The Time May Be At Hand for a Third Party in American Politics
Hold on to your britches now, I’m not talking about some dude to mess up choice by taking votes away from a major candidate. We’ve seen enough of that and it’s served us badly.
But the fact remains that 40% or more of American voters are deeply unhappy with what’s on offer in the current two-party system. Many see no options but ‘choice by holding their nose.’ Centrist-right Democrats and centrist-left Republicans, desperate to hold their seats, keep bi-partisan government frozen in the headlights.
We are where we are, with no apparent way forward. The recent narrow loss by Republicans in the House is far more than simply a slight gain for Democrats. Representative Ocasio-Cortez’s voice is far from timid and the young voters who got her where she is are fed up with business as usual.
There’s something in the air and it smacks of a third party.
Following the 2016 mid-term elections, 20 women now hold seats in the Senate, and 85 in the House. We are tiring of old white men telling us to wait our turn. When an old white voice such as Bernie Sanders raises itself, the system (in this case, illegally) turns against him and his young supporters are angry. When a man of color becomes president, the system ties his hands and young voters are fed up with that as well.
We are a divided nation and there’s much to be said about the causes of those divisions and sense of fairness that divide us. But here is where we are. Change is in the air, you can feel it. Not the change that is merely a motto, but systemic change.
More and more, I wonder if we are moving inexorably toward coalition politics. Coalitions, by their very nature require a third party, whose backing by constituents grease the wheels of the truly bi-partisan legislation that’s gone missing. No more need we put up with a liberal or conservative ‘base’ to jam things through that don’t serve us equitably.
But third parties have failed us for over 200 years and there’s a reason. They never get sufficient traction and give us third-party presidential candidates who are spoilers at the best and embarrassments at the worst.
So what might success look like?
First of all, it would require a groundswell of support across the nation. The Libertarian Party still exists and has been around for nearly fifty years, but even now it boasts just half a million registered voters. Not enough, a political pimple on the legislative nose.
148 million voters were registered in the 2016 election. Only 58% of them actually showed up at the polls. So the number of active voters out there comes to a mere 86 million. Not to tire you with numbers, but the 40% unhappy with their choices amount to nearly 35 million and that’s hardly a pimple on the nose.
No need to ask why the 62 million who were registered, chose to sit it out. Poll after poll shows voters have lost trust in politics and think the game is rigged in favor of big money. No doubt that’s true, but it suggests that going to the trouble to register and then failing to show up represents a powerful group that under the right circumstances might choose to become engaged.
So let’s try to construct a template for a third party.
First, we give them a name. Your choice is good as mine, but just for fun let’s call them the Change Party. A lot to live up to, but it shows a willingness to move with the times. After all, times, goals and needs all change in this lightning fast environment in which we live today.
Second, the Change Party needs a platform upon which to run and explain itself to voters. If it wants to engage the 40% disengaged, it better be clear about its dedication. Like all political platforms, that includes environmental concerns, education, jobs, economic fairness, legislative support and a raft of others too numerous to mention.
But they must be mentioned and perhaps the most important among them is to deny themselves the temptation to announce their own presidential candidate until the Change Party reaches one-third representation in the House and Senate. In other words, parity. Change shouldn’t expect to climb into the ring until it’s a proven contender.
That’s the cross upon which so many third parties have been nailed. Obviously, no such rule prevents endorsing, supporting or electing candidates for House and Senate seats.
Third, in the case of congressional candidates, all the funding and advertising laws agreed by the two major parties would apply. So far as presidential candidates of those two major parties are concerned, both endorsement and financial support would be allowed for whichever candidate they choose. But they agree not throw that support to a candidate other than those of (current) Democrats or Republicans.
These limitations are meant to discourage independent candidates from skewing a national election, an age-old (and factual) complaint
Once the one-third requirement in both House and Senate are met, all bets are off and the Change Party can finally offer the country a presidential candidate.
Many democratic governments throughout the world operate within coalition governments.
When coalitions become problematic, it’s usually because too many minor parties are formed, badly splintering (and often subverting) majority rule. No doubt splinter parties like the Libertarians will continue to rise and fall, but the Change Party’s self-imposed requirement means to prevent that very circumstance from shooting themselves in their own foot.
America needs a new tool in the electoral toolbox. I’d love to get some feedback on this.