Today on Blogcritics
Home » A New Political Party Is Needed

A New Political Party Is Needed

Please Share...Tweet about this on Twitter0Share on Facebook0Share on Google+0Share on LinkedIn0Pin on Pinterest0Share on TumblrShare on StumbleUpon0Share on Reddit0Email this to someone

Third-party presidential candidates had a miserable showing this year, totaling just over one percent of the grand total with 1.5 million votes nationwide, compared to almost 123 million votes for Barack Obama and John McCain. It couldn’t be clearer that Americans are not willing to voice their political discontent by voting for third-party presidential candidates. The two-party duopoly and plutocracy is completely dominant. The US lacks the political competition that exists in other western democracies.

For many years, third parties have not been able to offer a presidential candidate that captures the attention and commitment of a modest fraction of Americans, unlike Ross Perot (8.4 percent in 1996 and 18.9 percent in 1992) and John Anderson (6.6 percent in 1980).

This year, among the four most significant third-party presidential candidates, Ralph Nader without a national party did the best with 678,683 votes or 0.5 percent of the grand total (a little better than in 2004’s 0.4 percent but much worse than in 2000 running as a Green Party candidate with 2.7 percent). He was followed by Bob Barr the Libertarian Party candidate with 499,744 votes or 0.4 percent of the total (typical of all Libertarian candidates in recent elections), followed by Chuck Baldwin of the Constitution Party with just 180,615 votes or 0.1 percent, and then Cynthia McKinney of the Green Party with only 146,494 votes or 0.1 percent.

Showing the problem of ballot access, engineered by the two major parties, is that there were only 15 states where all four were on the ballot. In all but one, Nader received more votes than the other three third-party candidates. In four states only one of the four candidates was on the ballot; in one state none of them were (Oklahoma).

Nader’s best state was California with 81,434 votes, as it was for McKinney’s with 28,624 votes. Baldwin was not on the ballot there. Alan Keyes received 30,787 votes in California. Barr’s best state was Texas with 56,398 votes. None of the other three were on the ballot there. In his home state of Georgia where he had been a Representative Barr received 28,420 votes (and none of the other three were on the ballot). Baldwin’s best state was Michigan with 14, 973 votes. Nader was not on the ballot there.

In round numbers, Barack Obama raised $639 million or about $10 per vote, and John McCain raised $360 million or $6 per vote, compared to Ralph Nader with $4 million and $6 per vote, Bob Barr with about $1 million or $2 per vote, and Cynthia McKinney with only about $118,000 or less than $1 per vote. Money matters, but the ability of the two-party duopoly to keep third-party presidential candidates out of the nationally televised debates matters more for media attention, money and votes.

It must also be noted that there were countless congressional races with third-party and independent candidates, but none were able to win office, with only a very few reaching the 20 percent level. That third-party candidates can win local government offices means little because political party affiliation at that level is overshadowed by personal qualifications.

I say that current third-party activists should admit defeat, shut down their parties, and move on. Unlike so much of American history, current third-parties no longer play a significant role in American politics or even in affecting public policies. Current parties have shown their inability to matter.

We need a new, vibrant political party that could bring many millions of American dissidents, progressives and conservatives, and especially chronic non-voters, together behind a relatively simple party platform focused on structural reforms (not merely political change) in the political and government system. It should position itself as a populist alternative and opponent to the two-party plutocracy. It should define itself as against the corporate and other special interests on the left and right that use money to corrupt our political system. I suggest the name: Patriotic Party, with Thomas Jefferson as its spiritual founder and seek the political revolution he said was needed periodically.

Here is what helps. Despite considerable enthusiasm for Barack Obama, there is widespread unhappiness with both the Democratic and Republican Parties. One indication is that the majority of voters register as independents. Plus there has always been a chorus of negative views about the two-party system. In one pragmatic sense this is the ideal time to create a new party. Why? Because of the incredible loss of stature of the Republican Party. Why not envision a new party that could replace the Republican Party on the national stage and provide a sharp alternative to the Democratic Party? In other words, we don’t need a new third party as much as we need a new major party.

Powered by

About Joel S. Hirschhorn

Formerly full professor Univ. of Wisconsin, Madison, and senior official Congressional Office of Technology Assessment and National Governors Association. Author of four nonfiction books and hundreds of articles.
  • http://www.republicofdave.com Dave Nalle

    While I agree with your basic concept here, Joel, I see two problems.

    First and most significantly, parties which unite people on opposition to ‘the system’ rather than on shared ideological grounds tend not to do well or to hold up for very long. You saw this with both Anderson and Perot who were supported by people who were basically opposed to the establishment, but couldn’t find common interests to unite behind and organize as a functional party for the long term.

