election leading to undesirable consequences that might have been avoided if enough people had "held their noses" and voted for the least unobjectionable viable candidate.

IMO, as long as 3rd party advocates minimize and dismiss viability, they will remain, ironically, unviable, And thus their ideas will remain largely irrelevant when policy is conceived and enacted.

d.eris said...

"But the spoiler argument is not refutable in the context of valuing real-world consequences. In the current reality of 2010 America, a vote for a 3rd party candidate will not elect that candidate."

There is a good argument for voting for a candidate who you are almost certain will not win: ballot access. This is where the spoiler discussion and the procedural discussion overlap. I've argued before that the current ballot access regime actually produces the spoiler effect. Because, in many states, minor parties are assured ballot access for four years if their most recent candidate for governor received some small but significant number of votes, third party candidates are incentivized to run campaigns they basically know they can't win, in the hopes of garnering a single digit percentage of the vote, because it will make things easier for their party's future candidates for lower offices, which they are much more likely to win. This is insane. Third parties are forced to run expensive campaigns with precious resources that could be better spent elsewhere. And, at the same time, they are forced to run the risk of potentially aiding in the election of their perceived greater evil among the major parties, if they buy into the claim that one side is indeed less evil than the other. The spoiler effect is an argument for procedural reform.