Apology for the Anti-Duopoly

In a post offering 'A New Political Strategy for Conservatives' at Intellectual Conservative, Phillip Jackson argues that if conservatives want to save the Republican Party, they should simply become Democrats. Though tongue-in-cheek, the piece is noteworthy at least because arguments in favor of infiltrating either duopoly party are usually articulated from positions found outside the mainstream of both duopoly parties. However, Jackson also offers three arguments against third party activism, all of which I have previously touched upon in one form or another. But let's consider them again. He begins:
First, unless you want to wait another 10-20 years to develop the local, state and national infrastructure to run a successful third-party campaign, you're just spinning your wheels.
I have addressed the political impatience of apologists for the duopoly before. Regarding this point, I would note only that 10-20 years is not a very long time to begin with, and add that in the age of digital reproduction and electronic social networking this estimate could likely be cut in half. Jackson continues:
Institutionally, this is a two-party system of government, and pretending it isn't to feed your need to protest, or delusions of self-aggrandizement, isn't going to change these facts on the ground.
Simple reference to the brute fact of the two-party system is a favored rhetorical tactic of Republicans and Democrats alike. We might term this parry 'the duopoly fallacy,' or perhaps 'the Duverger fallacy.' In Duverger's Law and the One-Party State, I suggested one possible response: "even though SMDP voting tends to reduce a given district's system to a duopoly, it does not favor a particular duopoly constellation." Jackson's next point is an argument by rhetorical question. He asks:
Why is it more effective to form a new third party (or invigorate an existing third party) if your candidate can't win the primary fight as a Democrat or Republican? If the voters of these two parties — which constitute the majority of all voters — wouldn't even nominate your guy/gal to run for office, what makes you think that the combined voting public will now elect them to office?
These questions rest on a series of false or shaky premises. It is assumed that: 1) it is inherently superior to engage in a primary challenge rather than an independent or third party campaign; 2) that Republicans and Democrats constitute the majority of all voters; 3) the interests of the Republican and Democratic Parties are the same as those of the voting public. The folly of the primary challenge consists in the fact that it shares many of the drawbacks of a third party or independent camapaign (ex. opposition from the party bureaucracy and the financial backers of the incumbent), and has none of their advantages (ex. independence from the incumbent's party bureaucracy, the autonomy to effectively represent the voting public as opposed to entrenched special interests). Republicans and Democrats do indeed constitute the majority of all voters, but only when taken together, and even then not by a great margin. In some locales they are rather a distinct minority. Independents and third party affiliates account for more than 50% of the registered voting public in Utah, for instance. Finally, that the interests of the Republican and Democratic Parties are, in many if not most cases, diametrically opposed to those of the US public is virtually self-evident. Neither of the duopoly parties has garnered the support of a majority of the public in quite some time, as polls consistently indicate.

Compromising the System: Third Party Scapegoating in the Two-Party State

Though 'responsible party government' has been a popular slogan among partisans of the duopoly since at least the middle of the last century, today one would be hard pressed to find its instantiation among the Republican and Democratic Parties, at least in the common sense meaning of the phrase. Indeed, it is clear that the opposite is the most often the case, unless, that is, you believe for some reason that political parties and their candidates for office should be responsible to corporate lobbyists and other special interest groups rather than to the Constitution and the people of the United States. One of the discursive means by which ideologues of the duopoly parties absolve the two-party state apparatus from responsibility for political monsters of their own creation, is by scapegoating minor parties.

In Westchester County, New York, we are provided with an example of this rhetorical tactic by Mike Edelman at the Yonkers Tribune. For a piece entitled, "I Hate to Say I Told You So," Edelman sure does seem to be enjoying himself. He writes:
Its been many years since I took the position that the ability of minor parties to cross endorse major party candidates would wind up compromising the two party system. And I took that position over the years knowing full well that Republican candidates whom I supported needed first the support of the Conservative Party and then the support of both the Conservative and Independence parties to win elections as the registration edge which the Democrats had continued to increase.
In other words, the Republican strategist recognizes the threat posed to the stasis of the duopoly system by the very existence of fusion voting in New York State. Significantly, however, he does not propose that Republicans make a push to register new voters with the party in order to overcome the Democrats' advantage, rather, his solution is that state laws should be changed to prohibit fusion voting, and thus deny third parties the little leverage they currently possess over the electoral process in the state. Proving the proposition that the one thing duopolists fear more than one another is actual competition, he concludes: "unless and until the state legislature changes the rules, the two party system will be totally compromised in New York." Such statements reveal the anti-democratic and anti-republican impulse that drives duopoly ideology: as if compromising the reigning two-party system were not a legitimate goal of political activity in a free state. In the present context, a better argument might be that Republican and Democrats need no help from outside parties to compromise themselves! Ironically, despite Edelman's wishes, the state legislature is unlikely to change any rules any time soon since the "coup" in Albany has thrown the Republicrats and Demoblicans in the State Senate into an even deadlock, 31-31.

Guest Post: And So It Begins in Rotterdam

by Michael O'Connor of The Rotterdam Windmill, who is currently running as an Independent for a seat on his local town board.

I’ve been knocking on doors collecting signatures for my Designating Petition for nearly 3 weeks now. Getting on the ballot without a major party endorsement is tough – especially given the built-in disadvantages of New York State Election Law for independent candidates. I’ve been told more than once a run like mine can’t succeed. Without a party endorsement, without a bucket load of money, without an army of minions, I couldn’t possibly hope to deliver any coherent message to voters, let alone get my name placed on the ballot. I was wasting my time, they told me. “They” in this case is the Republican Party Committee.

So as a registered Republican, why not just seek their endorsement, right? I did. They passed. I’m a bit too independent minded for their liking. It wasn’t a surprise to me and actually it was a welcome relief. I was now officially on my own. Then a strange thing happened. The Republican Committee saw fit to oust one of their own incumbents, a proven top vote-getter, denying him their endorsement. He too, had turned out to be a little too independent minded. So my independent campaign, still on pause because of election law restrictions, has temporarily been supplanted by a Republican primary effort alongside the ousted incumbent.

I’ve been seduced, I suppose, by the trappings of the duopoly, telling myself it’s about ballot access. I’ll be glad when the independent window for signature gathering begins July 7th. Damon’s post on The Ideology of the Duopoly and the Infantilization of the American Voter though makes one simple fact crystal clear. The real power of the electorate lies within the hands of the independents, whether or not they’ve actually figured out an effective way to galvanize it yet. As it stands, the independents know what they don’t want. Knowing what they want won’t matter until they get a candidate who is willing to fight the uphill battle to challenge the entrenched party philosophies.

Enter me, but it could just as easily be you. I’m idealistic enough to believe it’s about right and wrong. I’m determined enough to believe it can be done. It’s about stamina as much as anything. In my own experience at the door, I’ve discovered it’s about honesty and sincerity. I’m well-versed enough in the local issues of concern in my town but I had a funny encounter with an ex-committeeman whose door I knocked on. He wanted to know if I’d formed a committee to sit in my living room to tell me what the issues were. He didn’t laugh when I said I’d made the mistake of getting that answer by knocking on hundreds of doors and talking directly to the voters. For the status quo, which so many people seem so discontent with, to change in a meaningful way, we’ll need to see an emergence of candidates willing to believe the impossible is possible. I don’t think you can expect voter apathy to subside unless voters are given a conduit to channel that belief. From my experience so far, I find voters are yearning for fresh faces and perspective and are willing to stand with a candidate poised to exploit the cracks inherent in the duopoly.

