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Thursday, November 03, 2005

Third party politics

Austin Post wrote a thoughtful article on the Libertarian Party’s declining fortunes today.

Like Austin, I would like to see third (and fourth, and fifth) parties thriving. We would certainly have a better Congress if a couple of smaller national parties, and even one or two regionals, had as few as 20 seats combined — enough to deny a majority to any one party. Caucuses have their drawbacks, but the consensus they require is something we need a lot more right now.

Having said that, I think the Libertarians have at least partially been the authors of their own demise. We already have the kind of government their policies lead to — government of the rich, by the rich, and for the rich — and it ain’t pretty. There just isn’t enough to separate them from the Republicans (who, having pointed the airplane of state at the ground, have now lit the afterburners). But where the Libertarians have really lost it is where Ross Perot’s Reform Party lost it.

In 1992, Ross Perot’s candidacy sparked the closest thing we’ve had in this country to a third-party win. He may well have won, given the things I was hearing from regular people back then, had he not flaked out by quitting in the summer then returning late in the campaign. Even then, he had a chance to build a true party and threw it away. Had the Reform Party immediately started to find candidates for Congress and state races for the 1994 season, they could have become a force to be reckoned with, a true third party, and who knows what 1996 would have brought? Unfortunately, the “Reform Party” turned out to be Perot’s personal hobby horse and by 1996 nobody cared anymore.

That, I believe, is where would-be third parties are falling down. They focus on the big-ticket races — President, Senators, governors — and ignore the local and state elections where they could actually pick up wins. While there’s often an attraction to a political unknown, especially in these days of Tweedledee and Tweedledum, people (with notable exceptions) tend to want their politicians to know what they’re doing. You build a base from the bottom-up, not the top-down. Howard Dean recognizes that; he has set a lofty goal of contesting every single seat in the House of Reprehensibles in 2006. I hope it happens; I sure would love to have a choice other than Nathan “Raw” Deal for a change.

But better yet, I’d like even more choices. I’d like to see three or four people running for each seat in local, state, and Congressional races, with all of them having a real chance at winning. After a few election cycles like that, the third parties could start mounting serious challenges to the Big Two at the state and national levels. But it won’t happen until people get comfortable with third parties, and they won’t get comfortable with third parties until they see people they know holding local offices.

What do you think? Can third parties ever be viable?

1 comment:

  1. The way people are fed up with both Republicans AND Democrats, we may see a return of the third parties. You know, WAY back in the old days, third parties did quite well.

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