For some years, now, I’ve been wishing there were a third political party I could support with something like enthusiasm.
There isn’t one, of course. Not yet. There’s a handful of minor parties, to be sure, but none of them seems likely to break into the mainstream.
For starters, there’s a Libertarian Party representing the views of a small, but serious, segment of the American people. This party’s problem is that the libertarian philosophy - in its simplest terms - is one of complete individualism.
Now, a political party, to succeed, requires a good deal of internal discipline - which is difficult to achieve when your members insist on being left alone to do their own thing. Thus, the task of the Libertarian Party might be described as “herding cats.”
Personally, I’ve always been attracted to the idea of the Green Party. I’m an environmentalist - not so much because I love the crunchy lifestyle as because I recognize the actual dangers of anthropogenic global climate change; overpopulation; peak oil; and - in general - relying on an economic system driven by the need for ever more consumption, fueled by personal and government debt.
The problem is that the actual Green Party is, essentially, a bunch of liberal Democrats with a special devotion to environmentalism. Which means, sadly, that in every close election, most of the Green voters end up voting for the Democrat.
The Greens’ problem, in other words, is that they aren’t willing to let their second choice lose in order to vote for their first choice. In other words, they aren’t serious.
What this country needs is a serious third party which responds to the widespread sense that our economic and political systems are in need of radical reform.
I use the word “radical” in its literal sense - deriving from the Latin radix, meaning “root”. (As in, for example, “radish.”) We need reform that goes down deep - to the roots of the problem - as well as going back to the ideas and philosophies at the roots of our constitutional Republic.
Put another way, we need a party which holds out a vision for the future which connects with the best in America’s past - the great tradition embodied in the Declaration, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights. Also Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address, the Progressivism of Teddy Roosevelt and his cousin Franklin, the speeches of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Bobby Kennedy, and (yes) even the best of Ronald Reagan - the forgotten man behind the ultra-right-wing myth.
What would such a party stand for?
For starters, a change to the political rules which empower the powerful and disenfranchise the rest of us.
Certainly, a viable third party - by its very existence - would offer an alternative to the two-party duopoly which hides the machinery of power behind a mask of make-believe choice.
But a third party should also offer a concrete program of electoral reform, beginning with a constitutional amendment mandating an end to gerrymandering.
In modern America, the two political parties - armed with sophisticated computers and a wealth of polling, marketing and demographic data - can carve out legislative districts where only one party has a chance of winning. As a result, a system of government which began with voters choosing their representatives has evolved into one in which the representatives choose their voters.
This not only deprives citizens of a meaningful choice, but also assures that most elected representatives - Republican or Democrat - will be far more extreme than the voters they represent.
Not everyone understands how this works, so forgive me if you find this obvious. But it’s important.
In a competitive district - one where either party can win - both parties will tend to nominate relatively moderate candidates who can appeal to voters in the middle.
By way of contrast, in a gerrymandered district where only one party has a chance, that party’s nomination - generally dominated by highly-partisan insiders - tends to go to a “true believer” who has no interest in compromise.
The result is that gerrymandered districts tend to produce legislators who are from either the extreme left or extreme right. These folks are hostile to compromise. And over time, as they make their way up the ladder, they fill up the entire political talent pool.
The result is legislative gridlock - policy paralysis.
So - no matter what else a third party stands for - it absolutely must stand for an end to partisan redistricting. Thus far, two states - Iowa and California - have acted to end gerrymandering. A third party must work to make this universal.
A successful third party cannot be based only on technical electoral reforms, but to change American politics, you have to start by changing the rules of the political game.
After all, it worked for the Progressives.
And that’s the starting point for our “missing party.”