Doubly Wrong: the Dialectic of the Duopoly

At The Whig, Septimus excerpts a CNN Commentary by John Feehery, emphasizing its 'call for a new political party.' The commentary itself, however, is not so straight forward about the matter as this could lead one to believe. A life-long Republican, lobbyist and former House staffer, Feehery distances himself from third party activism, not to mention moderates, when he wonders: "if moderates can't get any respect from either party, why don't they form their own? Isn't it time to form a third party?" (emphasis added). He argues that they just might do so if the Republican party does not "appeal to the close to 40 percent who think of themselves as independent and who are personally centrist in their politics." The piece is thus part of the ongoing debate between moderate and conservative Republicans on the future of the GOP rather than a considered critique of the two-party system. In this sense, it perceives the potential for the formation of a centrist party as a threat, but not necessarily a mortal danger. Feehery allows that "it might be time for our politics to evolve to include a third party." However, despite this apparent openness, the logic of Feehery's analysis reveals the extent to which he is still trapped within the confines of duopoly ideology.

The commentary is entitled 'No One Represents America's Center.' It concludes in a philosophical vein. Feehery writes:
America has been throughout its history living a kind of Hegelian dialectic. One party represents the thesis, the other the antithesis, and from that springs a grand synthesis.
This notion of synthesis is just one more version of the worn out claim that the constant "push-and-pull" between the left and right, the Republican and Democratic Parties, leads to the formation of bipartisan policy somewhere in the space between the two. If this were true, it would undermine the article's central thesis, namely, that the center is unrepresented in American politics. One could furthermore conclude that, under the conditions of the 'grand synthesis,' it is rather those on the left and the right whose positions will go unrepresented once the bipartisan 'compromise' is reached. In such a situation, the typical response of the self-serving duopoly ideologist is well known: 'Hey, if both sides are dissatisfied, we must be doing something right.' Yet, as many of us are well aware, if both sides are dissatisfied, it may just be the case that the policy is doubly wrong.

A more productive Hegelian analysis of the two-party system might begin rather from some of the German philosopher's lines on government from the Phenomenology of Spirit, to which I've referred before in connection with Madison's views on faction. Hegel writes:
Government, a power to will and perform proceeding from a single focus, wills and performs at the same time a determinate order and action. On the one hand, it excludes all other individuals from a share in its deed, and, on the other, thereby constitutes itself a form of government which is a specifically determinate will and eo ipso opposed to the universal will. By no manner of means, therefore, can it exhibit itself as anything but a faction. The victorious faction only is called the government.

A Modest Victory for the Moderate Party

Kenneth Block, founder of the Moderate Party of Rhode Island, has won a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of Rhode Island's ballot access laws. The Providence Journal reports that Federal Judge William Smith:
threw out as unconstitutional a provision of state law that forced new political parties to wait until Jan. 1 of an election year to collect the signatures they need to get on the statewide ballot. And while he hinted he’d have liked to toss the state requirement that those new parties collect signatures equal to 5 percent of the turnout in the previous statewide election . . . Smith said there was enough precedent to let stand that part of the state’s ballot access law.
Ballot Access News provides some context:
This decision is the first constitutional ballot access victory in calendar year 2009 so far, and only the second decision to strike down a “start date” for petitions to create a ballot-qualified party. The first such decision had been won in U.S. District Court in Arkansas in 2001.
As quoted in the Providence Journal piece, Judge Smith pointed out the obvious in his decision:
“This court can surmise perhaps that one of the reasons for the high hurdles is to keep potential challenges to comfortable incumbents to a minimum,” Smith said.
The decision may have far reaching effects in Rhode Island politics. In a profile of the state's political landscape (see Independent in a One-Party State), I suggested that the radically lopsided Democratic majority in the Ocean State may, paradoxically, foster the development of third party and independent campaigns for office. Smith proved cognizant of the connection as well. Again, from the Providence Journal:
“Historically so much of the value of a minor party lies in what it can do before an election,” he wrote, “spark debate, introduce new ideas, educate voters, and challenge the status quo. The bedrock First Amendment principles implicated here are especially vital in a state such as Rhode Island, where two major parties operate but where only one, the Democratic Party, increasingly dominates the legislative political landscape.”

Bipartisanship and Political Alchemy

The transmutation of bi-partisanship into non-partisanship, as witnessed in the case of the duopoly dialogue, is a common discursive mechanism of bipolar ideology in the two-party state. Examples abound. In the race taking shape for governor in Virginia, duopoly candidates have reached a consensus on the need for reform of the district rigging process. A headline on the story at Fredericksburg News reads: "McDonnell now backs nonpartisan redistricting" (emphasis added). But in its first line, we find: "Republican gubernatorial candidate Bob McDonnell says he now supports a bipartisan redistricting panel instead of letting the majority party draw new legislative district lines" (emphasis added).

As the Virginian Pilot points out in an editorial, redistricting reform is long overdue in the commonwealth:
In four House elections over the past decade, the highest number of competitive races for any given year was 14 out of 100 seats. Competitive races were defined as those won by 55 percent of the vote or less. The 40-member Senate's most competitive election cycle yielded only eight real contests. In every election for the previous 10 years, a majority of all legislative seats were uncontested or featured only one major-party candidate and a third-party opponent. Voter turnout was 7 to 12 percentage points lower in uncontested races.
On a side note, Ralph Nader and his former campaign manager Theresa Amato have caused some waves in the politics of the race by revealing, according to the Washington Post, that "Virginia gubernatorial hopeful Terry McAuliffe offered his campaign money to stay off the ballot in key states during the 2004 elections -- a disclosure timed to raise questions about McAuliffe's fitness for public office." Nader quipped: "Terry McAuliffe is slipperier than an eel in olive oil."

Political Debate and the Duopoly Dialogue

At the Modern Left, J.D. provides a short history of the Commission on Presidential Debates, showing how it has figured in and affected the politics of presidential elections since its formation in 1987. In the description of its 'candidate selection process,' the CPD website emphasizes that it is a non-partisan corporation organized in a non-partisan manner. We read:
The mission of the nonpartisan Commission on Presidential Debates (the "CPD") is to ensure. . . a series of nonpartisan debates . . . [and] has developed nonpartisan, objective criteria upon which it will base its decisions.
As J.D. argues, however:
The Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD) was established in 1987 to protect the images of both Democratic and Republican candidates. The CPD was formed by both the the Democratic and Republican parties to protect the two party system.
It is a bi-partisan rather than non-partisan group. Indeed, the co-chairs of the organization, apparently since its inception, have been Frank Fahrenkopf and Paul Kirk, former heads of the RNC and DNC respectively. These are not impartial individuals. (See, for instance, 'Two-Party Debates,' at CPI from September 2008.) In the transformation of 'bi-partisanship' into 'non-partisanship,' the political alchemists of the two-party state mask the dissimulation of factionalism in a simulation of objectivity that permeates our political discourse.

Consider the standard forms and presuppositions of the duopolized debate, from the presidential level to the most base cable news format. An issue is deemed exhausted once a Democrat and Republican have come to a disagreement. On the other hand, if the two sides are found to hold the same position, the matter is considered resolved, and the participants are congratulated for having reached a bipartisan consensus. However, it is worth noting that the bi-partisan front holds in both cases. The parties to the dispute 'agree to disagree' in the former, and 'agree to agree,' as it were, in the latter. Here the duopoly dialogue excludes positions that limit the sphere of debate or the sphere of consensus, as the case may be. Open debate and identity correction are two possible response strategies in such a situation.