[Be sure to check out The Rotterdam Windmill for updates on Michael's campaign. -d.eris]

Guest Posts

I'm pleased to report that Michael O'Connor has taken up my invitation to readers interested in guest posting here at Poli-Tea. I've been following Michael's blog, The Rotterdam Windmill, with great interest over the last few months, as he's documented his independent campaign for a seat on his local town board. The first post that caught my attention at The Windmill was on labels from this past March:
My disappointment with the status quo has led me to believe that real solutions will be offered not by either of the major parties, but by a new independent movement . . . I’ve been a registered Republican since I came of voting age many years ago. Increasingly, I’ve found myself pulling the lever for candidates of all stripes – Republican, Democrat, Independent, Conservative – especially at the local level where ideology often counts for less. The cumulative effect of the political bickering and maneuvering between the various parties has achieved very little other than consistently increasing the tax burden. I’ve had enough.

I’ve discovered recently that party structure and decision-making is rigid and controlled, driven by motives and mechanisms I don’t have any interest in. I mistakenly believed that our interest as citizens was paramount. I’m disappointed to learn otherwise.

I find myself at a political crossroads of sorts. I’m not a politician. A purely independent run is daunting and appealing in the same breath. But if I don’t win, then what was the point? I’m not looking to make a valiant stand for idealism – I’m looking to make a real contribution to the betterment of my community.

A Poli-Tea Politics Project: The Colbert Report Political Rorschach Test

In May, I relayed word of a study entitled "The Irony of Satire" from The International Journal of Press/Politics, which "investigated biased message processing of political satire in The Colbert Report and the influence of political ideology on perceptions of Stephen Colbert." At the time, I noted that Colbert's brand of comedy effectively functions as an ideological Rorschach test, in which both conservatives and liberals each see their own ideological predispositions mirrored in the phenomenon. We are confronted with such ideological mirages on a daily basis, and they are undoubtedly reinforced by the binary logic of the two-party system and the corresponding ideology of our duopolized politics. For fun, and on the basis of the study, I decided to create The Colbert Report Political Rorschach Test, an ongoing Poli-Tea Politics Project, in order to investigate the "truthiness" of duopoly ideology. Take the test, let me know what you think and spread the word if you're so inclined!

The Duopolist's Pragmatic Realism is Cynical Opportunism

When rationalizing their capitulation to the Republican and Democratic Parties, partisans of the duopoly justify their lack of principle on the basis of pragmatic realism. As I have shown on multiple occasions, however, their pragmatism is opportunism, and their realism is cynicism. This was especially clear in the liberal Democratic response to the 2009 Iraq war supplemental bill. In an article for Dissident Voice, Ashley Sanders, former youth spokesperson for Ralph Nader's 2008 election campaign, reflects on the passage of the bill and utilizes the occasion to pick apart the contradictions and the hypocrisies that constitute our duopolized politics and its corresponding ideology:
an ostensibly anti-war President (a lie) appeals to an ostensibly anti-war party (another lie) to pass a war bill that causes ostensibly anti-war activists to feign shock, which somehow increases the sentiment that the Republicans (who largely voted against the bill) are the sponsor of all political evil. This strangulated logic is our latest and prettiest consequence of believing in parties more than principles. But more than that, it is the consequence of rejecting in the name of realism what we trumpet rhetorically: that politics can be about truth.

I am writing to reject this realism, and refuse to call this rejection naive. I reject it knowing that this is not an issue of Democrats or Republicans — that any party will sacrifice truth for its own preservation. I reject it because believing that it is realistic to believe in amoral politicians and sociopathic self-interest on a public scale while rejecting amorality and sociopathy on an individual scale has bred more blood and disaster than any other philosophy I can think of. To protect this mad logic with the myth that we have prevailed — that justice has been won — makes it even more certain that wars will continue and Congresses will continue to fund them.

The Ideology of Duopoly and the Infantilization of the American Voter

As even just a few passing glances through these pages will show, Poli-Tea is dedicated to sustained critique of the two-party system and the ideology of duopoly politics. It often goes without saying, however, that this would be unnecessary were it not for the fact that so many Americans continue to support the parties which implement the policies and prop up the politicians that these very same voters find so disagreeable. But there aren't as many as one might be led to believe by the partisans of the duopoly parties themselves. In an analysis and opinion piece at Annuit Coeptis, Jay Henderson lays out the situation of 'the sorry state of American politics':
Polls indicate that the liberal Democrats now in charge of the Federal government have basically the same values as about 25 to 35 per cent of the population, depending on the issue, with about 30 per cent being a rough median. Looking at the flip side of the equation, almost 7 out of 10 Americans do not agree with many of the the principles of the Democrats who govern them.

On the other hand, polls also indicate that conservative Republicans, formerly in charge of the Federal government and currently in charge of very little, also have basically the same values as 25 to 35 per cent of the population. So, again, about 7 out of 10 Americans do not agree with many of the principles of the Republicans who formerly governed them.
A post at The Coltons Point Times considers how independents figure in this configuration:
For the first time the number of people claiming to be Independents has surpassed the total number of members of both the Democrat and Republican parties. If the political bosses of the two parties are paying attention then they better be preparing for an early retirement, their stranglehold on the political system and the government may be coming to an end.

So what if the Independents outnumber the Elephants and Donkeys? Well in simple words it means that nearly 40% of our voters have rejected the policies, programs and candidates of the two party system. It also means this huge voting block reflects the disenfranchised voters of America.
The question that should be posed here is why and how the current system persists despite the fact that four out of ten voters reject the two-party system as such, and seven out of ten reject the policies of each party in particular. The answer, of course, is overdetermined, since there are multiple causes of the phenomenon, for example, tradition and historical inertia, the duopolized system of government itself, the corporate-media complex, the costs of running independent and third party campaigns, voter ignorance, voter apathy, etc. For the present, I would like to focus on one paradox of duopoly ideology, namely, the idea and prejudice that the people and parties who are implicated in the (re)production of a particular problematic constellation are the ones who should be entrusted with rectifying it.

In a column at The Post Chronicle, for instance, Thomas Segel touches upon roughly ten different issues of concern to him on which Republicans have proven to be all but impotent (everything from corporate bailouts to healthcare reform), but demands that they magically "grow a backbone." He is forced into this paradoxical position by capitulating, at the very outset, to the propagandistic reasoning of the political form which has bred the situation he so despises:
As fiscal conservatives most of us found ourselves quite lost when the Republican Party left us. We really had no place to go. In our highly structured two party system, no third party has a chance to do anything but act as a spoiler. Taxpayers were really faced with voting Democrat or Democrat-Lite.
A similar illogic can be found in the above-quoted commentary posted by Jim Putnam at The Coltons Point Times:
Both parties are addicted to campaign money, both try to control government policy and in the end the rich still get richer while the middle class is left holding the bag. There will never be effective and honest campaign reform as long as the two parties control the candidates for president, the House and the Senate.
Yet in the very next sentence, we read: "It is time someone sensible in our nation's capitol step up and give all the voters rights." The author persuasively argues that no such person is to be found among the duopoly parties, and then asks for one to stand up in defense of the people's rights! The people of the United States have effectively been castrated by the two-party system of government, and reduced to groveling for the respect of supposedly inalienable rights. It is no wonder that we are infantilized by the national media and our elected representatives alike.

Political Indoctrination in the Two-Party State

Though it has a historical momentum all its own, the two-party system in its current form does not simply reproduce itself. It is not a "natural" phenomenon. It has been auto-institutionalized by the duopoly parties themselves through laws, regulations, and statutes that marginalize third party and independent political associations and campaigns. However, it also structures the very way we think about and perceive our politics. Duopoly ideology is literally ingrained in the American political psyche by the form and content of our political discourse, and is therefore detectable in the prejudices and assumptions that silently delineate the parameters of acceptable opinion and legitimate debate. On occasion, however, the latter must be revealed explicitly, for instance, in the process of political socialization and indoctrination, which is to say, in the name of education.

