With the level of dissatisfaction voiced by so many, a third party frequently becomes an attractive political fantasy. For a decade I had supported Libertarian candidates and after thirty years they gained minimal traction. (My commitment quickly waned when Libertarian Harry Brown blamed U.S aid to Israel for the violence in the Middle East. Apparently the Russian aide to Egypt, Syria and Jordan seemed unworthy of consideration.) The same has held true for other third party candidates in spite of celebrity endorsements and brief flashes of news coverage.
These attempts to unseat the two party system fail for several reasons:
- They lack a clarity of purpose. Being non partisan is not a purpose. In fact it is often the avoidance of purpose. It is easy to be frustrated and opposed to what casually seems not to be working. It is quite another to clearly state a governing philosophy with real world applications.
- Too often a lame attempt such as the “no name party” is simply a cowardly ruse to avoid admitting that the policies of the party you supported have failed. Rather than admit failure, some will just seek to repackage the same failed ideas with a new label.
- A wonderful sounding idea is worthless without the organizational skills to back it up. Without the control of sound and visionary leadership these movements become like flypaper attracting extremist elements. Witness OWS.
- If a movement attracts a real following it will likely be largely adapted by one of the major parties. The Socialist party of the 1930’s disappeared when the Democrats adopted many of their positions. Libertarians may have started as a group who felt betrayed by Republican leaders, but even Ron Paul realized that he could attain a much wider audience in a party that is somewhat aligned with a free market, even if not perfectly so. The perfect can be the enemy of the good. The Tea Party significantly influenced interim Republican elections, but chose not to seek an independent path.
- Third parties may actually aid the larger two parties by creating a lightening rod that keeps extremist elements away from the larger party platforms. It is better for the Democrats to have Ralph Nader screeching offstage than to become associated with the Democrats and alienating the central core necessary to actually winning an election.
- Third parties and some elements of the main parties ignore the reality that there is opposition that must be considered when putting laws into effect. Otherwise it is the same as giving business advice that ignores the reality of competition.
- The core problem is not partisanship. The core problem is a fundamental difference in governing philosophies.
Jeff Jacoby noted this in Two is Enough in the May 20th Boston Globe.
Yet the two-party system remains deeply rooted in our political life, and for good reason. The broad struggle between Republicans and Democrats reflects, however messily, the ancient tension between America’s two profoundest political goals — liberty and equality.
It is much more palatable to hide behind vague notions of bipartisanship and complaints of gridlock than to face the harsh reality that we cannot afford the government programs we have. Benefits will have to be cut drastically. Government tends to promise benefits without paying for them. If they do not have the balls to raise taxes they will borrow or inflate, but the results are ultimately the same.
We are a social democracy within a republican framework and will likely remain one. The pertinent question is at what point is our redistribution turning the unable into the unwilling, killing the soul of those who could be contributing to a growing economy. At what point do we wound the golden goose that creates wealth and suffer a loss that makes everybody poorer?
The reason third parties often fail is that they do not answer this question any better or any clearer than the entrenched political parties they seek to replace.