Two Front Opposition in the Two-Party State

With Colin Powell's appearance on Face the Nation this past weekend, following Dick Cheney in weeks prior, the debate between moderates and conservatives on the future of the Republican Party has broken out into the open at the highest levels. One of Powell's arguments for privileging pragmatism over principle was grounded squarely on the necessity of maintaining the two-party system.
You can only do two things with a base. You can sit on it and watch the world go by, or you can build on the base. And I believe we should build on the base because the nation needs two parties.
Unlike that of many conservative Republicans, Powell's position is not only that if the GOP does not build the base, the nation would be left with a one-party, or one-and-a-half-party state, but also that the door would be open for independents to challenge the hegemony of the duopoly parties over the political center. Powell asks:
Are we simply moving further to the right, and by so doing opening up the right-of-center and the center to be taken over by independents and to be taken over by Democrats?
As I mentioned at the Maine View, this is a significant admission, revealing a fear of politically independent voters and the rise of an independent majority in the context of the two-party state. Conservatives counter, however, that if the GOP returns to its core values, conservative-leaning independents would return to party's fold.

In a post attempting to disentangle a number of dynamics underlying this tension between moderate and conservative Republicans, and, on a more abstract level, between pragmatism and principle, the Right Night suggests that such dilemmas are themselves symptomatic of the duopoly system of political representation, and points to a 2006 study on 'The Spatial Structure of Party Competition' showing that:
the multi-party system, whether involving proportional representation or by district, tends to produce more ideological variance among the parties, whereas the parties in a two-party system are hardly answerable to ideologies of the electorate.
In other words, if conservative Republicans (and liberal Democrats, for that matter) seek greater ideological divergence between the duopoly parties, the structural forces of the two-party system will undermine their efforts at every turn. On the other hand, if successful, such efforts may undermine the basic dynamics of the two-party system, for instance, if political polarization eventually turns off moderates to such an extent that they begin to seek out third party and independent candidates who more closely represent their views and interests. Thus, it may appear counter-intuitive to the partisan base on both sides of the duopoly divide, but it is likely in their interests to foster the development of a multi-party system in which both duopoly parties are faced with significant opposition from both the left and the right.

Political Profiling

For many voters, it is likely the case that they realize there are third party and independent candidates running for office in their district only upon entering the voting booth. Restrictive ballot access laws force third party and independent campaigns to spend large amounts of time and money to ensure merely that they appear on the ballot, hence diverting precious resources from other forms of outreach and organization aimed at raising the level of public awareness of their campaigns and platforms. Virtually guaranteed to get onto the ballot in any given election, Republicans and Democrats, on the other hand, can count on name recognition of their respective party brands if not also of their respective candidates. The third party political profile can go some way toward addressing this disparity. I recently came across to noteworthy exemplars of the genre. At the Examiner, Scott Gibbs provides readers with a rundown and explication of the Green Party's 'Ten Key Values.' Part 1 of the series takes a look at the first five: grassroots democracy, social justice and equal opportunity, ecological wisdom, non-violence and decentralization. Meanwhile, Keith Lehman of the Lighthouse Patriot Journal has begun a detailed point-by-point analysis and critique of the Constitution Party's political platform. Lehman's hope is that the series:
starts the brain mechanism working on matters that concern the traditional two parties and their failure to stand by or create a political platform that corresponds to the Constitution of the United States, the reasoning of the Federalist Papers and the decisions and wisdom of those that founded our nation.

Third Party Front

To the list of states (seventeen, at last count) in which there are pending lawsuits by a "minor party or independent candidate . . . challenging the constitutionality of a state’s ballot access laws," we may add New Mexico. Ballot Access News reports: "the New Mexico Libertarian Party and the New Mexico Green Party jointly filed a lawsuit in federal court against many ballot access laws, regulations and impediments."

Independence, from the Bottom Up

Sal Peralta, the secretary of the Independent Party of Oregon, has written an op-ed (see: One Independent not the Same as Another at Oregon Live) intended to clear up misconceptions about the party purveyed by Oregon's local political press.

The Independent Party of Oregon was formed in response to new laws adopted by the Legislature in 2005 that effectively doubled the number of signatures needed for non-affiliated candidates to qualify for the ballot. They also removed the word "independent" from the Oregon ballot and replaced it with the word "non-affiliated" to describe candidates who are not a member of a political party. In response to these new laws, citizen activists collected 30,000 signatures to form the Independent Party of Oregon. When the party was formed, the primary goal was to provide ballot access to independent-minded candidates who were not affiliated with either major party.

The party's electoral strategy differs from that of many third parties, and focuses on state level rather than federal offices:
Our preference is to run legislative candidates in districts where there is only one major party candidate running. In 2008, in 31 out of the 75 races for the Oregon Legislature there was only one major party candidate, with no opposition from the other major party. We believe that every Oregon voter deserves a credible choice on the November ballot and, where possible, strive to provide voters with that alternative. (Emphasis added.)
Their legislative agenda thus focuses on easing ballot access restrictions for minor parties, and holding state government accountable to its citizens. In 2008 the Democratic Party expanded its majority in the state government. Currently, Oregon's State Senate has thirty members, 12 Republicans and 18 Democrats, while its State House has seventy-five members, 36 Democrats and 24 Republicans. If almost half of the seats in its State House of Representatives were decided by uncontested elections in 2008, we may see some worthy challengers fielded by the Independents in the near future.

Apology for the Anti-Duopoly

In a follow-up to his anti-anti-duopolist satire, Doom and Gloom, J. Edward Tremlett responds to my summary critique of his indirect apology for the duopoly. I was wrong, he argues, in characterizing his own position as that of "cynical pragmatism and middle-of-the-road political defeatism." It was the following lines in the original piece which led me to this conclusion:
Obama’s not the second head of the single-bodied beast, but neither is he the savior of America. He is a politician. He is playing politics as he leads. That’s what always happens when we vote someone in. All we can hope for is that, at the end of the day, we’ve convinced him to do more help than harm.
Of course, during the last presidential campaign, it was none other than Hillary Clinton who pointed out that hope is not a strategy, to which we may add that change is not a policy, and that sloganeering is indeed playing politics. In his follow-up, Tremlett writes:
Traditional liberalism and progressive politics are neither cynical or middle-of-the road political defeatism. They are the engine that has made this country's greatest strides forward towards equal rights and freedom possible. They are what keeps us safe and sane when challenged by the worst excesses of the Right, both normal and loony, and, when used effectively, gets us closer to where we need to be.
Yet, self-described liberals and progressives, for whom the only thing holding us back from getting 'where we need to be' is the 'vast right wing conspiracy,' - in the words again of the former First Lady and current Secretary of State -, reveal the outlines of their own brand of conspiracy theorizing, one which is thoroughly beholden to the terms, categories and forms of duopolist ideology precisely because it is articulated from the perspective of the partisan Democrat.

Tremlett then reverses the charges, as it were:
The problem of the Duopoly-decriers . . . is that THEY are the ones who are being defeatist and cynical. Some of us are saying "things aren't perfect, let's fix them," but they are saying "things aren't perfect because the CONSPIRACY is making them imperfect, and there's nothing** we can doooooooooo!!!!!!!!"
Though I would not necessarily deny allegations of cynicism, a few glances around these pages would likely convince any reader that there are in fact many things that need be done, can be done and are being done by those of us who are interested in expanding political representation and breaking open a two-party system which maintains its hegemony by an institutionalized process of political exclusion.