Every summer the American Legion sponsors political education camps for our nation's high school students. According to their portal website, the Legion's Boys and Girls State organizations are, "the premier programs for teaching how government works while developing leadership skills & an appreciation for your rights as a citizen." Though this is undoubtedly a noble goal, and an excellent opportunity for politically minded students, two articles on the camps in local newspapers reveal the way in which participating youth are indoctrinated into the ideology of the duopoly system of government. At East Bay RI, we read:
Nearly 80 high school seniors from throughout the state participated in the American Legion Boys and Girls State programs this month at Roger Williams University, and learned the workings of the executive, legislative and judicial branches of government . . . They elect their own officials at the beginning of the week such as governor, Lt. governor, treasurer and attorney general, and develop a two-party system.
It's worth noting that students in this particular program were rather interested in the failings of the war on drugs, and set an example for the professional politicians in our state and federal government:
During one “legislative session,” the boys and girls spiritedly debated the merits of a proposed resolution promoting marijuana for recreational use. It took place on their “senate floor” in a RWU lecture hall, presided over by the president of the senate, Robert Stout, a student from Portsmouth. (The resolution ultimately passed.)
An article for the Oneida Daily Dispatch in upstate New York reports on the workings of another local Boys' State camp:
Morrisville State College will host more than 1,000 young men during Boys State, a government camp sponsored by the American Legion, Saturday to Friday, June 27 to July 3. . . . Boys State is a program in which participants learn about government by forming a virtual government. The nationwide program provides the experience, opportunity and organization to teach young men citizenship and workings of the government . . . Throughout the week, Boys State is operated on a two-party system mirroring the current governmental organization of the state and its cities and counties. By the end of the week, elections are held for government officials from the mayor of a small city to the governor of the state.
As the two-party system is nowhere mentioned in the federal Constitution, nor in any state Constitution of which I am aware, one would think that students taking what effectively amounts to a civics course would be spared from being forced into the political and ideological straight-jacket that is the duopoly system of government. Instead, it appears they are subjected to what amounts to a program of political indoctrination that feeds right into the Republican and Democratic Party political apparatuses. One wonders if they are also taught how to conduct back room deals and betray their constituents to the benefit of corporate lobbyists. Maybe not. Perhaps that's a lesson they first learn in their college Republican and Democrat clubs.

Infiltration or Independence?

Among those of us who recognize that "government grows in power whether controlled by Republicans or Democrats," as Mike Farmer argues in a post on libertarianism and limited government at Bonzai, there are many who nonetheless believe that the best way to bring about radical change to the duopolized system of government is within the duopoly parties themselves. However, the argument in favor of infiltration refutes itself. One moment, the would-be infiltrator plainly states that the Republican and Democratic Parties are hostile to the very idea of liberty itself, and then urges that we join up with them in the next.

In the preamble to his address to the Massachusetts Republican Assembly, Sean Ryan states that the Republican and Democratic Parties "are corrupt to the core and stand for no principles except self-aggrandizement and the expansion of government control over the lives of individuals," but inexplicably maintains that "the rapidly-growing movement of young libertarians will do best not to attack the system by way of a third party, but by taking over one of the two existing parties."

One could perhaps be led to believe that the author is a Hegelian, were it not for the fact that he adheres to the Austrian school of economics. Nonetheless, Ryan makes a persuasive case that both the Republican and Democratic Parties are hostile to individual liberty, support policies that endanger our national security, and have wrecked the national economy. What were the reasons for believing that it is in our best interests to join them in their efforts? None are supplied. Infiltration has all the drawbacks of an independent or third party campaign and none of the advantages. I wish Mr. Ryan the best of luck in his effort to change the face of the Massachusetts Republican Party, but the deck is stacked against him. Consider, for instance, the fate of Bobby Constantino, which I touched upon in an explication of internal exclusion in MA state politics.

Meanwhile, down in Louisiana, The Daily Comet reports on a gathering of local 'tea party' activists in the city of Houma. Compare their outlook with that of those who favor infiltration:

“We’ve been duped into this whole two-party system,” Comeaux said, adding that throwing support to the GOP would not resolve what some considered the excesses of the Obama administration. “I promise you, the solution to this is not the Republicans.”

Comeaux, a former Democrat who now has no party affiliation, pointed to a growing bloc of voters who are not affiliated with either major party as evidence that Republicans and Democrats have lost touch with the electorate.

He said part of the tea parties’ mission is to educate members about the failings of both parties.

“They want you to dissent, but they want you to dissent in a box,” Comeaux said. “To me, George Bush and Obama are the same thing. … I don’t think the solution is in a party.”

The tea parties, including the April 15 protests that thrust the movement into the national debate, are sometimes dismissed as propaganda manufactured by the Republican Party and conservative media rather than grass-roots efforts. Comeaux said the GOP and Fox News, which has covered the tea parties extensively, are trying to “hijack” the movement.

Wayne Mire, a 62-year-old semi-retired insurance agent from Thibodaux, said he became disillusioned with the two-party system after more than 40 years as a registered Republican.

“I’m fed up with Republicans and Democrats. All they do is bicker back and forth,” Mire said. He encouraged others to lose their affiliations to deprive the major parties of their clout.

“I liked a lot of what I heard,” Mire said. “It’s the voice of the people that I heard. … We want a true change.”

Lesser Evilism and Negative Politics

I have remarked before that lesser-of-two evils voting is the height of negative politics in the duopoly charade. A vote in favor of the lesser of two evils is, first and foremost, a vote against the greater of the two evils under consideration. Lesser evilism may well be the dominant form of reactionary politics under the conditions of the duopoly. In its most extreme form, it is indistinguishable from alarmism: vote for the other guy, or we're all going to die! In defense of this form of political activity, partisans of the duopoly parties paint themselves as pragmatic realists, and trot out the usual arguments against independent and third party activism: the two-party system is the name of the game, there is no viable third party, and there is no time to build one etc. In practice, however, the end result of their efforts is still necessarily, and admittedly, evil: their pragmatism is opportunism, their realism is cynicism.

At Red Lavender Insurgent, Robert Halfhill takes liberal Democratic lesser-of-two-evilists to task from the left:
the ruling class in this country have quite cleverly arranged to have two ruling class parties, one, the Democrats, slightly -- only SLIGHTLY -- less evil than the Republicans. But this slight difference enables the advocates of voting for the Democrats as the lesser evil, even after you have pointed out all the evil we have received from the Democrats, to argue that things would be much worse under the Republicans. This fear of how much worse things would be under the Republicans, causes all the liberals who are desperately clinging to the Democrats with there lesser evil strategy, to hysterically attack you once you point out the flaws in their stategy, terrified of the doom they imagine befalling them if you cause enough people to abandon their lesser evil stategy and cause the sky to fall. And since both the Democrats and Republicans are financed by the ruling class, it is no accident that the organizations who advocate supporting one of these parties, even if only lesser evil support, have the larger email lists, etc. It is time for us all to stop and reflect. The difference in evil between the Republicans and Democrats is no where near great enough to justify all the time, effort, and money liberals have expended on electing Democrats.
With the appropriate substitutions, the same could be said of conservatives who continue to support the GOP. In a post at Dead Enders, Out of Hand Mary argues that "we don't have to like the Republicans," but we have to vote for them. She concludes:
The window of opportunity to get rid of these Obama-Vermin is closing fast. We know obama’s plans to collapse America by crashing the economy, creating a one-party state, and putting paid to the Constitution, particularly the Bill of Rights. If we don’t let the RNC know right now that we’ll back their candidates, we’ll lose the chance to delouse Washington forever.
The problem, however, is that removing the Democratic lice only to replace them with Republican nits does not solve the infestation problem in Washington D.C. Though duopolists dismiss independent and third party activists as naive idealists, the practice of lesser-evilism reveals them for the naifs that they are. The two-party system is already effectively a one-party state. And the reigning Democratic-Republican Party is a far cry from its historical namesake. The global warfare and corporate welfare state is tuned not to protect the Constitution, or steer the economy for the benefit of the individual, but rather to serve the militarist agenda and the corporate paymasters of the duopoly parties.

