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Monday, August 8, 2011

On Third Parties and Primary Challenges

Aug 8th, 2011
by F. Grey Parker

Matthew Yglesias made an observation recently:

"When I speak ill of the concept of third party presidential campaigns solving anything, someone inevitably brings up the precedent of the Republican Party. 

Quite clearly, Abraham Lincoln and his administration solved quite a bit. This is, in my view, the exception that proves the rule in the true sense of the term.

The crux of the matter is that the GOP, when founded, was a movement of party-switchers from among the ranks of established politicians."

This could not be more timely. There is a growing whine coming from some disappointed liberals who are calling for a 2012 "alternative" to President Obama. This is not as ridiculous or as potentially self-sabotaging as calls for a primary challenge, but it is close. What's more, in conjunction with one another, these two phenomena could result in yet another third party-driven disaster for the whole country.

John Anderson
Too many people have forgotten that, although Ronald Reagan won re-election by a legitimate landslide, his first term began with a bruising squeaker. One of the nearly unanimously accepted canards of the Reagan mythology is that Carter could not have won. Everyone talks about "malaise," or the failed hostage rescue, or shadowy theories surrounding an "October Surprise."

<-- Remember him?

Nobody talks about National Unity Party candidate John Anderson. Nobody seems to remember the vicious intra-party spectacle that was the 1980 Democratic convention.

If you look at the total popular vote numbers for only Reagan and Carter, you fail to see that a full 8% of the participating electorate broke from the two major parties, most of them going for the likable and business-friendly Anderson. Those perennially sought after independent voters, those "centrist" voters we are always told make and break Presidential contests, either stayed home or joined with moderate conservatives alarmed at Reagan's social extremism and threw their vote to the third guy. The slimmest of state by state margins turned into a huge Electoral College victory for Ronnie.

Similarly, nearly everyone on the American left chooses to remember the ascension of George W. Bush in terms of "hanging chads," Florida vote-trickery or the SCOTUS shutdown of the recall. They rarely, if ever, discuss the fact that Ralph Nader sucked 2,882,955 votes out of a contest which was otherwise a dead heat.

In no way am I saying a second Carter administration would have been all that great. Also, the idea of Lieberman being "a heartbeat away" is like a bad dream.

But, when I used the word "disaster" above, I meant it. Our current economic crisis is the endgame of the Reagan Revolution. The orgy of deficit spending and revenue slashing that has brought us to the verge of being labeled a bad risk internationally and which has very nearly shattered the American social contract was begun under Reagan, was then put into extreme overdrive under Bush II and is killing us today. Does any honest liberal want to look me in the eye and say that Carter would have engineered the sale of a half a billion dollars in weapons to the Ayatollahs or that a President Gore response to 9/11 would have been a nearly 10 year state of permawar and the invasion of the wrong country? Does anyone still want to say with a straight face that there is no difference between the parties?

Those who wish for a big and blustery Democratic primary fight or are gearing up for the next "third way" seem either unaware of, or willfully ignorant to, the lasting damage this same sentiment did to our country in 1980 and 2000. Teddy Kennedy might as well have been on Reagan's payroll just as Nader might as well have been on Dubya's. 

Would four more years of Carter or a Gore cabinet have been wonderful? Probably not. But we would not be here. It's just that simple.

I am not going to be so dismissive as to say that those who are eager to vote for a third party are "throwing their vote away." These votes for fringe and splinter candidates have a proven effect. Nor am I proposing that we should hold closed and predetermined primaries as an ideal. I would simply and humbly suggest that, in times as contentious as these and with so much to lose, the disgruntled skip the middle man. Why not just vote for the enemy in the first place?

Or, how about we actually build a movement over a series of years with carefully calculated and principally planned steps to build a fully functioning new party populated by intelligent professionals... then pull that trigger.

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