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Musings on Politics, The Tea Party, and America's Rampant Electile Dysfunction







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    (3rd) Party On, Dudes!


    Quick: how many political parties are there in America?

    If you said 28, then you were close.  It all depends on whether or not you include the “Official Free Pony and Ice Cream” party (one that I wouldn’t mind seeing on my ballot next time I step into the booth). But even if you exclude the OFPIC, you’ve probably heard of at least a few of the peanut gallery parties, ones like the Libertarians, the Greens and the Reforms.  So while 28 isn’t all that real, at least there are more than two.

    Only not really. Apart from Bernie Sanders and Joe Lieberman in the senate, our elected federal officials are all either Republican or Democrat, red or blue, elephant or donkey.

    We’ve not been kind to 3rd parties in the last century or so. The last time any 3rd-party candidate garnered a substantial percentage of the popular vote was in 1992, when Perot received more than 18 %. (Four years later he was down to a bit over 8 %.)  But even that wasn’t enough to garner Ross a single electoral vote; there he came up with nil, nada, squat, zippo. The last time that happened was back in 1972, when Libertarian John Hospers got one.  Just one. Roger MacBride, a Virginia Republican, broke ranks and cast the lone out-of-party vote, probably because he liked the fact that Hospers counted Ayn Rand among his friends.

    Before that you have to look for a racist platform to find any electoral footholds. George Wallace got 46 deeply southern votes in 1968, and in 1948 Strom Thurmond got 39 from the same part of the country.  Then it’s back to 1924 when Progressive LaFollette carried the 13 votes from his home state of Wisconsin.  And even if you go all the way to before we had a Republican Party, it was still largely a two-party system, only it was the Whigs on the other side.  The three-party electoral free-for-all only rarely happens.

    And yet I think it’s time.  Today we have a Democratic Party, a Republican Party and a Tea Party.  All three have very different values, yet the GOP and the Tea are unfortunately lumped together.  The Tea Party is more traditionally Libertarian than traditionally Republican, and has a much more isolationist platform.  It really is different.  Really.

    So why won’t they break off?  Is it fear that the message won’t hold? Or is it a more practical concern that the so-called splitting of the GOP will guarantee another Democratic victory? 

    Personally, I think it’s about cowardice. Democracy is about the free market of ideas, and I find it somewhat hypocritical (and intensely ironic) that the Tea Party refuses to test that free market, preferring instead to hijack the GOP. But what’s going to happen—if it hasn’t happened already—is that the Tea Party will not succeed in taking over the GOP, but will quickly go the way of the dodo as we nominate Romney and the Tea Partiers are asked (and not nicely) to get in line behind him. 

    People who read me regularly know that I’m not a Tea Party fan—I find the views too bracing and the emotional playground in which they stir too socially naïve.  Still, I would hope that they could carry the courage of their own convictions. 

    Announce your message clearly, stand on your own two feet, and let the free market of politics decide what it wants.


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    Reader Comments (8)

    Sounds like a disappointing system with little room for change. In Australia, we have Labor and Liberal parties who get the majority of votes, but there is normally a third party with significant votes - it is the Green party at the moment, but it used to be the Democrats. We also have several popular independents.

    November 16, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterTegan

    Love your blog! I also would like to see the Tea Part split from the Republican Party, so that each party platform stands on its own. The way it is now, things are a bit too ambiguous and fuzzy.

    November 16, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterSandra McLeod Humphrey

    There's something to be said for the parliamentary model, Tegan. Our system here is certainly an anomaly with respect to the rest of the world. The strange thing is that it does work most of the time. What happens (for good or bad) is that significant minorities get absorbed, then impact the main party agendas. It's only with the Tea Party that it's turned into an all-out (and admitted) attempt to hijack and redefine one of the parties, leaving consiberals like myself with nowhere to go...

    November 16, 2011 | Registered CommenterMichael Charney

    Michael, Interesting article - I wonder if it may require greater awareness through the secondary education system (ie High School) before real change could be driven around broader awareness beyond Reps & Dems? From an outsiders perspective it seems like voting for certain parties can become institutionalised within families over generations. If people understood they had broader choice to drive coalitions etc it could lead to new thinking.

    November 16, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterRichard Scott

    An excellent idea, Richard, one that could be extended to include much better education on government and civics in general. It will take a lot to overcome the institutionalization you mention; it certainly happened to me, and to my parents before me. I had a breakthrough in 1980, though, when Anderson went independent against Reagan and Carter. Of course, he didn't get any electoral votes....

    November 16, 2011 | Registered CommenterMichael Charney

    I agree, Sandra. Much of the current in-fighting is over that ambiguity as each GOP faction tries to establish its own bona fides. What's pretty clear to me, especially from a political marketing perspective, is that the loud voices on the far right are, well, loud....

    November 16, 2011 | Registered CommenterMichael Charney

    Try teaching high school English students about ideology while reading George Orwell’s Animal Farm. Children and their parents will cry you are trying to force harmful notions upon them rather than foster critical thinking. It’s no wonder that those who shout the loudest are silencing those who care the most.

    November 30, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJeri

    You're absolutely right, Jeri. Where I live we had quite the flap over the use of "Nickel and Dimed." The problem is that all literature has a point of view certain to offend someone. Today, though, we've trained ourselves to listen to the loudest voices. In education this is truly irritating: teaching is something that everyone thinks is easy but few do really well...

    November 30, 2011 | Registered CommenterMichael Charney

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