On the Necessity of Intellectual Independence from the Ideology of the Two-Party State

The intellectual bankruptcy of duopoly ideology is nowhere more clear than in the inability of Democratic and Republican Party ideologues to conceive a reasonable and original argument against third party and independent activism. This does not mean, however, that one need be unreasonable or unoriginal when refuting such attacks. Whether Republican or Democrat, partisans of the two-party state most commonly avail themselves of two sets of arguments against third party and independent politics, which we might subsume under the headings strategic and structural. It is by means of these cliches that Democrats and Republicans create the ideological conditions necessary for the reproduction of the Democratic-Republican two-party state. Political independence requires their refutation.

The strategic argument holds that because third party and independent candidates for office cannot win, they can only act as spoilers, thus ensuring the victory of the greater of two evils between the duopoly parties. The strategic standpoint thus argues for nothing more than the lesser of two evils between the duopoly parties on the basis of the spoiler argument. The spoiler argument, in turn, rests on the structural thesis.

Democrats and Republicans are fond of claiming that third party and independent candidates for office do not have a history of success in the United States and that this is the result of the structure of the US electoral system, since plurality voting tends to result in a two-party system (i.e. Duverger's Law). The historical argument is simply false (see, for instance, my series of posts on the third party tradition in American politics). Duverger's Law states that plurality voting favors the development of a two-party system in a given polity, it does not suggest that plurality voting favors the development of a Democratic-Republican two-party system in a given plurality. In numerous states and locales across the country, the Democratic-Republican two-party system has devolved into a one-party state, in which one or the other duopoly parties has an effective lock on elected office (ex. Massachusetts, Utah). Duverger's Law would suggest that in such contexts we could reasonably expect to see the rise of a third force to compensate for the deterioration and degeneration of the reigning duopoly order. In a liberal locale, an appropriate two-party form might offer a choice between the Democrats and the Greens or Socialists. In a conservative polity, on the other hand, we should like to expect a contest between representatives of the Republican and the Libertarian or Constitution Party.

As Republican partisans of the two-party state continue their assault on independent and third party conservative activism, the formulaic nature of their assertions underscores the intellectual bankruptcy of duopoly ideology and reveals an unwillingness or inability to confront the greatest political problem facing the people of the United States, namely, the monopolization and centralization of political power by the Democratic and Republican Parties. Let's consider a few examples. A Constitutional Right and The Republic'er forward the strategic argument against independent and third party activism. Mark Metzger writes at A Constitutional Right:
While a Tea Party is certainly more mainstream than most of the aforementioned [third parties], it would most likely split the Republican vote and cause the very people that need to be voted out (the liberal Democrats) to win and continue their assault on our liberty.
Andy Cochran agrees at The Republic'er:
Yet to break away from the Republican Party would be a disaster for the political conservative philosophy that is held by those who call themselves Tea Party members. If the Republican party is split, and the conservative base leaves, it will guarantee a Liberal governance in America for decades. The Conservative voice will be muted and the votes of Republicans and Tea Party loyalists will be worthless.
Both advocate instead "reforming" or "conservatizing" the GOP. The same argument is put forward by Morton C. Blackwell in a post at Red State:

Events of the past year should persuade every serious conservative that the Republican Party is the only practical party vehicle for us. For a year now, we have seen how much damage the left would do to America if they get their way.
Strategic arguments of this sort are often based on a false analogy with presidential politics, and frequently reference the candidacies of Ross Perot and Ralph Nader. In this way, all votes in all contests at all levels of government are made dependent upon the totalitarian political calculus of the major parties, which are interested in nothing more than expanding and concentrating their political power. In this situation, the only "wasted vote" is a vote for a Republican or a Democrat because such votes do nothing more than ensure the reproduction of the reigning political status-quo. If it is possible to organize a "reform" of the GOP or the Democratic Party in the interests of defeating either of them, then it is possible to organize an independent or third party effort to defeat both of them.


Samuel Wilson said...

Conservatives who dismiss the prospects for third-party success should ask themselves why they think that an ideologically coherent and confident "conservative" party would not draw all conservatives away from the Republican Party. The answer is most likely a form of circular reasoning:many conservatives will cling to the GOP at all costs out of an unshakable conviction that third parties can't succeed, i.e. can't draw away all the conservatives. It's that or they have to admit that movement conservatives need help from people outside the movement to govern.

d.eris said...

That is indeed the question. If tea party activists run an independent conservative candidate, it is the campaign of the Republican candidate that would threaten to "split" the vote. Reason dictates that the GOP stooge should simply drop out.