Fusion Voting in Oregon

At The Portland Observer, Jake Thomas reports on the fate of Oregon House Bill 2414, which would effectively ensure a fusion style ballot system similar to that in New York by allowing ballots to list the names of up to three political parties which have endorsed a given candidate for office. The measure passed the State House with broad support, but is now held up in committee. Thomas provides some background:
The bill stems from a lawsuit filed last year by the Independents against the secretary of state over the candidacy of Joel Haugen, a Republican challenger in the Oregon's first congressional district. Haugen, who endorsed Barack Obama, got the nod from Independents, but the secretary refused to put the party label on the ballot alongside the Republicans.
Though the bill stems directly from the lawsuit filed by the Oregon Independent Party, it is strongly supported by Oregon's other minor parties, and is a major plank in the agenda of the Oregon Working Families Party. The National Open Ballot Project currently identifies the Oregon House bill as well as a similar measure in Maine as top priorities among its state campaigns. Though once widespread, fusion voting is currently legal in only seven states, and its prohibition undoubtedly figures in the maintenance of the duopoly system of government.

Guest Post: The Maine View, Independent in 2010?

-by Derek Viger of The Maine View

The Maine gubernatorial election is still roughly 16 months away. That isn't stopping hopefuls from strapping on their political boxing gloves. A few candidates have announced they will run so far. Alex Hammer is one candidate independent and third party watchers will be excited to follow.

Tech geeks are buzzing about Independent Alex Hammer's nomination. The web savvy business man already
tweets, blogs, is on facebook and has an e-book. Hammer began two web companies/blogs, media 2.0 and politics 2.0, the latter focusing the use of web 2.0 and social websites in politics. Unfortunately it seems it is no longer up. Hammer has been a writer at the Huffington Post, Magic City Morning Star, and The Moderate Voice (a personal favorite of mine). The fact the he writes for TMV speaks well for Hammer's political sensibilities. TMV has been one of the few beacons of sense in the ideologically stained blogosphere. If Hammer follows these same principles, they will serve him well during campaign season.

Hammer ran in the 2006 election, but a car accident cut his run short. 2010 could be his year though. His tech campaign is similar to that of President Obama. Hammer is also vocal about bringing Maine into the 21st century tech-wise. Clean technology, agricultural science, and renewable energy could be a boon to Maine employment. Hammer seeks to leverage these up and coming technologies to make Maine a national tech leader.

Louis Gray:

"Maine is not a poor state, but it's not a rich state," he said. "It has lost a lot of jobs from manufacturing, and the services jobs don't pay as well comparatively. The state needs help transitioning to a 21st century economy, which is why I turned so much of my efforts to technology."
Hammer is also confident that Maine is ready for an independent politician again. He has good reason to be a little plucky. Maine is something of an oddity in liberal New England. Maine refuses to be locked into a political box. Maine isn't Democratic, though they are strong here, or Republican, though we have two Republican senators. We aren't purple either, but rather a moderate mix of the two. Maine is about as close to colorless as any state. Maine has had two independent governors, James B. Longley ('75-'79), and the well-liked Angus King ('94-'03). Independent Barbara Merill placed a strong third with 21.55% of the vote in the 06 gubernatorial elections.

Hammer believes the time has come for an Independent voice in Augusta again. Independents, Hammer says, who have alternative messages get short changed by the two party system. Hammer believes the two party system is not interested in making room for independents either. The election of 2008 "
has already proven that change is in the air" with a female candidate making it further than any other and an African American getting elected to the presidency.

Again, from
Louis Gray:

"In America, a lot more things are becoming possible," he said. "It's an exciting time in the world. There's a lot going on. Not only is there more change, but the rate of change is increasing. Even five years ago, on the Internet, you could take a day off and not miss anything. Now you take 20 minutes off, and you're #100 in the comments. Little differences become magnified. You might be 2% more efficient, but 100% more successful."
Change is certainly in the air. Is Maine ready for another independent Governor? If they are, Alex Hammer could be an excellent choice. Keep a close eye on this one.

[Be sure to check out The Maine View for updates in Derek's series of profiles on the ten-plus candidates who have already filed their candidacy for governor in 2010. -d.eris]

Guest Posts

Derek Viger at The Maine View recently contacted me to propose that we do some cross-posting at our respective blogs, and I was happy to oblige. Unfortunately, the third party and independent blogosphere often seems to suffer from the same forms of factionalism that undermine the common goal of chipping away at the two-party state in the all-too-real world of day to day politicking. But it need not be so. If you're interested in joining in on the fun, send me an email and let me know.

Dismantle the Duopoly

Duopoly ideology allows Republicans and Democrats to disagree on virtually everything, except, that is, for the necessity of maintaining the two-party system at all costs. In 'the ideological looking glass,' I pointed out the irony of the fact that, with the appropriate substitutions, the conservative Republican's critique of the GOP and the progressive Democrat's critique of the Democratic Party are virtually identical. Recognition of this similarity is the first step toward recognizing their shared interest in the dismantling of the two-party state. This common interest is underscored all the more by comparison of conservative and progressive critiques of the duopoly charade. Examples abound. At The Examiner, Scott Gibbs rails against the naivety of liberals and progressives who continue to believe that the Democratic Party is not fundamentally opposed to their interests and values:
I'm not talking about Democrats, screw Democrats. I'm talking about real liberals and progressives, the ones who would rather die than declare allegiance to one of the Big Two. I'm talking about the people who realized a long time ago that the two-party system is a sham. Who decided that the two parties have become so bloated and corrupt that whoever they toss into the national spotlight, whoever is crowned the “new rising star,” has already been bought and sold a hundred times over. Check inside the pants of the “new kid on the block” and I'll show you fresh castration scars.
Silent Majority is equally critical of conservatives' faith in the Republican Party to deliver on its pandering promises:
Where conservatives have failed is in identifying themselves with the festering pustule that is the Republican Party. They have failed in conveying why conservatism is different, at a fundamental level, than liberalism. They have failed because they have allowed liberals to define conservatism. Conservatives have allowed themselves to be cast as the party of the rich; the party of prejudice; the party of corporate corruption . . . We have allowed the Republican Party to wither and die on the vine. It has become nothing more than a convenient symbol for liberals to rally against. The current incarnation of the Republican Party is worthy only of reproach. The stereotypes attributed to conservatives are mostly true of the Republican Party; they are absolutely true of the Democratic Party.
Despite their radical differences of opinion on both foreign and domestic policy, principled conservatives and progressives agree that the two-party system is inimical to the interests of the people of the United States. The question, however, is whether and to what extent this common interest can be mobilized to dismantle the duopoly.

