No matter how you break it down, or whose numbers you care to adhere to, a growing number of Americans are leaving their Republican or Democrat tags to declare themselves independent. Most figures hover at approximately 40%. Two-party dominance isn’t working anymore, if it ever really did. The swing from Republican to Democratic control in Washington merely serves to further polarize hard-line subservience to one ‘base’ or another, leaving the un-served 40% adrift and frustrated.
If ever there was a time for a serious third-party organization, it is now.
Logjam confrontations between the radical right and liberal left isolates conservative Democrats and liberal Republicans, leaving no room under the closed umbrella for authentic bipartisanism. Majority and minority leaders in both parties demand a more and more isolationist party-line rationale, firing up their respective bases and hoping for, depending upon electoral majority the next time around, while the nation suffers the consequences. Bipartisan government is, increasingly, a sham and a fraud. You are not well represented by it, nor am I.
Our two-party system is a staggering, tired horse.
The answer, I suggest, is a move toward coalition politics rather than bipartisan confrontation. Coalition is, by definition, ‘an organization of people involved in a pact or treaty’ and neither liberal Republicans nor conservative Democrats are currently able to serve in this capacity, due to fear of retaliation from their majority-minority whips or ideological base. Only a viable third party will suffice, one that truly represents the 40% of Americans who have become, essentially, a ‘swing constituency.’
But how to do it?
The list of failed attempts is long; the Constitution Party of 1992, the Green Party of 1996 and the Libertarian Party of 1971. Ross Perot ran as an independent and fired up some interest in the 1992 presidential election, the self-destructed. Ralph Nader is a perennial candidate, but these candidacies are more spoiler than useful and the problem, I would argue, is the very polarization and frustration of candidates with no chance to win, but who may draw enough votes to prevent one of the leading candidates from winning.
We don’t need a third presidential candidate. The problem lies not with presidents. Surely the Barack Obama disappointment is sufficient evidence of that. The problem is (and remains) endemic within the Congress. The unrepresented 40% do not need—and likely would not rally behind—a third-party presidential candidate. They want representation.
A viable third-party must not be anchored by a presidential candidate. The time may come, some decades down the road, when that possibility may arise, but that time is not (nor should it be) now. Yet the disenfranchised 40% is no wild-eyed sliver group. Attribute the remaining 60% however you like, they cannot govern without listening to (and satisfying) the third party, essentially extending representation to the unrepresented.
I accede that 40% unrepresented does not guarantee 40% elected. Pick your own figure between twenty and fifty percent, it’s still a force to be reckoned with.
So, let’s suppose. Let’s go through a scenario that might actually have a positive effect on national politics and, perhaps, eventually bleed into state and local governance as well. Here are some ‘what ifs’ to start the ball rolling:
What if this supposed party held a National Platform Convention, outlining specific party positions on the hot-button issues 40% of Americans feel most deeply about? Perhaps those might include, but not be limited to;
Putting aside the rhetoric of feel-good (hope, change) for determining the possible (specific, targeted, identifiable
Disconnecting linkage between lobbyists and legislation
Eschewing all campaign contribution from lobbyists, PACs and special interest groups
Junking the current tax code in favor of a simplified system that removes all exemptions, creating a single-page and equitable substitute
Including unrestricted Medicare as a viable public option to healthcare legislation
Calling for a return to constitutional democracy, including privacy issues and regard for America as a nation under law
Creatively addressing immigration issues
Taking a stand on Dwight Eisenhower’s warning over an uncontrolled military-industrial complex
Proposing guidelines for economic oversight and recovery
Prioritizing the State Department as a more independent and professional arm of foreign affairs
Attending to the long-ignored subject of neglected nationwide infrastructure
Addressing energy independence as a capital and labor-intensive asset
Policies centered around the recovery of American business and industry at home, where jobs are needed
Those are some starters. You will have more and so must they.
What if 435 candidates for the House of Representatives and 100 Senatorial candidates were financed by the third-party in national elections, essentially running on that Party Platform.
What if only 20% of them were elected in the first election cycle? The political scene in Washington would be dramatically changed for the better. No longer would 60 (either Democrat or Republican) Senators be required to keep the wheels of governance rolling. The iron grip of majority and minority whips in congress would be loosened, if not entirely broken. Hard-core bases on either side of the aisle would be equally diminished, as the dominance and purpose of ‘all or nothing’ political stalemate became untenable.
Look at the power of a single swing-vote (Joe Lieberman as an example). Imagine twenty such Senators. Each Representative and Senator would now face two contenders for their seat after the primary dust had settled, greatly reducing scare campaigns and the demonizing of the ‘other’ party.
Presuming that issues change (as they do) and that light and air are good for the body politic (as it is), few hard right or hard left candidates would survive in an environment where there was only ‘the other guy’ to run against. How many of us have voted, holding our noses, because one candidate or another was simply not possible to vote for?
Personally, over six decades in the voting booth, that occasion has attracted and delivered my unenthusiastic vote a number of times. How many more have simply stayed away from the polls? Based on the number of eligible voters disdaining national elections, that frightening fact continues as a tragically downward spiral.
But how would a truly viable third party find funding? Who’d put up the dough? Once one concentrates on congressional candidates (instead of presidential aspirants), the math gets pretty simple and the chances of success improve dramatically.
The average cost of candidacy for a Representative is one million dollars; the average for a Senator, four million. A concerted national TV campaign, to drive home the third party’s Political Platform, would significantly lower these individual costs of campaigning.
But let’s leave the numbers as they are and guesstimate.
$15 million to run a national convention and establish a platform (Democrats, 2008)
$435 million for Representative races
$400 million for Senate races
$1,000 million ($1 billion) for a national Party Platform TV campaign ($2.5 billion was spent in 2008, but that included both party candidates, as well as their presidential campaigns)
So, the prize is out there for under $2 billion, but who is to pick up the cost if we conclude that political contribution equates to disguised (or undisguised) and undue influence? A rich patriot? A group of such public-spirited men and women? Patriots and public spirited men and women risked their lives and fortunes to begin this American experiment in self-governance.
Surely it is not too much to ask even less of them to save it.
Remember also that costs are not one-time, as they continue to roll on through election cycles yet to come. But one presumes significant growth of small-donor contributions as (and only if) the third party’s walk matches its talk. No matter for this discussion. It’s pocket-change for certain individuals, if one can but find such patriots interested in the rescue of American-style democracy from its sick bed.
Bill Gates? Warren Buffet? Alice Walton? Michael Bloomberg? Ted Turner? The usual suspects come to mind. Might a coalition of these worthy men and women give birth to and nurture a true and elegant modern version of coalition politics?
“For money you can have everything it is said. No, that is not true. You can buy food, but not appetite; medicine, but not health; soft beds, but not sleep; knowledge but not intelligence; glitter, but not comfort; fun, but not pleasure; acquaintances, but not friendship; servants, but not faithfulness; grey hair, but not honor; quiet days, but not peace. The shell of all things you can get for money. But not the kernel. That cannot be had for money.” -Arne Garborg, writer (1851-1924)
What I suggest is not the shell, but the kernel.
If troubled times bring forth great men and women, what times are more troubled in America than now? Troubled, not so much economically or spiritually; these are things that come and go and we will recover to a yet unknown extent.
But we are off the rails in the ability to govern ourselves, and failing test after test of the very sense of purpose that made us the most enviable place on this planet to meet the aspirations of human hope. The time, if ever, is now. The resources and deep American need to be the best we are capable of being is there. Can, or will, such a thing happen?