Pigs at the Trough and Political Reform

The expenses scandal currently roiling British politics features political pigs from both sides of the duopoly divide gorging themselves at the public trough, and may lead to some radical changes to business as usual in the parliament at Westminster. Scotland's Sunday Herald provides four views on rebuilding democracy in the wake of the scandal. Iain Macwhirter argues that electoral reform aimed at breaking open the duopoly order should be a top priority:
Westminster will only be reformed when it grasps the nettle of electoral reform. Tony Blair promised a referendum on the electoral system in 1997, but after he won a landslide majority he conveniently forgot about it. The two-party duopoly is underpinned by the electoral system which locks out minor parties. The entire focus of politics becomes the need to win the support of some 800,000 swing voters in key marginal constituencies. Hundreds of MPs in safe seats get a job for life and forget about their constituents. Voters stop voting because their votes don't seem to count for anything.

Independence and Disenchantment

Derek at the Maine View considers the rise of independent activism and disillusionment with the duopoly charade across the political spectrum and asks:
Is this a sign of the extremes in each party breaking off on their own? We may already be seeing that in the Republican party, why shouldn't we expect something similar in the Democratic party. I have read many articles about how the far-left is becoming disillusioned with the Obama administration, as I'm sure you all have too. If there was any time for third parties of similar interest to unite and make a good run at some national seats, its 2010. 2010 is shaping up to be an interesting election.
Indeed, the liberal and left-wing fascination with the Obama-phenomenon has already begun to devolve into disenchantment. A dejected Kos diarist, Babe the Blue Ox, writes:

Watching Republicans take firm control of the political debates in this country, such as on the stimulus bill, what seems like the total capitulation to the insurance industry on healthcare reform, and now overwhelming caving into the Republican talking points for closing GITMO, I see no point in continuing to participate in our political process. Why vote? There's only one political party, in reality and it's the Republican Party. The Democrats are their bitch and will do what the Republicans tell them to do. Voting for more Democrats won't change a damn thing. They are as much a part of the problem, as anything. If there was a third party that could get on my ballot, I might reconsider, but as it stands now I think all the votes I cast for Democrats are wasted votes.

Given the fact that such sentiment is not confined to the left (ironically, with the appropriate substitutions, one could easily imagine the exact same piece written by a partisan of the conservative right), the elections of 2010 and 2012, may provide independents and third party candidates with the opportunity to begin breaking open the duopoly state. In this vein, something along the lines of Robert Milnes' Progressive Alliance Strategy may prove to be a promising formula for an independent, third party front.

Independent Independents and the Duopoly-Prod

Duopolist ideology permeates virtually every aspect of our political discourse, setting the parameters of acceptable opinion and determining the scope of legitimate debate. When the positions taken up by given individuals or even the public at large confound the binary logic of the two-party state, the ideologists of the duopoly aim, first and foremost, to reign them back in and fit them squarely within one of the two duopoly party camps. This is true of avowed partisans and self-described non-partisans alike. The pollsters provide us with an exemplary case of the latter.

I've been following the rise of an independent majority over the last few months with some interest. The headline for the most recent Pew Research report on 'trends in political values and core attitudes' reads: Independents Take Center Stage in Obama Era. Pew sums up their findings:
the percentage of self-described political independents has steadily climbed, on a monthly basis, from 30% last December to 39% in April. Taking an average of surveys conducted this year, 36% say they are independents, 35% are Democrats, while 23% are Republicans. On an annual basis, the only previous year when independent identification has been this high was in 1992 when Ross Perot ran a popular independent candidacy.
When a respondent tells pollsters in such surveys that they consider themselves an Independent rather than a Republican or Democrat, they are then asked whether they "lean more to the Republican Party or Democratic Party." In other words, the immediate response to a declaration of independence from the duopoly game is not something along the lines of 'do you affiliate yourself with the Libertarian Party, the Green Party, the Constitution Party etc.?' but rather: no, come on, really, which one of the duopoly parties do you support? Even in the face of such prodding, independents for the most part maintain their independence. The poll found that "more independents “lean” Democratic than Republican (17% vs. 12%)," which is to say, around 70% of independents report that they lean toward neither the Democratic nor Republican Parties. This is the difference between the swing voter, who is still trapped within a duopolist mentality, and the actual independent. Perhaps, following Richard Winger's lead, this latter group should be called 'independent independents'.

Independent Progressivism

Green Party activist Maryrose Asher makes a strong case for bottom-up, progressive, citizen politics at Op-Ed News:
The only way the progressive movement is going to change the political system is by uniting behind a candidate who exemplifies the passion and dedication for social justice issues, not just by words but by deeds. We need activists who have been on the front lines carrying protest signs, marching in the streets, attending organizing meetings, facing arrest, and otherwise showing by example what we should all be doing . . . The progressive movement can no longer sell its soul and support the Democratic Party as they have done in the past. Neither of the two mainstream political parties represents the working class and none of the third parties have the money to run a successful candidate or the ability to unite the progressive movement under one umbrella. Therefore, the progressive movement must get behind individuals in their community who are part of the movement and who are willing to run for local office. Citizen candidates may not win and may in fact be spoilers against a "lesser of two evils" candidate, but this should not be the focus and certainly of no concern. The primary goal would be to break the back of this corrupt, corporate-owned political system and to willingly choose not to vote for either "head" of this two-headed monster.

Political Impatience and Historical Inertia

In terms of political antagonism, the only thing Republicans and Democrats fear more than one another is third party activism, which is to say, they fear competition as such. Among the usual contentions duopolists marshal against independently-minded opposition to the two-party state, we find the historical argument, according to which third party agitation is doomed to failure in the future because it has rarely succeeded in the past. However, if he is in a charitable mood, or even sympathizes with those of us who have come to the realization that the duopoly machine serves and protects itself as opposed to the public and the Constitution, then the duopolist sets aside the historical argument, and willingly concedes the inadequacy and deficiency of the two-party system, but maintains that any movement aimed at breaking the Republicrat/Demoblican duopoly sets itself a monumental task, the success of which is neither guaranteed nor likely to be achieved in the next two to four years.

Fearing third party defections from the right, partisan Republicans seek to shore up the conservative base by making a virtue of such impatience. Doctor Zero provides us with an example at Hot Air. He writes:
Conservatives have a rocky relationship with the Republican Party. America has many groups with different priorities, but we live in a two-party system. Those two parties are the Republicans and Democrats, and this is not likely to change any time soon. The price of gutting and replacing one party is decades of political oblivion . . . We’re stuck with the Republicans as a political vehicle, like it or not.
Given the lack of historical precedents (aside from the Republican Party itself!), there is little evidence to suggest that effectively organized third party activism would lead to "decades of political oblivion," especially in the so-called information age. Unlike liberal Democrats following their party's defeat in 2000, conservative Republicans do not have an obvious red herring argument, the specter of the third party spoiler, to rationalize their loss at the polls in 2008 and thus indirectly enforce party discipline in future campaigns. They are thus left only with the brute fact of the reigning duopoly form and its historical inertia to justify their continued allegiance to the two-party system.

