Third Party Advocacy and Political Messianism

When calls for third party and independent activism break through the mainstream media's duopolist filter, the response from the dead-enders of the Democratic and Republican parties in the pundit class is fairly predictable.  A third party candidate can't win, they say.  It's too difficult, they say.  It is more expedient to work within the confines of the two-party state, they say.  Among the most vocal proponents of a third party or independent presidential campaign in the mainstream press are Thomas Friedman in the New York Times and Matt Miller in the Washington Post.  Both columnists have come out in support of the Americans Elect campaign to draft a third party independent ticket in 2012.  On Sunday, Miller published an article in The Washington Post entitled "Why we need a third party."  Excerpt:
Why should we have to choose between timid half-measures and anti-tax fanaticism? Why doesn’t the president propose measures equal to the scale of our challenges? Why can’t Republicans acknowledge demography or math?

Three reasons, mainly. First, both parties’ chief aim is to win elections, not solve problems. Second, both parties are prisoner to interest groups and ideological litmus tests that prevent them from blending the best of liberal and conservative thinking. Finally, neither party trusts us enough to lay out the facts and explain the steps we need to take to truly fix things . . .

Multiply this dynamic across every major issue and you’ll see there’s a staggering void in the debate. The parties act this way because their core constituencies have a stake in a failed status quo. But where does that leave the majority of us who are not in the Republican or Democratic base? Where does it leave the country? . . .
we’ll never mobilize the “far center” without an agenda around which people can rally. To move this ball forward, I’ve taken a crack at a policy-heavy version of the third-party stump speech we need, to suggest what it would sound like if an independent candidate called seriously for a “decade of renewal.”
The response from the dead-enders of the political status quo in the pages of the Washington Post was swift.  Chris Cillizza points out that Americans remain more likely to throw their votes away in support of Democrats and Republicans than on a third party or independent candidate for president.  Conveniently, however, he fails to note that the wide majority of Americans refuse to vote for Republicans or Democrats at all, opting not to vote rather than cast a ballot for the stooges of the ruling parties and their corporate sponsors.  Greg Sargent argues that the policy preferences of the "far center" are already represented by the Democratic party.  Excerpt:
many of those calling for a third party are refusing to reckon with an inconvenient fact: One of the two parties already occupies the approximate ideological space that these commentators themselves are describing as the dream middle ground that allegedly can only be staked out by a third party. That party is known as the “Democratic Party,” and it alreadly holds many of the positions these commentators want a third party to espouse. 
See Miller's response for more.  Sargent's criticism is duopolist boilerplate.  When conservatives and libertarians call for third party and independent alternatives to the Republicans, Republicans argue that they would be better served by working within the GOP.  When liberals and progressives call for third party and independent alternatives to the Democrats, Democrats argue they would be better served by withing within the Democratic party.  Such responses completely miss the point, however.  They refuse to concede the obvious point that the structure of the Republican-Democrat two-party state is one of the greatest political problems facing the people of the United States.  To work within that system is to exacerbate and reproduce the problem. 

This is not to say that the proposals of commentators such as Miller and Friedman are not deserving of criticism, however.  The top-down focus on third party and independent candidates for president is unhelpful to the extent that it distracts from the necessity of building opposition to the two-party state from the bottom up, from the local to the state and federal level.  Indeed, such a focus is arguably symptomatic of an inability to imagine a real alternative to the deadlock and dead end that characterizes the two-party system, which imbues the presidency with messianic and magical political powers.  A viable third party or independent presidential ticket would be a welcome alternative to the Democrats and Republicans, and should be supported by third party and independent political activists.  But that should not distract us from the more pressing task of challenging the two-party deadlock at the local, state and Congressional level.  

1 comment:

DLW said...

What what, no mention of the use of American forms of PR as a natural rallying point at the local/state/nat'l level for those who dare to stand against our current deeply dysfunctional two party system?

We don't need to end the tendency for there to be two major parties. We must end the tendency for there to be one dominant major party at the state and nat'l levels...