Why 'Third Parties' Haven't Yet Earned Their Place on the National Stage
October 17, 2012
Last night at Hofstra University in New York, the Green Party candidates for President and Vice-President performed their quadrennial stunt of getting themselves arrested outside of a Presidential debate. This year, it was a relatively boring affair. The police kindly asked them to stop blocking traffic, they refused, and they were then politely escorted to the local station, where they were released 7 hours later.
In the eyes of their ardent supporters, the police state cracked down on them for championing democracy. Others would say they were a nuisance who wasted public resources. Who is right?
Let's first suppose that not only the ultra-progressive Green Party candidates are invited to participate in the Presidential and Vice-Presidential debates, but also invited are the other two parties' candidates who have enough ballot access to theoretically win the election. So we now include the candidates from the Libertarian Party and the ultra-conservative Constitution Party and we have ourselves a five way debate. The three 'third parties' will now be able to present their views and contrast them with the Democratic and Republican candidates on a national stage. Suddenly, Americans will learn about different views and our democratic-republic will have broadened its understanding of itself and flourish to an even greater extent, right? I hope you're laughing.
It's not that these fringe candidates are being denied their voice. A very progressive candidate always runs in the Democratic primary, always participates in the Democratic candidates' debates, and always loses the race. In Republican primary races, libertarians (like Ron Paul) and ultra-conservatives (like Michelle Bachman) also always run and always lose. The dynamics of politics have always been progressive vs conservative and libertarian vs authoritarian and these forces always meet in the middle. Authoritarian candidates rarely show their faces in the land of the free, but if we open the door to all of our political fringes, surely some neo-Nazi or neo-Stalinist candidates will walk through it. Most people are going to dismiss the fringe candidates anyway, and perhaps that's for the best.
I happen to agree with the Green Party more than any other party, but I know my country does not. This country may never agree with the Greens' libertarian-socialist agenda, and if it ever does, it won't happen until decades from now. This country is also nowhere near being what the Libertarian Party or the Constitution Party thinks it should be. In any election, the political football is only going to be moved a few yards. Regardless of how far the fringe candidates think it should go, they don't have the strength to get it there. These fringe parties have essentially become outlets for those who can't accept the political reality and feel the need to group together to express their righteous indignation. I've witnessed this first hand, and I was guilty of it myself.
In America, you have the freedom to participate in the kind of politics where nothing gets accomplished. I have exercised this freedom by volunteering my time for the Green Party in the not too distant past (call it 2000-2005). It was enlightening for me in a way the Green folks never intended. What I've learned is that the only 'third party' movement that might work is one that operates in the political center. We can all agree, like all of these third parties agree, that government needs to get out of the hands of special interest groups. We can all agree that corporations have too much power in government. We all can agree that government needs to be much more reflective of the people it represents. So can we also agree that we must reform government without any party pushing a progressive, conservative or libertarian agenda? We can have those debates once the work of reforming our government is done.
Any party with enough ballot access to theoretically win should be allowed in a debate, but I also think parties need to be honest with themselves about where they stand and not waste their country's time with petty stunts and useless politics. The Green Party in particular should continue to define their vision for our country and they should also continue to run candidates in local elections where they stand a reasonable chance. Before any party can demand to be on a national stage, it needs to have built enough grassroots momentum to have started a national conversation about their agenda. Stopping traffic is never a path to success.