Reactionism: the Iron Law of Duopolist Punditry, Part I

It is an iron law of political punditry that, whenever discussion of third party and Independent alternatives to the Democrats and Republicans breaks through the mainstream media's exclusionary duopolist filter, we are sure to be inundated with innumerable articles and commentaries regurgitating the ideological dogmas that sustain and maintain support for the two-party state and ruling political class.  Most recently, the phenomenon is apparent in the reaction to support for Americans Elect among a handful of mainstream political commentators (in the present case, Thomas Friedman and John Avlon among others) who are not as slavishly devoted to the Republican-Democrat duopoly system of government as the majority of their colleagues.  For the present, let's consider one example from The Atlantic.  In the next post, we'll dissect another exemplar of the genre from The American Prospect.

In The Atlantic, Wendy Kaminer argues that "a third party is no panacea."  She thus begins by setting up a straw man.  Who claims that a third party is a political cure-all?  One is much more likely to encounter such an arrogant self-opinion among the professional partisans of the Democratic and Republican parties who openly assert that they have all the answers to all our political problems, when in fact they themselves are both cause and symptom of those very problems.  Supporters of third party and Independent alternatives, on the other hand, are much more likely to make the modest point that they are simply not represented by the corporatist stooges of the ruling parties.  Kaminer's position is symptomatic of a political fight or flight response.  Her position is conditioned, above all else, by fear.  She writes:
divided government too easily devolves into dysfunctional government. So count me out of efforts to create a strong third party: I suspect that increasing the divisiveness -- splintering Congress into three formal parties instead of two -- would only increase the dysfunction.
Of course, there is no evidence to support this claim, it is nothing more than a suspicion, as she herself says.  The opposite suspicion is equally justified, namely, that if a third party were represented in the Congress, such that no party had a majority, all legislation would be the result of political compromise, thus decreasing divisiveness and dysfunction.  The reason why Kaminer would suspect the former and not the latter is simple to determine: she is ideologically and financially invested in the universality of dysfunctionality.  As her bio states, she is the author of a book entitled I'm Dysfunctional, You're Dysfunctional.

Kaminer's post is instructive, however, because it reveals that even critics of third party and Independent political advocacy implicitly accept the most common critique of the two-party system.  She continues:
liberals complain repeatedly, we don't quite have a second party. The complaint is hyperbole: there are clear differences between Congressional Democrats and Republicans on economic and social issues. But, like a lot of hyperboles, it's partly true: Democrats have not pursued their policy preferences as doggedly and effectively as Republicans, (which is how we ended up with the Bush/Obama tax cuts and a chasm between rich and poor;) and the parties are generally united in their hostility or indifference to civil liberty and their reflexive support for the national security state.
One might add here that many conservatives complain that they don't have a second party either.  Ironically, however, Kaminer does not seem to recognize that with these lines she has contradicted the argument she desires to forward.  She says it's false to claim that there are no differences between the Democrats and Republicans, but then she admits outright that Democrats and Republicans are both enemies of civil liberties, reactionary supporters of the national security police state, and united in their support for monied corporate interests over those of the American people!  Kaminer calls herself a "civil libertarian."  But from her own analysis, it is clearly apparent that no civil libertarian should support the Democrats or Republicans.  She concludes with a jab at the alleged hubris and arrogance of third party supporters.  Excerpt:
perhaps the greatest fallacy of the third party movement is the unspoken, perhaps unacknowledged, underlying assumption that members of a third party would be more informed, intelligent, and rational and less self-interested and demagogic than members of the first and second parties.
If you reject the Democratic and Republican parties, and advocate third party and Independent alternatives, you are more informed, intelligent and rational than members of the Democratic and Republican parties, many of whom continue to believe, against all the evidence, that Democrats and Republicans represent the interests of the American people.  Indeed, it is precisely out of self-interest that we should support alternatives to the Republicans and Democrats.  For example, if you are a civil libertarian, it is highly irrational and against your self-interest to support the Democrats and Republicans, even though you recognize that the Republican and Democratic parties are enemies of civil liberties.

See Part II.


Samuel Wilson said...

With someone like Kaminer you have to infer the hidden premise in any criticism of Democrats that Republicans are still evil incarnate. No matter what Democrats do to make themselves look like Republicans, it's an article of faith for the pundits that the actual Republicans are always worse. But we have no worries, anyway, because Maureen Dowd has declared Barack Obama the first independent President!

d.eris said...

lol, I did not read/hear that about/from Dowd, but that's hysterically funny because in one part of Kaminer's article that I did not address, she calls Obama a "third party president". In the article I'm going to consider in the next post, the claim is that Obama is a centrist, while Krugman recently argued that Obama is basically a right winger. So liberals and Democrats are basically saying "Support us because we're not as far to the right as the Republicans." So does that mean Obama isn't a centrist since he's actually right of center? The only way liberals and progressives can move the overton window back to the left is to go third party or independent from the left. But, as you point out, Sam, they are so hysterically afraid of the GOP and so reactionary in their politics, that it seems unlikely. Instead they'll just keep following the GOP further to the right.

d.eris said...

Instead they'll just keep following the GOP further to the right . . . and keep serving their corporate masters, while consolidating the national security police state.

TiradeFaction said...


"The only way liberals and progressives can move the overton window back to the left is to go third party or independent from the left."

It's a shame, because the DNC have been very successful in preventing that from happening with their toxic rhetoric post Nader '00 and their complete fearmongering of the GOP. Typical rank and file Democrats really believe the GOP represents some evil force out to rape and kill them (metaphorically speaking...sometimes). Addressing that mindset is paramount, though I'm not sure how it can be addressed at this time.

d.eris said...

That's the two-party state of mind! Democrats may be a lost cause, we might just have to wait until they come to their senses and register as Independents.

btw, TF, I made something for ya. Go back and check out this post on the debt ceiling from the other day.

TiradeFaction said...


"Democrats may be a lost cause, we might just have to wait until they come to their senses and register as Independents. "

There's definitely going to be plenty of space for a new framework (new party or not) for center left and solid left leaning people after the latest "deal" in Washington. The continuous rightward drift of the Democrats is finally taking it's cumulative effect.