You're the Dog that Gets Beat: Declare Your Independence from the Two-Party Charade

In response to the liberal Democratic blogosphere's almost unanimous derision of Thomas Friedman's Sunday article suggesting a strong third party presidential candidate in 2012, Nate Silver at FiveThirtyEight today argues that the "odds against a third party bid are not as long as they seem."  He writes:
I suspect these analysts are being too dismissive of the possibility of a “serious” third-party run of some kind in 2012, and that Mr. Friedman’s prediction has a reasonable possibility of coming true.
Silver then goes on to provide no less than fifteen reasons in support of his position, and emphasizes four of them:
Voters have extremely low opinions of both major parties — much lower than in the period from 1992-1994, when electoral constituencies were being re-shuffled and when Mr. Perot lost his bid. . . . The Republicans might field a particularly polarizing presidential nominee. Sarah Palin, in particular, were she to be nominated, might have trouble achieving 50 percent of the vote, even if Barack Obama were still fairly unpopular. . . .  There is one major issue — the national debt — that neither party has much credibility on. A candidate who presented a “serious” plan to balance the budget could possibly gain traction that way. . . . The Citizens’ United decision makes it easier for a third-party candidate to raise large sums of money from corporations.
In addition to the fifteen points provided by Silver, one could add many more.  It is also worth mentioning that, though the discussion here revolves specifically around the prospects of a third party presidential candidate, many of the factors that would create a hospitable environment for a strong third party presidential candidate would do the same for third party and independent candidates at the Congressional, state and local levels.

It is no surprise that the liberal Democratic blogosphere would overreact in such a fashion to Friedman's article.  Friedman himself is despised among this contingent, often with good reason.  More importantly, however, Democrats are among the least independent thinkers and voters of any partisan or ideological bloc in the United States.  They are most likely to believe all or most of what they see or read in any news source and they are least likely to consider voting for an independent or third party candidate for any office.  Faced with the record of the current Democratic legislative majority and presidential administration (not to mention those of the past), these duopolist dead-enders still think the answer is "more and better Democrats."  They really do believe, against all the evidence, that the Democratic Party stands for something other than the consolidation of power in the hands of political and economic elites and the expansion of the global warfare and corporate welfare state.  They are like badly abused dogs, and in this they resemble nothing so much as die-hard partisans of the GOP: no matter how many times they are driven out to the middle of nowhere and left for dead, they always happily limp their way back home to the party, wagging their tails in the false expectation that, this time, they will not receive yet another beating.

Fortunately, not all folks who would lean toward the Democrats are so deluded by the ideology that sustains the two-party state.  At Counterpunch, Richard Anderson-Connolly has composed "A Voter's Manifesto" aimed specifically at "rejecting the lesser-of-two-evils trap."  The piece begins:
Our climate of anger, disgust, and helplessness has produced three quite different exhortations regarding the election in November. All are understandable yet ultimately inadequate because they fail to recognize that the current economic disaster is nothing but the logical culmination of a political sickness rooted in the two-party system itself. If the objective is to prevent corporate rule then the most reasonable strategy in November is to cast a vote for a multiparty democracy. Other approaches merely tinker with the imminent expiry of what remains of American Democracy.
He makes a strong case for voting reform and supporting third party and independent candidates, and concludes:
we must reject the trap of the lesser-of-two-evils. Democrats are moving us toward corporate rule just as surely as the Republicans. If two cars are both driving toward a collapsed bridge one should hardly be excited about getting inside the vehicle that is traveling more slowly. Democrats who refuse to see the magnitude of the oncoming crisis, or who see it but do nothing to reverse course, have no moral claim to our votes.

We can make sense of our times only be recognizing that the root of our problem is a two-party system that has been completely captured by the economic elite. The solution will not be found by picking the best choice among the available options but rather by transforming the system into a genuine multiparty democracy. Therefore a vote in November for candidates who support voting reform is the most reasonable strategy for preventing corporate rule and for renewing our democracy.
On the issue of voting reform, see also David L. Wetzell's new article, "Toward a Winner-Doesn't-Take-All Electoral System."


Joe Conservative said...

Please. No 3rd party. Just LESS government!

DLW said...

Thanks for the link, it's not having two major parties that is the root of the problem, we've had two major parties for a long time in the US and it has worked much better in the past.

What's crucial is to set up a more comprehensive system of checks and balances, and for that we don't need an even playing field among all parties, we only need to enable local third parties to check the influence of $peech on both major parties so that both can play their proper role in making ours a healthy democracy again.

But for that we merely need to rally around strategic election reform and the politics of Gandhi, not more radical reforms that tacitly follow the politics of Hitler (the leader of the little third party that could...)!

Rise of the Center said...

Excellent article... I added a link to it at the bottom of my post today referencing Silver's commentary. You're spot on in the critique of the liberal blogosphere's oh so typical knee jerk reaction. Its so obvious what they're going to do anymore, its almost as if I could write their responses for them.

Solomon Kleinsmith
Rise of the Center

d.eris said...

Thanks Solomon. Sometimes I'm not sure whether the predictability of commentary from Democrats and Republicans is sad or funny. I wonder how long it will be before robots or computer programs can simply take over the job of providing daily partisan commentary for the major parties.