Apology for the Duopoly

In a piece for Op-Ed News, J. Edward Tremlett aims to debunk the "myth of the duopoly" but instead delivers a rambling broadside against a straw-man antagonist. It his were a serious critique, I would consider engaging his arguments. As this is not the case, however, perhaps it is better simply to allow the hyperbolic satire to speak for itself, as it were, thereby revealing its own position of enunciation.

On Tremlett's view, the anti-duopolist is a composite image of Glenn Beck, Alex Jones, right-wing extremists, Naderites, anti-Semites, potheads, Freud's Judge Schreber, 9/11 Truthers, UFO researchers, self-described liberals, progressives, and the activist left. Not surprisingly, by a process of political elimination, the only viable political position with which the author leaves his readers is cynical pragmatism and middle-of-the-road political defeatism, in other words, status-quo realism, the last refuge of the apologist for the duopoly.

Primary Funding and the Two-Party State

Tim Higgins at Just Blowin' Smoke asks: why do we pay for primaries? He writes:
as a registered Independent (and card carrying Libertarian) I have to ask myself why any government money (you know, my money) is being used by the Democratic and Republican Parties to hold these primaries, especially since I don't get to vote in either.
Third party candidates do not get to utilize such government resources in challenging this two party monetary monopoly.
This is a topic with which I am not very familiar, but it stands to reason that the organization and political economy of the primary system would serve to reinforce the two-party state and undermine efforts aimed at breaking open the duopoly system of government. Anyone know of good resources for information pertaining to this issue?

On a related note, Roll Call calls out Republicans for using public funds to subsidize their "rebranding campaign." Intoxination wonders: "How does this sit with conservatives? Should people have to pay taxes to help fix the Republican brand? Couldn’t this start the slippery slope to socialism?"

Centrism from the Bottom up

One of the more difficult aspects of maintaining a consistent critique of two-party politics is not allowing oneself to fall back into the frames and categories that reproduce duopoly ideology, and hence exclude the very subjects you intend to broach, precisely because these are the frames and categories that comprise our political discourse and commentary in the context of the present two-party state. In a post at No Quarter, Steve Cowell asks whether a centrist party could mount a viable run against both Republican and Democratic incumbents, in effect creating a national three-party system. Yet his operative assumptions for the theoretical movement are thoroughly grounded within and beholden to the order of the duopoly: "In order to compete effectively, a third major political party is going to have to draw both its constituency and its leadership from the two existing political powerhouses." Though Cowell does not deny that a viable centrist party could be formed on the basis of these assumptions, I see no reason to limit any given third party strategy in this way.

If a centrist third party campaign were led by candidates drawn only from the pool of professional duopolists, it would likely lose a significant amount of credibility in the eyes of justifiably cynical moderates and independents who would see in it nothing more than a weak attempt at top-down bipartisanship. This, perhaps, is the lesson of the ill-fated Unity '08 campaign. On the other hand, if its base of support were drawn only from the constituencies of the duopoly parties, then it would defeat a primary objective of any third party movement worthy of the name: to expand political representation and encourage renewed civic activism and involvement. As the Jacksonian Party has persuasively argued, and as maintained here before, a successful centrist campaign "must peel off disaffected supporters from the duopoly parties and reach out to potential voters who feel disenfranchised from the system as a whole."

When dismissing third party activism out of hand, apologists of the duopoly are quick to argue that third party (and, by extension, independent) campaigns have almost no chance of winning the highest offices in the next election cycle and thus are an exercise in futility. The unreasonableness of such an expectation is matched only by the fatalism inherent in its presuppositions. Like any sound edifice, a viable third party will have to be built from the bottom up, and that takes time.

Declarations of Independence

According to its online profile, Free and Equal is "a non-partisan election reform and activist organization dedicated to improving ballot access laws in the United States." The organization is heavily involved in facilitating the next round of tea party protests on July 4th via the Re-Tea Party organizational network. This work is intended to help the organization meet its ambitious, and worthy goal of "making sure every federal race in 2010 is contested by an independent minded candidate, whatever their party affiliation," as Sean Haugh put it in a post explaining what the tea parties have to do with ballot access reform. To that end they are seeking worthy candidates from across the political spectrum to upset the duopoly's upcoming political pageants. Ever thought of running for office yourself?

The Red and the Blue and the White

Duopoly ideology is maintained and reproduced by a series of fabrications and simplifications. One such fiction is the division of the country into red states and blue states. At 411 Mania, Scott Williams deconstructs the myth of the red state/blue state divide, demonstrating with two examples (Mississippi and Michigan) that states with a united party front at the national level may be dominated by the other duopoly party or divided between the two at the state level. Despite his efforts, however, Williams is unable to break with the duopoly frame. He concludes that it is "up to us . . . to resist those trying to define us as either Red or Blue; and embrace the Purple." For all intents and purposes, 'embracing the purple' represents a complete capitulation to the red/blue divide by displacing and internalizing the division. From the perspective of the reigning two-party ideology, the national bi-colour code thus has the advantage of reducing politics to the simplicity of the binary while providing for what passes as 'nuance' in the form of the 'purple' state or voter.

The ideological division of the US into red states and blue states is a relatively recent phenomenon. It is only since the 2000 election and the Florida recount debacle that this political color-coding has become more or less fixed. Before then, media outlets tended to alternate the color-coding of the parties every four years. A 2004 report from the Washington Post notes . . .
In 1976, NBC identified states won by Gerald Ford in blue and Jimmy Carter's states in red. On election night in 1980, ABC News showed Ronald Reagan's march to the White House as a series of blue lights on a map, with Carter's states in red. Time magazine assigned red to the Democrats and blue to the Republicans in its election graphics in every election from 1988 to 2000. The Washington Post's election graphics for the 2000 election were Republican-blue, Democrat-red.
Given this history, it is remarkable that the red state/blue state divide, as it is commonly understood today, took hold so quickly and has held so fast. Perhaps this can be explained by reference to the media's need for unambiguous monosyllabic short-hand, but this would not be sufficient to account for the change were it not for the fact that the wider public began to self-identify with their preferred duopoly party by color during and after the 2000 election. To paraphrase the bumper sticker slogan, these colors don't run, but, as we have seen, they do indeed fade.

The Closed Left

Chris Bowers crunches some numbers at Open Left in order to determine "what sort of change really takes place from strong Republican control of the federal government to strong Democratic control of the federal government," and reports the difference in federal spending between the Bush and Obama administrations to be less than 3% of the federal budget. Considering his findings, Bowers adds two caveats:
I am not arguing that this shift is unimportant, and that we should stop fighting for it altogether . . . I am certainly not arguing that people interested in wider change should look to third parties, given just how ineffective the third-party electoral route has been at changing public debate over the past several cycles.
Of course, one could equally question how well the first or second party electoral route has worked in this regard. As Digby wrote the other day, "the argument against torture is slipping away from us. In fact, I'm getting the sinking feeling that it's over. What was once taboo is now publicly acknowledged as completely acceptable by many people." It is also noteworthy that Bowers finds it necessary to defend himself against accusations of third party advocacy up front. Perhaps he is merely warding off the inevitable criticism or incomprehension, as, for instance, met Scott Richard from the right, when he suggested the possibility of withholding one's vote from the major parties. The conservative, however, was at least open enough to consider third party candidates for office. Perhaps this is a luxury of defeat. But many 'progressives' are nevertheless Democrats first and progressives second. This is the closed left. There is, however, such a thing as independent progressivism.