The Lesser Evil is the Enemy of the Greater Good

At the Narco News Bulletin, Nancy Davies delivers a commentary on participatory democracy in Oaxaca, Mexico, highlighting the nexus between lesser-of-two-evils voting, neo-liberal economic policy and the international "war on drugs":
Have you voted for the “lesser of two evils” in the “democracy” where you reside? I always resented that I was supposed to do that, with the same arguments we hear now in Mexico: if one does not vote for the lesser evil, the worse evil will win. Indeed, the worst did win in the last Oaxaca election, where a mere 14% of the electorate came out and voted for the bad guys . . . The political class is frightened. They will have to evaluate what it means when a large portion of the national population — not only Oaxacans — one way or another say, I won’t play your game anymore. . . . Does this upheaval sound like a “failed state,” as the USA line suggests? Or like a righteous surge of national citizen indignation? If one accepts the “failed state” diagnosis, one ought to ask, In whose interest is it to label Mexico a failed state? Let’s start listing: the dismal resemblance between Plan Columbia (also a failed state) and Plan Mexico, bringing the latest incursion of USA money, helicopters and guns to fight the narcotraffickers. Like Columbia, to fully militarize the nation of Mexico, so that social struggles can be repressed under the disguise of narco wars. What social struggles are those? The anti-neoliberal, anti-transnational, anti-privatization of land and resources, all waged by the poor, and almost all by indigenous populations.

Break the System: the Fix is In

Unlike liberals and progressives who continue to believe, against all the evidence, that the Democratic Party is capable of delivering the change they seek, many conservatives have begun to realize that the Republican Party is beholden not to them, but rather, like the Democratic Party, to the interests of entrenched elites and special interests, whose agendas and interests are directly opposed to those of the vast majority of people in the United States. Vincent Gioia makes a strong case for a unified, conservative third party front:
There is a solution to the loss of conservative representation in the Republican Party and little or no representation in congress. A third party representing conservative ideals and principles will enable conservatives to express their political views on a national level and need not damage election outcomes like past third parties have done.
A similar sentiment is articulated in the letter by Janet Contreras to Glenn Beck, which is currently circulating on right-leaning blogs. Contreras writes in part:
Democrat, Republican, independent, libertarian. Understand this. We don't care. Political parties are meaningless to us. Patriotic Americans are willing to do right by us and our Constitution and that is all that matters to us now. We are going to fire all of you who abuse power and seek more. It is not your power. It is ours and we want it back. We entrusted you with it and you abused it.
Understandably, partisan Republicans are concerned by this groundswell of independent and third party agitation. The Pink Flamingo complains:
I am sick and tired of third party yahoos denigrating the GOP and everyone in it. I am tired of watching people say vile and nasty things about good men and women who truly do not deserve the treatment these third party hacks are threatening. The Republican Party has some very good elected officials, who are doing their very best to do what is right and honorable. Instead of constantly damning them, maybe we should be out there supporting them, and helping them instead of threatening to kick them out of office because they do not slobber around people like Glenn Beck.
At America's Right, Ronald Glenn sees a comparable threat in the activities of Alex Jones, pleading to conservatives: "Don't Abandon the GOP, Fix It." He concludes:
The Democrat Party claims to support labor unions while advocating immigration policies that support non-union labor. The Republican Party sells itself as the Patriot Party, while permitting corporations to move the economy overseas. The point has to be emphasized that the Republican Party does not have to be abandoned. It needs to be fixed.
Such a position, of course, presupposes that the duopoly parties can be fixed. The problem, however, is that the fix is already in. The claim that Americans must work within the framework of the existing two-party system in order to achieve positive change is effectively an argument in favor of the political status quo, which resists and is overtly hostile to all attempts at such change.

The War Machine and the Politics of Hypocrisy

In the mainstream liberal blogosphere, discussion of the recent Iraq war supplemental focused to a great extent on the hypocrisy of House Republicans, who opposed the bill because it also contains a $5 billion line of credit for the IMF. Matthew Yglesias writes:
We can all recall the days when voting against an emergency war supplemental bill was the most evil and un-American thing ever . . . Beyond the pure hypocrisy play, it’s worth observing that this is a really bad reason to vote against the bill.
Many progressives would undoubtedly disagree with Yglesias, and, ironically, find themselves in the company of the House GOP. Chris Bowers, for instance, finds the arguments for funding the IMF with no strings attached 'deeply unserious':
It is infuriating how many Washington policy analysts will, when their arguments have no real persuasive value and are overtly contradictory, simply resort to calling opponents of their policy "not serious." This is especially the case when three-dozen progressive members of the House of Representatives are holding up IMF funding until four specific reforms are instituted by the IMF.
On the other hand, among liberals, there seems to be relatively little discussion of the hypocrisy of 'anti-war' Democrats continuing to fund the wars they once claimed to oppose. One wonders just how long it will be before progressives realize that their interests are not served by the Democratic Party. Some have already drawn the obvious conclusion. Jeremy Scahill writes at Alternet:
In a vote that should go down in recent histories as a day of shame for the Democrats, on Tuesday the House voted to approve another $106 billion dollars for the bloody wars in Iraq and Afghanistan (and increasingly Pakistan). To put a fine point on the interconnection of the iron fist of U.S. militarism and the hidden hand of free market neoliberal economics, the bill included a massive initiative to give the International Monetary Fund billions more in U.S. taxpayer funds.
The Democrats, of course, were more than willing to co-opt the message and momentum of the anti-war movement when it was a matter of winning elections, but now that those elections have been won, there is little reason for them to continue pandering to that portion of their constituency. This is perhaps nowhere more clear than in the case of Cindy Sheehan. Once the darling of anti-war Democrats for standing up to Bush outside his ranch in Crawford (which Democrats continually proved incapable of doing in Washington D.C.), she has since become a political pariah and gadfly. To her credit, she has turned her sights on the Democratic Party itself:
I am not even remotely surprised that the new supplemental bill for war funding passed the House today . . . I left the Democratic Party over two years ago upset over the passage of another war funding bill . . . Are you tired of being used and betrayed by Democrats, yet?
Let's hope that conservatives prove less gullible than their liberal counterparts, and finally divorce themselves from the GOP.

VOID the Congress

One of the stranger contradictions of the duopolist mentality is the disconnect between people's views of the Congress as a whole (largely negative) and their views on their own individual Congressional representative (largely positive). There are likely a great many people out there in these United States who believe that the Congress is filled with lying crooks and ignorant buffoons, but maintain that their representative is both honest and intelligent. What results from this is the institutionalization of incumbency. At Watchblog's Third Party and Independent site, David R. Remer makes the case for Vote Out Incumbents Democracy (VOID):
The idea is simple, and rests entirely with the American voters, NOT with the Congress. VOID advocates that voters consider voting for a challenger from their own party, or another, if they are not happy with the performance of Congress at large. VOID postulates that even if voters like their own representative, the fact that the same voters disapprove of Congress' performance, means their own representative is, at least, ineffective in bringing about the changes the voter hopes for.

