Daily Archives: March 19, 2008

Dump the Dems 2: Are 3rd Parties Really Hopeless?

Credit where credit is due: Ralph Nader was right.

There isn’t much difference any more between the Democrats and the Republicans. When, in 2000, Ralph coined the term “Republicrats”, he was roundly criticized for supposedly missing or at least minimizing the significant dissimularities between George Bush and Al Gore. But his critics, afraid of his being a spoiler, were the ones who, in retrospect, missed the point.

That point has been driven home with brutal regularity since Nov ’06 when the Democrats were elected to stop the war, the torture, and the wholesale spying of the Bush Administration and then handed Bush everything he wanted on a plate with salad dressing and parsley. It is winding up with two corporate-friendly Dem candidates in the ’08 election, one who says the Iraq war isn’t a mistake and she won’t end it, and the other who says he’ll withdraw troops but leave a “residual force”; one who’s a backer of NAFTA and similar corporate rip-offs, and the other who has supported horrendous trade deals, including the deal turning Panama into a corporate tax haven and legal limbo where Big Business can’t be held accountable for any crime it chooses to commit.

But for all their chummy protect-the-corporations votes, it means something that both have stolen a good deal of John Edwards’ populist approach during his run at the White House. They’ve adopted his policies, his initiatives, and some of his rhetoric (though they’re careful to play down the anti-corporate and class warfare stuff for fear of alienating corporate money). In fact, it may be fair to say that Edwards’ platform is enjoying far greater success since he quit than it did when he was an active candidate.

This means something because it’s a carbon copy of the effect third parties often have, especially populist parties: even when they lose elections, they may still control the discussion and the issues around which those elections are fought. Look at the populist parties of the 1920’s and 30’s. They rarely won seats but in the end FDR had to absorb most of their issues and solutions in order to win the ’32 election, and it was their issues and solutions around which he built the Democratic coalition that governed effectively for most of the next 40 yrs.

The fact is that without the pressure on the Democrats brought by the populists, we wouldn’t have had Social Security, economic stability, food stamps, HUD, Medicare, or any of dozens of programs that have fed and housed the hungry, brought medical care to sick kids, or made the middle class of the post-WW II generation the strongest, healthiest in history. The fear of seeing the Democrats splinter into a dozen ineffective little parties with no power or influence forced FDR and a reluctant Dem party hierarchy to dump Republican solutions and fight for their own.

So, contrary to the conventional wisdom that third parties are poison pills and don’t work because they can’t win, history says quite the opposite. If you look beyond the lost elections to the larger picture of political accomplishments, third parties have a pretty fair history of success. In that case, what’s the problem?

eRobin of Fact-esque as usual sums it up in a couple of pithy sentences.

One [a third party] may be able to get traction in the coming ruins of the U.S. economy. Of course, it may look more like the Minute Men and the less totally awesome aspects of Ron Paul than anything you’d probably want to see come along. Devil you know??

IOW, isn’t it more likely, given the temper of the American people – and their distaste for complex problems and even more complex solutions – that even if we managed to form a successful third party it would be worse than what it replaced?

Not necessarily. While the example of John Edwards is two-edged certainly, there’s nevertheless a fairly vibrant lesson or two to be learned from his campaign and from the way his issues so smoothly and seamlessly became immediately central to his opponents’ campaigns.

  1. The corporate media will try to drown you in minutiae if you bring it up.
  2. There are several issues hitting home hard that many – if not most – of us have in common, threads that will draw us together.

A third party that can solve the first and build on the second has a real chance of success.

(Next: The Greens)