The truth is . . .

Sometimes the truth appears where you would least expect it, in this case, on the floor of the House of Representatives (via BuelahMan):

The Independent Majority

In a comment on political homelessness and circus tent politics here at Politea, Sam Wilson of Think 3 wondered whether third, fourth or fifth tent politics was sufficient to change the structure of the reigning bipoligarchy, and suggested rather "a no-party state in which each legislator represents a state or district and nothing else." Like all good ideas, this one too seems to be 'in the air,' if you will. Rich Lewis, at the PA Sentinel, reflects on poll numbers showing the rise of an independent majority and concludes:
We’re left to wonder whether the two-party system is not just in a temporary slump, but rather has reached the end of its useful life. And what would come next. Two obvious possibilities arise. First, we could be headed toward a multi-party system where two parties are dominant but can only muster pluralities and are forced to make deals with smaller parties in order to get anything done . . . The other possibility is, basically, a no-party system [emphasis added]. We are on the brink of that now — how else to describe a situation where nearly 40 percent of the people call themselves “independents”? Some might say that these “independents” are a de facto “party” — but the word would seem to require the existence of some sort of organizing philosophy. Do independents have such a philosophy — or do they just slide back and forth as the mood strikes them?
Without the opportunity to vote for an independent or third party candidate in a given election, the independent voter is reduced to a swing voter choosing between the lesser of two evils, and, by this very fact, is not 'independent' of the two-party system in a meaningful way. When they are effectively organized, however, and succeed in getting one of their own onto the ballot, independents do indeed function as a 'de facto party' precisely because they cannot be so easily co-opted by the duopoly machine and may thus become a political force to be reckoned with. Is there a significant difference between a multi-party system and a no-party system in such a context?

Independent in a One-Party State

In Duverger's Law and the One-Party State, I suggested that locales with radically lopsided majorities in favor of one or the other duopoly parties may "witness the other devolve into a third party, fighting for second place with a party more in tune with the given electorate's sensibilities." A similar kind of dynamic may be at work in Rhode Island. It would be an understatement to say that RI is a solidly Democratic state. Though the Governor is a Republican, Democrats have a monopoly on its delegation in the US House and Senate. It's State Senate currently has 33 Democrats, 4 Republicans and 1 Independent, while its State House has 69 Democrats and 6 Republicans.

It is therefore not surprising that the Providence Phoenix is asking whether the party is over for the GOP in RI, unless, that is, we should be surprised that this is a question at all. The three page article contains little in the way of good news for partisan Republicans, but not for a lack of effort. Grassroots conservative activism is not dead in the Ocean State, it seems rather to be marshaling its forces outside of the duopoly political frame. In the 2008 elections, one 4000-strong group succeeded in electing Ed O'Neill to the State Senate as an independent. As Ballot Access News reported at the time, "he is the first independent elected to the Rhode Island Senate since 1964. He defeated the President of the Rhode Island Senate, and the outcome was a complete surprise to most observers." O'Neill's election will likely serve as a model for upstarts in future campaigns. Former Republican Senator Lincoln Chafee announced just last month that he will be running as an independent candidate for governor, and, as the Pheonix article notes, up-and-coming Republican politicians who do not see a bright future for themselves in a state where reality has a clear liberal bias may follow his lead.

Trust Busting

At American Thinker, James Leggette argues, by analogy with the wireless phone industry, that the GOP must return to conservative principles if it is to regain political parity with the Democratic Party. The comparison with the telecoms is apt. As John Paczkowski recently noted regarding the AT&T/Verizon duopoly: "the two account for about 60 percent of all U.S. cellular subscribers."

Reflecting on the Obama administration's stated intention to step up enforcement of anti-trust laws, Septimus writes at the Whig: "As competition improves business as well as politics, this is a step in the right direction." Indeed. Reversing Leggette's analogy, one has to wonder how long it will be before the contradiction between US panegyrics to competition, on the one hand, and the reality of collusion in both the economic and political realms, on the other, will lead to serious reconsideration of the statutory and legislative institutionalization of the Republicrat/Demoblican duopoly.

Anti-abortion, Pro-Third Party

Duopoly ideology is so entrenched in the American political psyche that many people are literally incapable of conceiving politics outside of the frame established by the reigning two-party system. Earlier this year, the Secretary of State demonstrated that such incomprehension can be found at the highest levels of government. Scott Richard, author of a conservative Catholic blog, provides us with yet another example of the phenomenon. In the first of a series of posts on the intersection of faith and politics, he suggested that Catholics withhold their "votes from both major political parties until they began to conform their political platforms to the moral teaching of the Catholic Church," the most important of which, for Richard, is that on abortion. It appears that many of his readers objected to this on the grounds that not voting was a greater evil than voting for the lesser of two evils. In the third piece, Richard responds, urging readers to consider third party candidates for office:
In the first piece in this series, I talked about Fr. Rob Johansen's proposal for withholding our votes from the two major parties until they come around on Catholic moral and social teaching. Many people assumed that I meant not voting. That is one option, in a race in which there are only two candidates; but in races with third-party candidates, we can and should cast a vote if the third-party candidate is better than the other two. I think the reason that so many people assumed that I was counseling complete withdrawal from voting is because they are trapped in the two-party system. There's no reason why we have to be. As Catholics, our allegiance isn't to a political party, but to the truths of the Faith. And as Americans, our allegiance is to our country, not to a two-party duopoly that is not part of our Constitution.

Duverger's Law and the One-Party State

A post at Stand Up for America considers the prospects for the emergence of a viable third party in the current political climate from the national to the local level and concludes, "Americans are disenchanted with the two big parties, and that means there is an opportunity." Along the way, he notes that one of the reasons why the US two-party system has proven so impervious to third party agitation is because single-member district plurality voting tends to favor a two-party system (i.e. Duverger's Law).

Duverger's Law is often referenced by partisans of the duopoly when dismissing third party activism in favor of the status quo, and consider the case a settled matter. Yet things are not as simple as the realists would have us believe. Let's note first that Duverger's Law is no more a law than the Federal Reserve is federal, to paraphrase Dennis Kucinich. There are numerous exceptions to the French sociologist's rule of thumb: Canada, the United Kingdom, Scotland, India, and even Vermont, where the Progressive Party has made inroads into local and state government. More importantly, however, as applied in the US context, the 'law' states that SMDP voting favors a two-party system, not the Republican and Democratic Parties. Of course, in the US, 'the two-party system' effectively means the Republican and Democratic Parties, but the point is that the parties in their particularity are immaterial to the law.

In other words, even though SMDP voting tends to reduce a given district's system to a duopoly, it does not favor a particular duopoly constellation. The latter is rather determined by other outside factors (money, historical inertia, name recognition, the dispositions of voters etc.). It is thus not impossible - and may even be likely under the right conditions - that districts with radically lopsided majorities in favor of one or the other reigning duopoly parties will witness the other devolve into a third party, fighting for second place with a party more in tune with the given electorate's sensibilities. According to Duverger's Law, SMDP favors a two-party system, not a one-party system.