    Second, the name just won’t do. There’s something out there called the ‘patriot movement’, which is linked to the dominionist movement and the nativist minutemen. They’ve done their best to taint that name for anyone else. Plus suggesting that patriotism is the unifying quality of the party is weak and jingoistic. I’d try for something which capitalizes on the reputation of another historical party or has some other clear message to send. The Reform party had the right idea, but that’s been done. I’d be attracted to a “Progressive Republican” party with its echoes of Teddy Roosevelt.

    Dave

  • Baronius

    Joel, I know I keep harping on the same point with you, but I really don’t feel like you’ve given me a good answer. The question as always is: why? Why do you want a new party or a constitutional convention if you don’t care what it stands for? The whole idea of adding Green and Libertarian party results together flies in the face of what either party represents. What is this new movement’s mission, which would bring together progressives and conservatives?

  • bliffle

    With our demonstrated propensity to screw up the other two parties, what good would it do to have a third party?

  • http://www.delusionaldemocracy.com Joel S. Hirschhorn

    Dear Baronius:

    What could bring people on the left and right together is the shared view that American democracy needs revitalization through deep government structural reforms. For example, restoring the balance between Congress and the presidency, removing imperial powers from the presidency, removing the power of money from politics, removing the Electoral College, etc, etc.

  • Zedd

    Joel,

    The answer is not a third, fourth or fifth party. It is a smarter electorate. The American public is lazy to engage in anything real. We like to play. We pretend a lot. We pretend to get it when we are cheating, relinquishing our responsibility by listening to loud mouth, smarty pants losers who hate the world cause they didn’t fit in in high school. We are lazy to read, to save or to do anything real. This formula will get us poor choices to pick from. We will get the tackiest and most ambitious, not necessarily the smartest or best that our country has to offer.

    We’ve ignored the race issue because it not fun and it doesn’t tell us we are great, shutting out a large portion of our population from reaching their potential and benefiting this great land. We are lazy to face reality and childish. We’ve ignored health care because we are scared. It’s too real and it will take big boys and big girls to deal with it. We cling on to fictitious notions of impending communism in order to stall. We dread reality. It’s better for us to create bad guys and evil villains instead of dealing with the real stuff. We want it all but we want it easy and smooth, like the movies. We live off of the hard work of our predecessors and claim infinite victory even though we are fatter and less educated than those with the same privileges as we.

    It’s not the party, it’s us. We couldn’t handle a party that talks about real stuff. Nader does poorly because he’s talking about responsibility. We hate that.

    Perhaps this new guy can inspire us to get at it. Seems he’s snuck. Let’s see what happens.

  • Zedd

    Joel,

    Your choice for the ideals of the third party including its name supports my earlier comments. The Patriotic Party? What is that? Love for one’s country is good but mostly a given. It’s a lazy concept. In a global age that is a fraidy cat’s motto. What exactly does that mean and how does that benefit our children in the future, as they will live in a virtual community with people of all lands.

    Give me Progressive Party, Conservative Republic Party, Progressive Democratic Party, etc. Let it be about something real. Patriotism is a cop out. It’s lazy. Who doesn’t love home.

  • http://www.futonreport.net/ Matthew T. Sussman

    I’m starting to think Hirschhorn doesn’t like the concept of a two-party system. Could just be me.

  • June

    What we need for any third party to become viable is serious electoral reform. No matter how much people profess to prefer a third candidate in the run-up to the election, most of them end up being seduced by the wasted vote argument.

    This argument, though, completely disappears in a system of instant-runoff voting where voters rank their choices for the office. If their first pick ends up coming in last the vote for that candidate will then be transferred to the voter’s second choice. This process is repeated until someone is elected by a majority of all votes cast. Not only does such a system allow people to vote their conscience rather than trying to “game the vote”, it turn out that in places where it has been tried, for example San Francisco, it also greatly reduces negative campaigning as all candidates are looking for second and third choice votes from their opponents primary supporters.

    For more information on efforts to bring Instant Runoff Voting to your state.

  • http://www.futonreport.net/ Matthew T. Sussman

    “If their first pick ends up coming in last the vote for that candidate will then be transferred to the voter’s second choice.”

    If all candidates tie, does the voting machine explode?

  • Caranza

    I agree with Zedd. A smaller electorate is the answer. We need to bring back poll taxes and literacy tests and other measures to keep the dreadfully ill-informed and easily deceived American people from voting unless they are truly qualified.

    The problem in this election was that too many people voted based on emotion rather than reason or out of the despicable belief that a democrat administration would pay them off for their loyalty as they have in the past.

    V.C.

  • STM

    Actually, what you really need in America is compulsory voting (attendance at place of polling only, how you vote – or even if you do – then being secret), proportional representation and a system that allows minor parties/independents to gain Senate seats and which might potentially then hold the balance of power in votes on new legislation to keep the two main parties more honest. It also offers greater scope for deals to be made in terms of minor parties arguing for slight changes to bills in return for their vote in the sentate.