Independents and Hyperpartisanship

In a post at The Real World contemplating recent results from Gallup Polls showing that self-identified conservatives outnumber liberals by a margin of two to one, 'the Historian' argues that the United States is 'an anti-left nation.' He emphasizes that Americans are more likely to identify themselves as conservatives, moderates or liberals, than Republicans or Democrats, but argues that there is no need for a third party in American politics:
The days of pure party loyalty have been fading fast, and none too soon. Each and every day finds fewer party agenda kool aid drinkers on either side of the political divide. That works, not to mention that there is no need for a third party. Or better put, there already is a third party: the nonpartisans. And it is growing. To win, the party types will have to attract large numbers of the non-affiliated while at the same time holding on to their party base.
The number of self-identified unaffiliated voters is certainly on the rise, however, they do not constitute a third party and they are not non-partisan. Under the right conditions, that is, given a strong candidate and an effective organizational strategy, this group could form the base of a viable third party or independent campaign. But the fact that they do not support actual third parties in large numbers demonstrates they they have not yet overcome their misplaced loyalty to the duopoly parties. On the other hand, their political independence does not imply that they are non-partisan. The idea that the unaffiliated voter is non-partisan is one of the many conceits of duopoly ideology. Whereas partisan Democrats stand in opposition to Republicans, and partisan Republicans stand in opposition to Democrats, independents and the unaffiliated oppose both the Republican and Democratic Parties. It would not be incorrect to label such a position hyper-partisan. The fact that it is considered non-partisan reveals the agency of an ideological fantasy central to the duopolist mentality, namely, that of the ideologically pure and virtually a-political citizen and voter.

Closed Ranks or Open Primaries?

Last week, I noted that the growing number of independents nationwide was "likely a cause of great concern for partisans of the duopoly parties" at both the state and local levels. Legislation aiming to create an open primary system in Pennsylvania, and thus allow such voters to have a say in just who the duopoly parties run for office, is predictably riling local party leaders. A local television news reporter, Joscelyn Moses, reports:
A Pennsylvania lawmaker is proposing legislation to allow all registered voters to vote in a primary election. Right now the state's primary system only allows members of the two major political parties to cast ballots for Republican or Democratic candidates. Still, some local party leaders aren't open to the idea of an open primary.
Unsurprisingly, Republicans and Democrats seem to have come to a bipartisan consensus on the issue. Democrat Rick Daugherty: "For an Independent or a Republican to vote for our candidates. I think is completely insane." Republican Dawn Berrigan: "I don't like it simply because it opens the door for political mischief." Moses stresses, however, that "many voters we talked with disagree. They say the bill would give a voice to Independent and third- party voters." In response, Daugherty makes the obvious point, stating, "It is so easy for somebody to change their registration that there is really no barrier for anybody not to get involved with one of the primaries at any time."

The debate reveals one limitation of political independence. It is likely the case that many newly declared independents were and are unaware that their independent affiliation bars them from voting in primary contests. Absent independent or third party candidates running in future elections, we may well see a drop in the number of registered independents as the next primary season approaches.

The Ideological Looking Glass

If cynical opportunism is the dominant form of political activity under the reigning two-party system of duopoly government, then disillusionment is likely its motor. It is not clear to what extent the similarity between the conservative Republican critique of the GOP and the progressive Democrat's critique of the Democratic Party is apparent to the critics themselves. With the appropriate substitutions, their discourses are often virtually indistinguishable. In a post at The Young Turks under the redundant headline 'Democrat Corporatists,' we read:
It has been roughly 5 months since the democrats and Obama have taken control of government. At this point it should be fairly clear to any progressive that the democrats are a corporatist party . . . There needs to be a strategy to pull support from the blue dog and lap dog democrats. They should not be supported just because they have a ‘D’ after their name. I would hate to have an ideological litmus test, but these corporatists have to go. Progressives should be running and supporting candidates to run against these incumbent “DINO’s” in the primaries.
The term 'DINO' is, of course, an acronym for 'Democrats-in-name-only' and its clearly adapted from its ideological counterpart 'RINOS,' a term popular among partisan Republicans, signifying an insufficiently conservative member of the GOP. The irony is that both the progressive Democrat and the conservative Republican equate their own ideological stance with the backbone of their party - that is, a Democrat who is not progressive is not considered a "real" Democrat, and a Republican who is not conservative is not a "real" Republican - yet they will both admit, perhaps in a moment of candor or frustration, that their preferred party is resistant if not outright hostile to many of their core beliefs and policy preferences. Recognition of the latter is surely a cause of disillusionment for many a partisan of the duopoly parties, yet this does not resolve the contradiction. Rather it is sustained, more often than not, by the argument in favor of the lesser-of-two-evils.

The Case for Open Primaries and Multi-Party Government

An editorial in Pennsylvania's Lebanon Daily News makes a strong case for open primaries and multi-party election contests. The piece all but declares the two-party system a form of political tyranny, and hits on a number of critical points regarding the means by which Republicans and Democrats retain their duopoly on political power in the Keystone State:
We have long been critical of Pennsylvania’s primary-election mechanism, one that invites only Republicans and Democrats to the ballot party and disenfranchises many who would like some say in the way they’re governed. We’ve advocated opening the primary to other parties, and we’ve especially called for creating a fairer system for third-party candidates who are saddled with far greater burdens (like signature requirements) to get their names on the ballot than are Republicans or Democrats. We’re hoping that some new legislation can cut into the exclusivity a little bit. We’re always hoping for such change, and we certainly advocate it, but it’s too much to say we believe it will happen — the two parties in control, after all, are the ones that will vote on such a change. Not likely, but we’d love to be surprised. The legislation, a bill by Rep. Eugene DePasquale, a York Democrat, would allow independents — those who do not have any party affiliation or those registered to a recognized third party, such as the Greens or the Libertarians — to choose a primary in which to vote. This doesn’t do much for getting more third-party candidates into the voting mix, which is what we’d really like to see, but it would at least provide a vestige of empowerment to those in third parties eternally frustrated by far more limited choices than those enjoyed by anyone willing to ride a donkey or an elephant . . . Those who while away their time in third parties recognize that neither of the “big tent” parties can be viewed as representative of their political needs, but it is feasible that one individual amid a crop of candidates from a party might be viewed as more palatable by members of a third party — but not necessarily by the party mainstream . . . It makes no sense that the entity that is supposed to be serving us does not allow a fair segment of those being served to take part in a basic part of our government . . . Third-party life is still a struggle, and overcoming long years of inculcation that the two big parties are the be-all and end-all must be overcome. This is, in the final word, about fairness. A system in which more individuals are invested is fairer than one in which many are dissatisfied at least and utterly spurned at worst. Here’s our call, again, for a fairer system. [Emphasis added.]

Anarchism and Duopoly Ideology

In a post on 'understanding ideology' at American Power, Donal Douglas relays a graph from Conservative Resources depicting the left-right ideological axis from communism to fascism:

Douglas writes: "I teach ideology, and most textbooks in comparative politics include some version of the graphs above." What caught my eye in this particular diagram was the duplication of 'anarchism' at both ends of the spectrum, directly preceding each of its extremes and literally interrupting the straight line from the center to the left and right with a bracket or brace. How can we make sense of this ambiguity?

Though many if not most self-described anarchists in the US today may undoubtedly be considered part of the political left, the ideology of anarchism is nonetheless difficult to categorize politically because it is both anti-capitalist and anti-statist. For instance, anarchists are in agreement with libertarians insofar as opposition to the state is concerned, but they part company on the issue of free market capitalism. On the other hand, opposition to capitalism puts anarchists in agreement with Marxists, but the Marxist goal of seizing state power and implementing a 'dictatorship of the proletariat' is incompatible with the anarchist's anti-statism. This antinomy can be traced through the history of anarchist thought, and is perhaps best represented by the distinction between individualist and collectivist anarchism, symbolized, respectively, by Max Stirner and Mikhail Bakunin in the European context as well as Henry David Thoreau and Emma Goldman in the American tradition.