Identity in Difference

As opposed to, say, Aaron Marks at the Next Right, who maintains that "Republicans will likely never see another day in the majority if its electorate only supports candidates with impeccable conservative credentials," John Hawkins of Right Wing News is a strong proponent of the proposition that the best way forward for the GOP is not to embrace moderate positions, and hence approximate the right wing of the Democratic Party, but rather to hold a hard conservative line on issues across the board. At the tactical level, however, Hawkins has been arguing for the appropriation of what he calls liberal and left-wing discursive political practices. There is no outright contradiction here, since tactics as such are non-partisan phenomena, as it were, but the tension is certainly noteworthy, and has not gone unnoticed by other conservative commentators (Donald Douglas at American Power provides links to a few responses).

From the perspective of duopoly critique, however, the paradox is clear and involves a kind of identity in difference by which partisans on either side of the duopoly divide become more similar to one another in order to differentiate themselves from one another more starkly. Perhaps this is just one more case of the narcissism of small differences.

Political Homelessness and Circus Tent Politics

While moderate and conservative partisans of the Republican Party continue their ideological tug-of-war over the future of the GOP, many of their former co-factionalists from across the political spectrum have liberated themselves from the trappings of duopolist ideology (for the present, at least), arguing in essence that if the two-party system is the form of our political alienation, then third party activism should be the content of our politics.

Mark West at Renew America urges support of the Constitution Party, arguing that the Republicrats' duopoly must be broken if the political system is to be fixed:
Our Federal government has been prostituted for political benefit. Republicans spent like crazy when they controlled Congress. The Democrats use that as an excuse to spend even more now that they are in control . . . Americans deserve the Republic their fathers left them. Not the Oligarchy the Republicrats are building for the financial elite.
Pronk Palisades wants to pull together an "American Citizens' Alliance Party - ACAP on government spending, taxes, debt and regulations," writing:
More and more I am convinced that a third party based on limited government would be successful in getting both Republican and Democratic voters as well as independents as party members.
And The Legal Satyricon sees an opportunity for the Libertarian Party in the fragmentation of the former Republican coalition:
Libertarians need to strike now – while the iron is hot. The Republican Party was, at one time, the refuge of Libertarians . . . Today, the Libertarians have no home.
Such political homelessness is quite common in the United States, a symptom of the duopolization of our civic discourse by the representatives of the bipoligarchy. The tents of the major parties, however, do not provide shelter. Instead, they offer only the sorry spectacle of circus mastery.

Mockery in the Making

The continuity of policy between the Obama and Bush administrations in the realms of foreign affairs and economy belie the illusion of difference central to duopoly ideology. Political changelings are the children of the bipoligarchy. In a piece for Real Clear Markets, Bill Frezza develops the comparison and contrast, asking: is Obama the next Bush? He writes:
Oddly enough, Bush’s last act as president was to pave the way for Obama’s dive into the banking, insurance, and automobile businesses, making a mockery of the Republican Party’s free market rhetoric. And Obama’s first act as president was to beef up the war in Afghanistan and extend the lease at Guantanamo, making a mockery of the Democratic Party’s anti-war rhetoric.
Perhaps one reason why there is so little serious critique of the two-party system in American politics is because the duopoly parties make a mockery of themselves.

District Rigging and the Duopoly State

It is a conceit of duopolist ideology that the bipoligarchy mediates ideological extremes, resulting in centrist policy. It is even maintained that this is the "beauty of the two-party system," as John Andrews put it at the Denver Post. Bill O'Reilly re-packages the conventional wisdom, stating that one-party dominance . . .
is not really healthy for the USA, as a vibrant two-party system is needed in order to solve complex problems and prevent the arrogance and corruption of entrenched ideology.
In the present national context, these arguments are, of course, nothing more than (in)direct pleas for divided government and undivided support for the GOP. Obvious retorts aside, such calls would not ring so hollow were it not for the fact that most of the country already effectively live in a one-party state, that is, in non-competitive districts. A reader of Florida Today makes the case against district rigging, otherwise known as redistricting:
Florida has been so brilliantly gerrymandered by the Republican Party that we have become a county and state with a one-party system. This can be corrected only if enough registered voters sign the petitions being circulated to have Florida redistricted [fairly].
However, the argument in favor of dismantling the duopoly's district rigging system is undermined by the author's appeal to authority. She continues:
Wouldn’t it be great to live in a two-party state? That’s the way our Founding Fathers intended it to be, reasoning that a two-party system would provide checks and balances, keeping one group of people from dominating the political system.
Of course the 'Founding Fathers' did not intend the US to devolve into a two-party state, nor is duopoly politics a check and balance in government. This misconception is not uncommon however, as noted here before (see, for instance, duopoly unchecked, imbalanced). The mystification seems to have become a Republican talking point of late, in which the two-party system is intentionally confused with the constitutional separation of powers in a bid to score political points in the duopoly game. (Indeed, the NYT opinion pages have even begun to catch on to the act.) A reader of Maine's Kennebec Journal sets the record straight, however. Responding to an April editorial on the GOP's implosion, he points out that . . .
the founders did not institute a two-party system . . . Unfortunately, the Democrats and Republicans have institutionalized their parties over the last 50 (or more) years. They have continuously taken steps to make "third party" participation more difficult. For example, restricting ballot access at all levels of government.
District rigging is yet another aspect of the duopoly machine's auto-institutionalization. The two-party one-party state does not check the concentration of power, it is rather the result of the concentration of power, the means by which one group of people, the bipoligarchy, the victorious faction, dominate the political system.

Third Party Tea Party

The other day, I noted a movement that grew out of the tax day tea party protests in Toledo, Ohio to field a slate of independent candidates to run against duopolist incumbents on the city council. Something rather similar is afoot in upstate New York. The Buffalo News reports on a rally held in downtown Buffalo: Group Declares War on Incumbents. The group, Tea New York, is calling on voters to declare their independence from the two-party system and vote out incumbents while working "to establish a new ballot line for independent candidates to run on."

The Third Party Front

Richard Winger at Ballot Access News has compiled a list of "known pending lawsuits in which a minor party or independent candidate is challenging the constitutionality of a state’s ballot access laws." Actions are underway in seventeen different states, from Alabama to Washington, devoted to overturning the hurdles set up against third party candidates by the duopoly parties.

Declarations of Independence

One meme which has begun gaining discursive traction over the last week or so among apologists for the duopoly is that the United States 'needs a two-party system, not a one-and-a-half party system.' Popularized by those who get their talking points from right-wing radio (in this case, Mark Steyn sitting in for Rush Limbaugh), it has become something of a slogan among Republicans seeking to consolidate their party's activist base while pushing back against arguments in favor of moderation. In addition, it likely also constitutes a rearguard action aimed at stemming the loss of support among conservatives who have disabused themselves of the notion that the GOP represents a reliable, functional and conservative opposition to the Democratic Party. At the present juncture, the latter appears to be no small task.

J.D. Longstreet, writing at Small Gov Times, takes the long view and calls on conservatives to seek out alternatives to the duopoly machine:
we can remain in the Republican Party and hope for change within the GOP, (that option, I’m afraid is the same as sitting on the sidelines and watching!) or, we can try to create a third party, a “rescue” party, if you will.
Such an outlook is strictly opposed to the so-called realist position (that is, defeatism in the guise of pragmatism) which cannot conceive politics outside of the frame established by the ideology of the duopoly. Jay Henderson at Annuit Coeptis provides us with an example of the latter:
Here is the unavoidable reality of modern American politics: the electoral system has been monopolized by the two major parties . . . Just as ambitious, capable liberals moved into the Democratic Party, ambitious, capable conservatives will move into the Republican Party, if only because there is no better place to go.
There is, however, ample evidence that many among the US electorate do not desire to follow the orders of the political directorate wherever they may lead. The rise of an independent majority may, of itself, raise a new consciousness of political power among those who are disenfranchised by the two-party system. Coloranter Raver makes the case:
As a staunch Independent, I believe the time has come for us to assert some of our power despite the fact that we technically have no representation in our government under a Congress beholden to a two party system.
What are the conditions (at local, state and national levels) under which independents are likely to break with the two-party system?