    For those who think compulsory voting an impost on freedom of choice: so is getting and paying for a driver’s licence, paying income tax and sending your kids to school. Voting’s a responsibility and a privilege, not just a right. Until everyone wakes up to that, it’s more of the same.

    In the meantime, I suggest folks like Caranza accept with good grace the will of the people as expressed at the polls.

    What he/she suggests is elitist and anti-democratic (democracy in the modern sense, not the ancient Greek) claptrap.

    What? He/she can vote, but she/he’d like to decide whether you can? What a crock …

    Sounds like Stalin/Hitler stuff to me, or at the very least the kind of restrictions on voting that were in operation in Britain and the US (both of which tout themselves as the birthplaces of modern democracy) as far back as the 18th century.

    Neither became genuine representative democracies until they introduced universal suffrage. In the case of the US, in some states that wasn’t until the late 1960s. Remember all those nice southern whites deciding that blacks weren’t smart enough to vote?

    Why would you go back there, and if you did, what would be next “test” you’d have to go through to exercise your rights?

    A spelling test to get into kindergarten, or a “worthiness” test – perhaps based on race – to see whether you had any rights at all as a citizen?

    Caranza would be better off joining the secret police in some right-wing dictatorship somewhere.

  • Clavos

    500000000

  • Baronius

    Joel – Thanks for your reply. Sometimes your articles are so focused on the means of reform that they fail to voice the goals of reform. I’m glad you gave us some specifics.

    The things that interest you are on a different plane than the left/right concerns. For them to qualify as a movement, you’ve got to enunciate how they’d affect taxes, regulation, entitlements, foreign policy, et cetera. Also, it’s worth noting that most of the reforms you mentioned involve returning to the old and/or constitutional approach. That carries a bad impression for many people, who assume that old equals plantation. It also makes your opposition to the Electoral College seem peculiar. If you want to promote these ideas, you’ve got to find a common thread among them.

  • http://www.delusionaldemocracy.com Joel S. Hirschhorn

    Dear Baronius:

    The common thread I keep emphasizing is to revitalize American democracy. All kinds of electoral reforms are part of the necessary agenda. Once explained, I think most Americans can be made to understand that there really is an Upper Class and two-party plutocracy that makes a mockery of our current political system. No matter what Obama and the Dems in Congress do the vast majority of Americans will continue to suffer economically, because the middle class has been sacrificed. As I often say: delusional democracy breeds delusional prosperity.

  • Zedd

    Caranza,

    You are not agreeing with me.

  • http://www.republicofdave.com Dave Nalle

    Joel’s main problem is that he dosn’t really understand the nature and purpose of our current political system. He has the bizarre idea that we are supposed to live in some sort of mass democracy, when our system is actually designed to give elite groups – intellectual and economic – a larger voice in government than the common people. And what he really doesn’t get is that this is a system designed to protect the rights of the people from abuse and to preserve diversity and opportunity in our society.

    Dave

  • http://www.constitution-conscious.blogspot.com John

    Rome wasn’t built in a day…

    The Constitution Party is only 12 years old, but is already the 3rd largest political party in the United States, and the fastest growing of the so-called “third” parties.

    If you like the sound of a party that genuinely stands for small, non-nanny, non-interventionist government, and is 100% pro-life, then you’ll want to check out the Constitution Party.

  • http://poorpeoplesparty.org The Poor People’s Political Party

    We welcome all suggestions on starting a new grass roots party!!!!

  • STM

    I will be voting for the new Party, party, party Party at the next election

  • llw

    “Showing the problem of ballot access, engineered by the two major parties, is that there were only 15 states where all four were on the ballot. In all but one, Nader received more votes than the other three third-party candidates.”

    — It would seem that this is where money matters; it takes money to bring organization that provides visible access to first, second, and third-party candidates.

    “Money matters, but the ability of the two-party duopoly to keep third-party presidential candidates out of the nationally televised debates matters more for media attention, money and votes.”

    — It was proven over and again that the perception of a viable candidate is more important than the substance of policies advanced by any one contender over another.

    “I say that current third-party activists should admit defeat, shut down their parties, and move on. Unlike so much of American history, current third-parties no longer play a significant role in American politics or even in affecting public policies. Current parties have shown their inability to matter.”

    — The problem with many of third-party activists is their single issue arguments rather than coherent broad based leadership. Sloganeering works for the parties with media access; with fear being the substance driving the banter.

    “We need a new, vibrant political party that could bring many millions of American dissidents, progressives and conservatives, and especially chronic non-voters, together behind a relatively simple party platform focused on structural reforms (not merely political change) in the political and government system.”

    — IS it the need to focus on reforms or to unreformed the polymorphic government bureaucracy that enables the fluctuations of policy between power bases that capture the imagination of the uninformed?