David, the point about checks and balances is an important one. It is telling that the distribution of power between the three branches has been so eroded by the two-party state that divided government is seen as necessary to ensure checks and balances. This is all the more dangerous given that even under divided government there are no checks and balances when it comes to the most grave and important questions.

Joe, thanks for the comment. But if you want less government, you're certainly not going to get it by supporting Republicans or Democrats. That only leaves you with one option: voting Independent or third party.

DLW said...

not sure I understand your point about divided gov't, there.

I have corresponded some with Richard Anderson-Connolly and he agrees that using PR is more important than IRV, but he's taking a let's do our own things at the state-level in terms of how do we eventually work towards PR that falls short of endorsing 3-seated Hare Least Remainder elections in state legislative or local municipal elections.

Cranky Critter said...

What's missing here is any realistic explanation of how we get to the imagined improved state from where we are now.

Voting for 3rd party candidates doesn't provide any escape from the "lesser of two evils trap" unless the candidates are viable, and actually get, you know....ELECTED. That's not going to happen simply by exhorting folks to support candidates who are not viable, regardless of why they are not viable. And it's worth noting that most 3P candidates who are not viable are usually so either because they are unknown or because the sum of their policies in not popular enough to attract the most votes.

From reading this web site, I get the sense that the imagined future winning coalition is expected to come from the sum of two groups, smart progressives and democrats who come to their senses and see that progressives are right.

There's no way that reaches 51% no matter how many parties we have.

The only legitimate 3rd party winners we can expect to see any time soon will come from the middle, comprising moderate independents and fed up defectors from both parties.

First two thing those folks should try to do? Give progressives 1-way tickets to Canada and Europe. Gather all the archconservatives in Texas and encourage them to secede. If necessary we can agree to let them call themselves "the real America." to get them to agree to opt out. Then, If we don't want to fix the flags after that, we can split California into 2 states.

d.eris said...

"not sure I understand your point about divided gov't, there."

Sorry was kind of using a bit or shorthand. I've addressed this specific point in a number of posts before. See, for instance:

(Un)Divided Government and Third Party Strategy

Duopoly, Unchecked, Imbalanced

Divided Government and the Ideology of the Two-Party State

d.eris said...

Critter, the improved state of things I would like to see is actually quite simple, I'd like to see a more representative government in the United States. A majority of Americans consistently state that they are not properly or adequately represented by Democrats or Republicans. My position in this regard is that a two-party state/system is literally incapable of representing the diversity of interests constitutive of the American electorate which is multipolar, not bipolar.

So long as we continue voting for Democrats and Republicans, we are doomed to suffer the consequences of Democrat-Republican misrule.

I try not to think of "the winning coalition" in grand national terms. I have previously called the temptation and tendency to do so the fractal fallacy, which creates the illusion that all districts everywhere are mirrors of one another and of the nation as a whole. A winning coalition to defeat the bi-partisan corporate front will be different in Massachusetts and Rhode Island than in Utah and Texas.

On how to build a winning third party or independent coalition, I really like the work/thought at the Jacksonian Party, and find his analysis/strategy fairly persuasive/promising.

Cranky Critter said...

That "majority" of Americans who consistently finds both parties wanting? It's comprised of at least 3 distinct groups: The very liberal, who think both parties are too conservative; the very conservative, who think both parties are too liberal; and moderate independents.

The jacksonian hypothesis you cite fails to explain HOW the imagined lean and hungry 3rd party will attract moderate independents or disaffected voters in substantial numbers.

Further, there's this ongoing basic fantasy of expecting some substantial number of voters to be interested, consoled, and motivated by things which they have shown over and over again they aren't interested in getting caught up in. You can't dream away apathy, inertia, or inattention.

And I think you are DRASTICALLY overestimating how much philosophical traction you can possibly get in America by saying things like "bipartisan corporate front."

I'd like to see a more representative government, too. Which to me means a congress that looks and sounds more like a real cross section of everyday Americans. I've been blogging and posting about centrism and related ideas for years.

And there's more interest than I have ever seen before these days. But I suspect that interest will be transient unless hard times endure. And if hard times do endure, I still don't think we'll see many of the big changes mentioned here. Instead, i think we'll see a slow evolution towards adjacent possible outcomes and approaches. Maybe things like more independent congressfolk, who will caucus but probably not form a party. And a movement to open more state primaries and to combat gerrymandering.

But things like changing to different voting/electing systems? I seriously doubt we'll see much of that at all. There just isn't nearly enough unanimity or widespread passion about the issue. You can't even get a roomful of wonks to agree which new voting system is best. Which means that the problem is that most people don't care, and those who DO care don't agree.

And as for the growth of smaller niche political movements into politically viable entities that can influence outcomes, I just don't see it. The missing ingredient is agreement upon a small handful of issues that strikes a lasting chord with at least 10 or 15% of mature, middle class stakeholders: people with jobs, families, personal aspirations, and so on.

DLW said...

I'd love it if you could let others know about my thoughts about a 3-seated elections for state representatives.

This could also be done for some of l ocal city council seats or even school board elections. It'll increase the size of districts and get rid of gerrymandering and make more of our elections competitive and tend to make the outcomes "centrist".

Hope you can help get this idea out there more so... it's more "realistic" than a lot of what's floating around.