Push Back

It is an axiom of duopolist ideology that Americans 'believe' in the two-party system. Such pronouncements are the stock in trade of the professional commentariat. Chuck Raasch writes for USA Today: "most Americans believe in the two-party system and are inherently skeptical of concentrated power." Unlike their readers, duopoly ideologists such as Raasch are either unable or unwilling to acknowledge the glaring contradiction contained in such a statement. In a letter to the editor of the same paper, a reader criticizes its editorial stance in favor of the duopoly: "This Democratic-Republican cartel empowers the elected officials to continue holding power, which is bad for democracy but profitable for monopolists in partnership with the government."

Nonetheless, many Americans do indeed 'believe' in the two-party system. What, however, is the status of this belief? On the one hand, it reveals a fear of a one-party state, and on the other a fear of real political engagement and antagonism. The realignment and recentering of power relations between the duopoly parties have led many to reflect on the health and merits of the two-party system, revealing a fairly widespread concern that it could indeed collapse if the Republican Party proves incapable of resurrecting itself from its symbolic death. How would Americans respond if they were finally robbed of the illusion of choice? Undoubtedly, many simply do not want to find out.

The Anti-Vote

Low voter turnout in the United States is often explained away by reference to voter apathy, indifference, or complacency. Sometimes it is argued that a non-vote is a vote of consent to either of the choices offered up by the duopoly parties, and sometimes it is maintained that a non-vote expresses discontent with a specific slate of candidates. However, the discourse of duopoly politics rarely, if ever, allows for the consideration that low voter turnout is an expression of active opposition to the two-party system itself. Boycott the Vote makes the case:
This is not to say that voting is always bad; rather, it is to say that voting is bad when it is conflated with all civil rights, when it is used as a tool to enforce complacency, and when it legitimates a process which subverts the liberties protected in a republic rather than encouraging them . . . And the two-party system ensures that none of this will change.
To paraphrase George Carlin: if you vote for them, you have no right to complain.

Tea Party Party

In Toledo, Ohio it seems the internal debate among tea party activists (see tea partisanship) has been won by independents. The Toledo Free Press reports on a new party gaining traction in races for positions on the city council:
Teamwork Toledo is a new (as in “weeks old”) political party that’s forming as an outgrowth of the Tax Day Tea Party that drew about 1,000 people to a rally at International Park on April 15. Three weeks later, Teamwork Toledo has four candidates lined up to run for Toledo city council and expects to have a complete slate of six.

Apology for the Duopoly

Notes From a Burning House provides a choice quote from Newsweek's Jonathan Alter which demonstrates the extent to which the media-government complex works to limit political discourse to the benefit of entrenched powers and the interests of the bipoligarchy.
It's in the interest of everybody that we have a strong two-party system. If we get a kind of fragmented America where we have a multi-party system, that's a recipe for chaos.
Of course, the two-party system does not act in everyone's interest, based as it is on the systematic exclusion of interests which do not coincide with those of the duopoly parties. However, the very fact that a talking head such as Alter would have to even broach the subject is a good sign, and indicates a legitimate fear among professional politicians and their enablers in the professional commentariat: the extension of representation would indeed cause chaos within the reigning political economy, and that is precisely the point, namely, to disrupt the schemes of the duopoly machine.

Business as Usual

In a guest editorial at the Brad Blog, former FBI translator and national insecurity whistle blower Sibel Edmonds argues that the underground economy of favors and threats that oil the duopoly machine at the highest levels of government is "rotten to the core." Edmonds links the Jane Harman wiretapping scandal to her own case, drawing attention to the means by which duopolist politicians "escape the consequences of accountability," namely, blackmail, political and otherwise, with the implicit support of the mainstream media which looks the other way, or rather, as Peggy Noonan recently put it, just walks on by.

But perhaps Edmonds does not go far enough here. Must we not also admit, despite some amount of public outrage, that large portions of the US populace also implicitly support this process? We could likely even take it a step further, showing that many among the public explicitly support the greasy machinations of the duopoly complex, and write it off as business as usual. To paraphrase Baudrillard in Simulacra and Simulations: the scandal is that there is no scandal.

Duopoly and its Discontents

Jumping in Pools posts a piece of apparent anti-duopoly, Onion-style satire in which Obama declares "lesser [i.e. third] political parties unnecessary, hinting that he may consider outlawing them." It concludes:
"It is something we must deal with," the President said. "We cannot have dissenters in the government."
Since third party "dissenters" are already effectively barred from holding public office by local, state and federal laws, and since the only "lesser party" currently in government is the Republican Party, the satire functions as an indirect response to the threat Obama represents to the GOP, and, in this sense, it falls prey to the trappings of duopolist ideology. Tenacious Poodle, on the other hand, opts out entirely and calls for "a new non-party," with a program that would undermine any law outlawing dissent from the duopoly line:
I'm coining a new term. I'm an Independent Conlibvative. IC for short. I'm starting my own party, too, but no one can join because IC's don't believe in parties. We are a non-party with non-members . . . We shall overthrow the two-party system one obstinate, asocial person at a time.

Kurdish Third-Party Opposition to the Two-Party State

Northloop points out an NPR report on the efforts of Iraqi Kurds to reform their two-party system (audio only). According to the story, the Kurdish duopoly parties will run on a joint ticket in upcoming elections. Third party opposition leaders argue that this is precisely how the entrenched parties avoid accountability while retaining their power over security, government and the economy in Iraqi Kurdistan. The douply parties counter that they must maintain a united front against Arab blocks in parliament.

The Colbert/Rorschach Test

Felix Salmon at Reuters relays word of a recent study entitled "The Irony of Satire" from Ohio State University which "investigated biased message processing of political satire in The Colbert Report and the influence of political ideology on perceptions of Stephen Colbert." They found that Colbert's brand of comedy effectively functions as an ideological Rorschach test:
there was no significant difference between the groups in thinking Colbert was funny, but conservatives were more likely to report that Colbert only pretends to be joking and genuinely meant what he said while liberals were more likely to report that Colbert used satire and was not serious when offering political statements.
Such political Rorschach phenomena are not uncommon, of course. Recording and logging them constitutes 'reporting' in much of the mainstream media. Ed Henry from CNN supplied us with an example following Obama's March 24th press conference (see Abracadabra), in which it becomes readily apparent that when "each side reads its spin into the scene . . . the truth disappears from the political press." The Colbert Report report, however, is slightly different. Here each side sees its own ideological position mirrored in the phenomenon (perhaps this can account for Colbert's popularity). From the liberal perspective, the satire, the comedy, is in Colbert's persona, which exaggerates the image, prejudices and predispositions of conservative radio and television commentators, and in this guise provides the viewer with a liberal message. From the conservative standpoint, on the other hand, it is in the comedic exaggeration that the truth appears, while the liberal message is perhaps seen as an everyday form of media bias.