As an ideological formation, anarchism is strictly at odds with the duopoly system of government if only because it is at odds with all systems of government. With respect to the duopoly, principled anarchists would necessarily oppose the Republican and Democratic Parties as the representatives of both the state and corporatist interests; and would view the two-party system as the means by which this power structure is maintained. It is thus no surprise that anarchism is for the most part incomprehensible to ideologues of the duopoly: conservatives see anarchists as violent socialists, while liberals view them as libertarian vandals. The figure of 'the anarchist' thus functions as a kind of ideological Rorschach test, onto which both conservatives and liberals, Republicans and Democrats, project their image of the political other, mediating their respective relations to the extremes on both the left and the right.

Though each misunderstands anarchism in a different way, they both nonetheless agree in their association of anarchism with violence. It is worth noting, however, that anarchists are just as likely to espouse non-violence as they are direct action, while some have adapted the practice of non-violent direct action. Whether violent or otherwise, American anarchists have nonetheless been consistent in their opposition to the two-party state over the last twenty or so years, as evidenced outside the WTO meetings in Seattle during the Clinton administration and in the protests surrounding the Republican National Convention in 2008. In 'the anarchist,' the duopoly parties thus rightly perceive a common enemy.

The Two-Party System and the One-Party State

One common critique of third party activism is that there is no 'viable' third party to be found in the United States. The irony of such criticism is that in most districts across the country there is no viable second party either, no matter which party is in power. In this sense, the two-party system has already effectively devolved into a one-party state for much of the country. At the national level, both the Democrats and Republicans have proven incapable of mounting a viable opposition to the ruling party for almost ten years. Likening the Republicans today to the Democratic Party under the Bush administration, Lew Weinstein calls them out:
We need a viable two party system in America. We need a strong opposition party to keep Democrats in check, just as Democrats should have kept Republicans in check during the Bush/Cheney years. Democrats failed then, Republicans are failing now.
Arguably, the most effective way to ensure political opposition is to oppose the system that has consistently proven incapable of providing such opposition. It may well be the case that a 'viable' two-party system is impossible absent a viable multi-party system.

Libertarianism v. Centrism?

Considering the current state of the Republican Party in particular and the duopoly formation in general, Jenny Kakasuleff wonders whether 2012 could be the 'year of the Libertarian,' but suggests that a centrist or moderate candidate would stand a better chance:

If they are to stand a chance, the task for Libertarians is to convince Americans that the federal deficit, and the national debt, should be their two most pressing concerns; making this argument stick will be based partially on the political climate in the summer of 2012. In addition, they must convince a majority of the electorate that the only way to fix this mess is to terminate all social programs, including food stamps, Medicare/Medicaid, social security, and education—this will be a tough sell. Three years is a political lifetime. The GOP has plenty of time to get their ducks in a row, but they are surely dragging their feet. If a third-party candidate were willing to move toward the center—as we well know, it’s the moderate candidate who can garner support from a majority of Americans that will win—then we may see the first third-party presidential victory. However, the ideas of Ron Paul will never resonate with a majority of Americans.
This juxtaposition of predictions raises a number of questions about the relationship between libertarianism and the so-called political center. Would not a strong libertarian candidate for national office change our very notion of what or where the "center" is?

Stark Contrast

When forced to defend the two-party system against reasonable opposition, bipartisans of the duopoly parties parrot the same talking points: a third party would take too long to build, it might only end up a spoiler, and such efforts have not been successful in the past. Considering the three together, it becomes apparent that duopoly ideology favors impatience, opportunism, and fatalism. It is a schizophrenic mentality, paradoxically mingling aspects of futurism, antiquarianism and alarmism.

This stands in stark contrast to their opposition. In a talk for the Long Island Progressive Coalition, Kimberly Wilder provides ten reasons to support third parties, and, by extension, independent candidacies, on the basis of constitutional principles, critical reflection and independent action. A number of points from the presentation could be brought to bear in the response to the above bipartisan charade, some of which I've touched on before: 1) just because there is a two-party system, that does not mean that those two parties have to be the Republican and Democratic Parties (Duverger's Law); 3) if it is a virtue of the two-party system that each party works as a check and balance against the other, then a third party would provide a check and balance against their combination or collusion; 9) ballot access laws are biased and discriminatory; 10) national third parties have had great effects upon the history and development of the United States, for example the Anti-Slavery Party, the Women's Right to Vote Party, the Republican Party, the Prohibition Party etc..

The Independent Majority vs. the Assumption of Duopoly

The growing number of registered independents among US voters is likely a cause of great concern for partisans of the duopoly parties. Recent polls show that self-described independents now outnumber those who affiliate with the Democrats or Republicans. The national trend is apparent, and modulated at both state and local levels across the Union. The latest voter registration numbers from Utah provide a case in point. Ballot Access News reports:
The Utah state elections office has released a registration tally . . . The percentages are: Republican 39.30%; Democratic 8.80%; Libertarian .21%; Constitution .15%; independent and other 51.54%. [Emphasis added.]
Needless to say, Utah's state government is dominated by the GOP. It's State Senate has 21 Republicans and 8 Democrats while its State House has 53 Republicans and 22 Democrats. Such a lop-sided majority in government, coupled with the fact that an absolute majority of the state's citizens affiliate with neither of the major parties suggests that Utah could be fertile ground for growth among parties not beholden to the duopoly machine. Groups like the Constitution Party of Utah may make significant strides in the Beehive State in the near future. (The Christian News Wire recently dubbed the group "the fastest growing third party in America.")

At the local level, the prevalence of independents is causing a ruckus in Washington, Connecticut. Ann Compton at Voices News has the story:
The Republican Town Committee has asked the Board of Finance to rescind its appointment of Anthony Bedini to the board in favor of a Republican candidate. Mr. Bedini was appointed as an alternate to the board in April, replacing former Board of Finance member John Allen, a Republican, who passed away last year. Mr. Bedini is not affiliated with either the Republican or Democratic party.
This case is especially noteworthy because it highlights the set of unwritten rules and laws that regulate and maintain the duopoly system of government. The Republican Town Committee wrote the Board of Finance a letter urging them to rescind Mr. Bedini's nomination, in which these implicit practices and assumptions are explicitly articulated:
In a letter to the board dated May 30, RTC Chairman Joan Lodsin expressed the committee's "disappointment and disapproval" of the way in which Mr. Bedini's appointment was made."You asked for and we submitted to you a name of a possible candidate to fill this position, namely Ann Burton," states the letter, adding that Ms. Burton is well-qualified and expressed her willingness to serve."We, apparently naively, thought you would at least give Ann the courtesy of an interview to give her and you the opportunity to see if this would be a good match," the letter continues. "It is our understanding that Ann was never invited to a meeting to discuss the possibility of being an alternate on this board . . . We do realize this is not required but it has been the practice in the past and it is regrettable that you did not follow this procedure this time." The letter notes that the board chose in Mr. Bedini "a well-qualified person to fill the position," but adds, "this person is not a member of a political party but is an unaffiliated voter . . . We trusted that you would fill a vacancy previously held by a Republican with a Republican." [Emphasis added.]
In other words, the Republican Town Committee objects to the appointment not because the gentleman in question is unqualified, but rather on the grounds that he is an independent and that the conventional manner of such appointments maintains the strict duopoly of Republican and Democratic Party representatives over the board. While third party activists often focus on explicit laws and regulations that reproduce the two-party system and hobble minor party and independent campaigns, the implicit assumptions and unwritten rules that undergird the Democratic-Republican bipoligarchy are no less worthy of our attention precisely because they silently structure our political discourse and determine such "spontaneous" political practices.

