The Third Party Dialogue: How Can Centrists Reach the Democrats?

Happy New Year!  As noted last week, the New York Times held a readers' dialogue on the issue of third party politics that began with a letter to the editor by Robert Levine calling for a centrist alternative to the Democratic and Republican parties.  Over the weekend they published nine responses to the original piece plus a response from Levine himself.  It may be interesting to simply layout the general tendency of each response, letter by letter, to see the breadth of opinion and overall tendency of the discussion.
1) Historical determinist argument against third party activism, i.e. third parties have failed in the past, therefore they will fail in the future.  Third party advocacy will further splinter the electorate.  It is better to work within the two-party system.
2) Disagreement with Levine's assumption that we need a third party of the center, states that Democrats and Republicans are already centrist-oriented.  Rather, we need a third and fourth party of the left and right to more adequately represent the breadth of opinion and interests among the people.  We need campaign finance reform and electoral reform to level the playing field.
3) Any third party strategy should focus on the US House not the presidency.  Reformers can also target competitive primary elections in the major parties to oust incumbents. 
4) Third party representatives would be just as corrupt as their Democratic and Republican counterparts, and would be sucked into the establishment's political machine.  Democrats and Republicans need to reform their respective parties and institute campaign finance reform.
5) "Centrism" got us into the current mess.  The problem isn't lack of centrists, it's obstructionism on the part of Republicans.  We need real opposition to the political and economic establishment in the form of a progressive third party.
6) A third party is not the answer and the barriers to entry are too high in any case.  Independents need to become involved in the major parties' primaries to moderate their extremes.
7) The United States already has numerous third parties but they are ignored by the media and marginalized by the political establishment.  We need to hear all positions across the political spectrum and not presented with a false choice between Republicans and Democrats.
8) The Democratic Party is already "the" centrist party.  Republican obstructionism is the problem.  History implies that third parties will not win and act as spoilers.
9) The Democrats are already "the" centrist party.  We need multiple viable alternatives to the major parties.  For that to happen we need serious electoral reform: campaign finance, voting systems etc.  
Read Levine's response.  One issue he does not touch on in his response to the response is the argument that the Democrats are already "the" centrist party.  This is a very common argument, at least in the mainstream liberal Democratic blogosphere, and directly contradicts the centrist position that the Democratic party has been captured by its far left progressive wing.  One obvious retort that one often hears in centrist circles is that the Democratic base is so far to the left that they think their party is centrist!  This argument leaves much to be desired as it relies on nothing more than the assertion of political relativism and ideological false consciousness.  Given that, politically speaking, Democrats are much less independently-minded than even Republicans, centrist third party advocates are going to need to develop arguments to appeal to those who would otherwise continue to cast their ballots against the Republicans by voting Democrat.  Ideas?


Samuel Wilson said...

The Democrats=centrists argument requires us to devote all our attention to the behavior of elected Democrats and none to the attitudes of primary voters. The counter-argument assumes, contrary to Democrats' own assertions, that they haven't compromised enough and are held back from doing so by the threat of getting primaried by a leftist base. Actual moderates might start clarifying matters by identifying the points on which they specifically expect Democrats to compromise and demanding compromise on those points. Since many of the apologists who claim that Democrats are centrists also complain that they've compromised too much already, such a discussion might show us the lines Democrats won't cross. It's then up to moderates to decide which side of those lines they stand on.

Solomon Kleinsmith said...

"One obvious retort that one often hears in centrist circles is that the Democratic base is so far to the left that they think their party is centrist! This argument leaves much to be desired as it relies on nothing more than the assertion of political relativism and ideological false consciousness."

Complete bullshit.

The democratic party is provably not centrist. All you have to do is look at where the democratic party is on the issues and look at where the majority of the country polls on those same issues.

Political scientists have been watching the ideological spread of Congress for decades and both parties are farther from the center than they've ever been since they began tracking it, for the first time not overlapping at all ideologically, and each cycle it gets worse.

The GOP is farther to the right than the dems are, but neither is remotely centrist, and both push out more of the remaining moderates each election cycle. It's been happening for over a generation... both parties used to have a majority of their members as moderates, now it's the exact opposite.

Calling this easily provable point "political relativism and ideological false consciousness" is just plain stupid. One side being more extreme than the other doesn't make the other moderate, it just means it's not as far from the center. There are more moderates left in the democratic caucus, but they're still a small minority, and have very little clout in the party.

Unknown said...

Without any doubt in my mind, Democrats are the centrist party, and we don't need a centrist party. What we need is a viable alternative for liberals.

Something similar may be said of Republicans: we have no economically conservative party, and the answer may be Libertarianism, or just a real return to fiscal conservatism.

Pete Healey said...


You gotta (please) stop the name-calling! "Bullshit" is not a political response to an articulated argument. Neither is "stupid". Please delete these terms when you edit your posts before you click on the "submit" button.

DLW said...

Great post, D.Eris, I wrote my own "Where, oh Where, is the Center?" post in response to it.


Solomon Kleinsmith said...

"You gotta (please) stop the name-calling! "Bullshit" is not a political response to an articulated argument. Neither is "stupid". Please delete these terms when you edit your posts before you click on the "submit" button."

The PC police again.

When a cuss word is the most accurate word, I use it. The crap I quoted would not have been done justice by anything less than calling it bullshit, or something similar. Trying to whitewash it with PC language would not have come remotely close to how stupid of a comment it was. This is common knowledge to people who pay attention to polling.

DLW said...

ridicule is about power-grabbing, but those who live by the pen, sometimes die by it...

Solomon Kleinsmith said...

You don't know how many times people I know ask me how I can be so active in politics without going fucking bonkers. I positively hate most of the people I talk to who are very politically active, and I'm totally on board with the "I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it anymore" crowd.

I read, write and chat about politics on average for 8-16 hours a day... the bullshit I read about pisses me off to no end, and if I didn't say how I actually thought and felt about things I WOULD either go bonkers, or I'd quit politics again. I've done it several times in my life because I tried to be one of those people who filtered themselves (aka - LIED) to fit into some bullshit cookie cutter image of what a blogger, pundit, media personality or whatever the hell is supposed to be like.

Fuck that noise. I'm not New York slick John Avlon, cerebral David Broder (gawd I still miss him... RIP), . Personally I'm a lot more like James Carville or Gary Vaynerchuk more than anyone else, with a Nebraska twist rather than the cajun or crazy Belerusian thing those guys got going on.

When I hear bitching like this I often think two things to myself...

One... cry me a fucking river. I used cuss words... did someone using adult language on the interwebz hurt your feelings? I'm sorry... do you need a cookie? Or perhaps a nap, because little Bobby said a naughty word? Grow up - people use cuss words. It's YOUR CHOICE to be offended.

Two... why the hell aren't YOU as pissed off as I am? Do you not see how fucked up things are?!? And if you are, why filter? Stop shoving it down, let it fuel you, get off your ass and do something about it.

If you don't get pissed off at this stuff... then fine, but this thin skin act is beyond tired.

DLW said...

I don't think me getting so angry that I swear at others trying to do the right thing is going to make things any better.

I have the same view of swear words as Jem's uncle in "To Kill a Mockingbird", I prefer to save my swear words for when I really need them, lest they o.w. lose their power.

So go f---ing f--- yourself, ya blowhard!

Pete Healey said...

I'll second DLW's motion.

DLW said...

Hey Pete, D.Eris et al., what do you think of comparing third party politics with playing MoneyBall?

I think it's a potent metaphor.