Political Zombie-ism and the Two Party State

I have remarked before how the de-centering of power relationships in the context of duopoly politics confronts third party strategy with both challenges to be surmounted and advantages to be exploited. The current realignment of the two-party state, that is, the reversion from undivided Republican government to undivided Democratic government - coincident with the polarization of duopoly ideology and the shifting political affiliations of the public-, has re-centered multiple political antagonisms in the United States.

Legislative gridlock, for instance, may now be the result of intra-partisan politics within the Democratic Party, the most conspicuous faultline being that between the so-called Blue Dogs and progressives. D-day writes: "It's intra-partisan gridlock, between those Democrats bought off by big money interests or fundamentally conservative-thinking versus the rest of the caucus." In such a context, the existence of partisan gridlock is a strictly Democratic affair. (However, despite the negative connotations of 'partisan gridlock,' and the corresponding idea that if only it weren't for the evils of partisanship, the Congress would be able to "get down to business," we must also remember that gridlock is built right into the system by the separation of powers, which presents constitutional hurdles even to a rubber-stamp congress coupled with an activist unitary presidency.)

The lack of an effective external political opposition thus exposes the internal limitations of the Democratic coalition. And it is therefore not surprising that so many liberals and Democrats have ceased to gloat about the implosion of the GOP. They do not want the Republican Party to fail for the same reason that Rush Limbaugh and his so-called Dittoheads do not want Obama to succeed: it would reveal their impotence. In this regard, not all displays of such concern are acts of concern trolling. As Sam Wilson of Think 3 recently noted: "However individuals may feel, institutionally speaking neither party wants to destroy the other. Part of convincing the public that the two parties are the only real choices is maintaining the existence of two major parties for people to choose from."

Unlike the Congress, which is almost entirely beholden to the interests of the bipoligarchy, the electorate does not breakdown along the partisan fault lines of the duopoly landscape. At the Huffington Post, Byron Williams considers recent polls which show that a majority of Americans identify with neither the Democratic nor Republican Parties: "43 percent identify as Independent/Other, which ought to be a concern to both parties because that number has been trending upward over the past decade" (emphasis added). Marc at In One Ear, Out the Other points out the reason why: "now is the perfect time for the growth of a 3rd party. Right now, non-party affiliation is higher than either parties’ affiliation." The question that remains, however, is what portion of the electorate would or could form the base for such a party.

Clearly, many newly declared independents are former Republicans fleeing the taint of the brand. If hardline conservatives regain and retain control of the GOP, many commentators see the potential for a new party among disaffected moderates. Robert Toplin writes at HNN:
A third party may emerge in the style of moderate, Eisenhower-style Republicanism. That new party could present a formidable challenge if the G.O.P. continues to appear radical and marginal to a majority of the American electorate.
We should always be careful, however, of falling prey to the illusion that the two-party system is in a state of collapse, or in its last throes. As the American Conservative reminds us, and as Pete Abel of the Moderate Voice recently noted, "Those who periodically pronounce the two-party system dead have little sense of history." Indeed, would it not more correct to liken the duopoly system to the undead, parasitically drawing its life from its living host?

Conservative Idealists vs. the Status Quo

The height of negative politics in the two-party system is not slinging the muck raked up by opposition researchers, or even voting for the lesser of two evils, but rather voting against the greater of two evils. The fragmentation of the GOP's former national coalition has many partisan Republicans wading into these muddy waters. Riehl World View considers the possibility of a third party base arising out of the tea party movement and is not pleased with what he foresees. It would, he states:
weaken any remaining conservative to moderate wing of the Democrat Party, while putting the Republicans into exile politically, perhaps for decades, if not forever . . . [and, morevoer] . . . It is simply not a viable option because of the current aggressive liberal agenda.
I always find it somewhat comical when duopolists argue against third party agitation on the basis of the fact that it would weaken the duopoly parties, as if that were not a legitimate aim and goal of political activism. Unlike Mr. Riehl, however, many principled conservatives have come to the realization that the duopoly parties simply do not represent their interests, and have disabused themselves of the fantasy that they ever will.

Religious conservatives provide a case in point today. In an article for Catholic Culture on the question of politics for the refocusing of the pro-life movement, Jeff Mirus asks what the best way forward is for the pro-life movement, and does not shy away from the prospect of third party activism even in the face of a difficult uphill struggle: "A budding political party available in the right place and the right time just might do far more good than a continuation of the same old tactics." In a similar vein, Kellene Bishop at LDS Freedom challenges her readers to swear off lesser-of-two-evils politicking and to uphold the bible and the constitution:
holding to our principles and voting for better leadership than we have now will split the Conservative ticket and allow a puppet of the adversary to be elected, but it will also show other Believers that they, too, can hold strong to their principles and cast a better vote. The fight must begin with us, though the minority.
Meanwhile, the conservative political pundit and curmudgeonly old man Cal Thomas engages in a rearguard action against moderate young Republicans, which holds equally for the latter's idealist counterparts, such as Ms. Bishop:
Dissing the past is a quality found mostly in arrogant youth who think they know more than anyone who has ever lived and believe only they are sufficiently enlightened enough to tell the rest of us how and what to think.
Clinging to the past, of course, is a quality found mostly in bitter seniors confounded by the march of history. As if responding to Thomas, a young conservative editorializes:
as an 18-year-old new voter with a passion for politics, I can say that the winds are not in Republican sails for my generation . . . what can Republicans offer us? The only exciting Republican I've seen is Ron Paul, a leader given so little serious thought he's barely even in the party. Well I can assure you that if John McCain or Sarah Palin is the next big Republican answer, I'll take my chances on a third party.

Independents and Ideological Purism

In an op-ed USA Today's editorial board voices concern about the excess of political polarization in US politics, bemoaning the lack of bipartisanship and moderation in a "two party system of oil and water." They write:
Within both parties, ideological conformity is increasingly seen as a virtue. If the parties aren't sharply demarcated, the argument goes, voters will be confused or unsatisfied with the choices. In reality, the parties and interest groups care more about ideological purity than do voters. About a third of all voters call themselves independents. Many more are willing to cross party lines for the right candidate. But for the officeholder, the political middle has increasingly become a dangerous place.
The argument in favor of sharply demarcated parties to which the editorial refers is a fundamental aspect of the so-called 'responsible party model' of government, developed in the middle of the twentieth century, and mentioned here the other day. The irony of this state of affairs, however, is that ideological polarization between the duopoly parties paradoxically underscores their similarity: they have become mirror images of one another, mired in the same hypocrisies, versed in the same rhetorical strategies, and beholden to the same oligarchical interests.

It is thus not surprising that many people have declared their independence from the duopoly parties. A quick sampling . . . A Happy Camper at Meandering Thoughts considers the state of the Republican Party, writing, "I'm not sure I believe in the old two-party system Republican and Democrat. Either party seems to be a blend of the other." Food for Thought would seem to agree, arguing that the two-party system is archaic, and cannot but fail to represent large portions of the electorate.

What the bipartisan fetishists like those at the USA Today cannot seem to comprehend is that the quality of being an independent within the context of the two-party system is not non-ideological. Rather than read voter independence as a principled ideological stance, they infantilize the public and interpret independent voting as the pinnacle of middle-of-the-road pragmatism and moderation. This is the height of ideological purism. Discontent with the duopoly system and its corresponding ideology is purged of all political motivation and intent.