Third Party Activism from the Bottom Up

In a post from last week on the potential for third party activism in Massachusetts, I remarked that . . .
there is no reason beyond lack of imagination to assume that the ideal two-party state is one controlled by Democrats and Republicans, especially in a state as liberal as Massachusetts. Left-wing and moderate third party activists should be hard at work in the commonwealth, chipping away at the Democratic base.
At the time, I was unaware that the Greens were indeed hard at work. Kimberly Wilder relays word of a number of local offices won by Green Party candidates in New England:
For the past few weeks, the national Green Party web-site featured five Green Party candidates running on June 9th for local office in Maine and Massachusetts. According to the front page update today, four out of five won their races . . . Elected were: Anna Treverrow for Portland Charter Commission in Maine; Ben Chipman for Portland Charter Commission in Maine; and Joyce Palmer-Fortune for Wheatley Select Board in Franklin County, Massachusetts. Re-elected was: Nat Fortune for Wheatley Elementary School Committee in Franklin County, Massachusetts.

The Politics of Playing Politics

Speaking of 'playing politics,' Chris Matthews begins his MSNBC sideshow everyday with the words: "Let's play Hardball." The program is a conscious embodiment of the mentality and practices perceived as proper to the duopoly game, and perhaps an unconscious parody of bipartisan dialogue. Some are unwilling to play along with the charade, and some play longer than others. Stuart Rothenberg, for instance, has announced that he will no long appear on the show. His reasons are telling:
Like most of the evening programming on MSNBC and the Fox News Channel, "Hardball" has become a partisan, heavily ideological sledgehammer clearly intended to beat up one party and one point of view. [Emphasis added.]
One wonders what Rothenberg thought it once was, or where he thought he was when he was on it. Its very title declares that it is nothing more than a game! It enacts the politics of the duopoly parties according to the rules established by the corporate media-cracy. Comically, while Rothenberg is turned off by Matthews' liberal Democratic slant, Media Matters points out that his program has a clear conservative Republican bias as well. Whatever the case may be, it is immaterial whether Matthews is liberal or conservative on whatever issues. The point is that the corporate media and their circus masters are simply deferential to power, no matter who's in office. Ironically, however, they inadvertently reveal the inconsistency of the duopoly dialogue. The Daily Show summed up the current state of the debate nicely in an "i on News" segment: "Fox insinuates, MSNBC hates Rush Limbaugh and CNN wants to hang out with us at a slumber party."

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Politics without Politics

One of the more bizarre debate tactics common in our duopolized discourse is accusing one's ideological opponent of 'playing politics,' as if such accusations themselves were not just another means by which the duopolists 'play politics.' In an opinion piece for the Bennington Banner on the tug-of-war between the executive and the legislature in Vermont's state government, Charles Putney points out the obvious, namely: that is politics.
Also not new are the cries of "politics" from politicians. Those cries always sound like whining to me — whoever makes the charge. Of course it's politics. That's how we govern. Politics is about the use of elected power to serve the people. Different people see that service in different ways. Arguments happen. People lose votes. Of course it's politics and it's good for us. It's what makes us different from a totalitarian regime where no one gets to argue the point — someone just decides.
A Google News search for 'playing politics' delivers over six hundred hits for the phrase in just the past week. The prevalence of this turn of phrase and the ideological attitude it implies is symptomatic of the effort to depoliticize politics itself characteristic of duopoly ideology. In a report on NY Governor David Patterson's response to the Republican "coup" in the New York State Senate, Michael Harris writes at the Examiner that Patterson . . .
was furious that the legislature chose to take to divisive partisan politics during the final two weeks of the legislative session, which he referred to as, "Not the time for politics. It's the time for governance."
Such statements, common in the everyday discourses of both Republicans and Democrats, presuppose that governance is nothing more than the a-political, technocratic administration of things, rather than the product of the political process itself. Like the bipartisan front, this proposition is fundamentally authoritarian in nature and sustains the fantasy of a politics without politics: let's put politics aside and implement my agenda.

The Misrule of Law

Though I tend to emphasize the executive and the legislative branches of government here at Poli-Tea, the judiciary is not exempt from the machinations of the duopoly kleptocracy, which is bought and paid for by national and multinational corporations. The NYT reports on the Supreme Court's decision in the Massey Energy case:
Elected judges must disqualify themselves from cases involving people who spent exceptionally large sums to put them on the bench, the Supreme Court ruled on Monday in a 5-to-4 decision.
One would think that recusing oneself in such an instance should be common sense. The dissenting justices think otherwise. At Docudharma, Michael Gass traces the outlines of the cloud behind the silver lining:
Massey Coal lost a case and appealed it. Before the appeal was heard, Massey Coal funded the campaign of a lawyer named Benjamin to be elected to the Appeal Court. Benjamin won the election, then refused to recuse himself twice, voting each time in favor of Massey Coal. The case was then appealed to the Supreme Court, who then ruled by 5-4 that Benjamin had acted wrongly. 5-4 that it is wrong for a corporation to buy itself a judge. And, who is buying off the judges? Corporations. To stunning effect!

Information Warfare

The idea of a war for 'hearts and minds' is at least as old as the earliest recorded military theories. As Sun Tzu was well aware, defeating a polity politically is superior to laying siege to it militarily. In the so-called information age, the battlefield of a given war may extend over the whole globe though the bloodshed may be confined to disparate regions, countries, or even locales. Militaries consciously wage war in this wider "information environment," which we all inhabit. Given the number of wars going on at any given time, both literal and figurative, the idea that 'there is a war on for your mind,' as Alex Jones puts it, is not unreasonable. In the political media-sphere this war is waged over the boundaries between the spheres of consensus and those of debate and controversy. Political institutions, such as the two-party state and its corresponding ideology, are institutionalized in these very discourses. Recognizing the agency of the structure in the acts of an agent and vice versa is required in order to 'know one's enemy and oneself,' as it were.

Coalition of the Obvious analyzes the propaganda campaign being waged in Iraq by the US military and ends up homing in on Burson-Marsteller, a global public relations and communications firm, concluding:

Burson-Marsteller is a key figure in the ongoing WWE Wrestle-Mania Roadshow that we now call a political two-party system. They help to control both sides and they exert a great deal of influence on the media that reports on the republican or the democratic sides. In effect, with regard to almost every issue of the day, they tells us what to think and what sound-bites we should repeat to each other in our efforts to show one another just how “informed” we really are. But it all comes from the same place; a place where republican trolls and spineless liberals drop their affected stage-persona’s and work hand in hand to craft a somewhat believable reality for mass consumption. Our consumption.

Pirates in the Parliament

With less than fifty percent voter turnout in elections for the European parliament, major news outlets are headlining gains by conservative parties across the EU. Advances made by a number of third and minor parties are well worth noting, however. At The Guardian, Martin Kettle writes:
Britain used to be dominated by something called the two-party system – the Conservatives and Labour. When one gained, the other lost. Not any more. After the European elections of 2009 Britain has entered a new political world. Welcome to the Britain of eight-party politics. Eight British parties will be sending MEPs to Brussels and Strasbourg for the next five years, a new record. A combination of the proportional representation system and the gradual desertion of the two major parties by the voters – only 43.4% of whom voted for the Tories and Labour in these elections – has redrawn the political map.
Perhaps one of the more surprising results was the seat won by Sweden's Pirate Party, a single issue group dedicated to reforming copyright and patent law. The BBC notes: "The result puts the Pirate Party in fifth place, behind the Social Democrats, Greens, Liberals and the Moderate Party." The Rehearsal Studio provides a bit of background on the party and argues that their model may well be worth emulating:
If we are going to have so many voters fixated on single issues, let them have parties that stand for their positions on those issues . . . It is hard to imagine any pundit responding to such a proposal in any way other than horror in the face of the chaos that might arise, but would it be any more chaotic than the current broken conditions in the Congress?