Revisiting Third Parties

As the Tea Party girds for yet another battle with the establishment Republicans over classic liberal positions, the talk of a “third party” starts again. As my esteemed granddaddy, Baker T. Goodwin, would say, I’m still ‘agin’ it…but this time with one caveat – this “third party” must be a replacement party for the GOP and the very, very few elements remaining in the Democrat Party that still appreciate Constitutionality – if there are any (if there are, they are kept carefully hidden from public view).

If conservatives don’t learn how to play the long game, we should get prepared to settle in for more Democratic presidents and Congresses for years to come – I believe that this theme is very true. If we don’t, then we can all come back here after 2014 and commiserate about how much losing sucks and bitch about liberals…or we can start working a plan so that our kids won’t have to have the same conversations.

We simply can’t change to be Democrat Lite or we all might as well sign up for membership in Komrade Karl’s Kremlin Komedy Klub – the KKKK. His ideal features one party rule, too.

While I do believe that there is a necessity for a “different” party, I’m just not convinced that a “third” party is the answer. I far prefer the clarity that a two party system gives – even though there is a danger that the two can become one in the quest for self-preservation. That is why we must have a path for party change and why any political party has to be held accountable for its actions, not just which planks its platform is built upon. We must have a mechanism for change within any major party, new or established, or they all run the risk of becoming sentient, bent on self-preservation and blind to the wishes of their constituents. In practice, any large organization can exhibit this behavior…that’s why corporations have boards of directors (not always effective but corporate governance IS their responsibility).

I much prefer the decisive control that a two party system can bring. I do detest a multi-party system due to the dilution of purpose and policy that a “coalition” government brings. Using the UK as an example, the multi-party system makes it very difficult to unify a government. The UK basically has 3 “major” parties – Conservatives, Labour, Liberal Democrats (Lib Dems) – since none of which has been able to achieve a clear majority, and the result is a combination of parties agreeing to compromise and share control in order to govern. The most recent UK governing coalition is between the Conservatives (center-right) and the Lib Dems (center-left) and even though the definitions include the word “center”, they are polar opposites on two critical issues, social policy and the EU. It has been a rocky marriage with the constant threat of dissolution of government and new elections. It makes it impossible to make true progress, what is made is tentative surrounded by uncertainty and it just provides an environment where the government seems to be slow and plodding in a rapidly changing environment.

I’ve written that ideological “purity” is hard to come by, even in a two party system. In reality, our wistful memories of Reagan are a little bit of cheerful nostalgia. We remember him as a staunch conservative, and he was, but the government he was given was not. Through his amazing communication skills and ability to connect with an American people fed up with Carter, he was able to get several major conservative policies enacted but he still had a Democratic controlled, big spending, Congress to deal with and Congressional leaders like Robert Byrd and Tip O’Neill who were in direct opposition to conservative policies. The big example is how they screwed him on immigration by promising reform tomorrow for amnesty today. Reagan upheld his end of the bargain but the Democrats lied and immigration reform died.

Of course, we don’t have a parliamentary system in law but we do in practice. We are witnessing some of that now with the Tea Party movement. Internecine conflict within a given party has exactly the same net effect as forming a coalition without the officious nature of actually forming one – compromise within a party dilutes the core of the policies espoused by that singular party…it is the same as coalition building, just done in an extra-governmental manner.

I can foresee that our future is going to demand the ability to move quickly and multi-party program just won’t get us there. That is why I am against a “third party” in practice that can muddle the waters.

But I don’t think that third parties are a “necessary evil”.

We just disagree on what they are and how best to implement them.

About two thirds of my 30 year business career has been spent in the tactical implementation of strategies, the other third coming up with them (and making them implementable), so naturally my bias is toward finding ways to turn ideas into reality on the metaphorical battlefield of commerce.  While my experience doesn’t have the life or death component of a military campaign, it is far more like politics because, unlike the military, one does not have direct command over all the participants and to be successful, one must influence people to do things in accordance with the plan without the ability to issue a direct order.

What I do see is a pragmatic path to achieving the endpoint that many “third partiers” champion – but without the social and political upheaval that an immediate and abrupt change would have – one that that physically can’t take place right now (we need large numbers that we don’t have today for this kind of change – if we had them – we wouldn’t be having this discussion) and without the incrementalism that almost always causes the insurgent movement to be absorbed and diluted. Our current political structure (and the social welfare state that has been built by it) isn’t ready for this rapid change and if we usher in a period of too many radical changes, we risk handing long term control to “progressives” while we sort ourselves out. We have to remember that we now have generations of the populace that have known nothing else other than the patronage of the state and the false “benevolence” of the Democratic Party (and this isn’t just individuals – businesses and state/local governments are conditioned to live from the largess of the federal public larder). Unwinding a system that is wound as tight as this one is fraught with risk and rife with opportunities for disaster. We could win the tactical battle within the conservative movement and lose the strategic war with “progressivism”/ liberalism if we aren’t careful.

I’m not exactly excited about the potential of 40 years of wandering in the political wilderness while watching 10 successive Obama-like administrations play out. How about you folks? Sound good? I didn’t think so…

The contemporary history of third parties has not been a successful one. The outcome of the most successful third party was that of Ross Perot’s Reform Party (while Perot ran for president in 1992 as an “independent”, his platforms ultimately resulted in the formation of this party in 1995). Perot garnered 18.9% of the popular vote in the 1992 presidential election, a strong and historic showing for an “outsider” candidate but the net effect was to siphon off Republican votes from George H.W. Bush and elect the Democrat, Bill Clinton to the office. In a far more contested election in 2000, it can be argued that the Green Party candidate, Ralph Nader, who received 97,421 votes in a national election decided by 537 votes, took votes away from the Democratic candidate, Al Gore, and elected George W. Bush as president.

Dilution of the vote (since we do not have a parliamentary democracy and can’t form coalition governments -the majority winner takes all) – seems to me to be the net effect of a third party at a national level, the end game as it were, at least until another movement can gain enough critical mass to replace one of the two major parties. A “third party”  siphons votes from the major party that it is most ideologically aligned with and just about guarantees the election of the opposition party, at least on a national level – and let’s not forget that this is exactly what we are talking about – winning national elections with a “third party” candidate.

It is for this reason that I have advocated a two stage approach to building a conservative “third party” (really a “replacement” party) that includes activism within the Republican Party in the near term and a longer term strategy of electoral victories at a local and state level. In the near term, there is not enough differentiation of the policy stands to prohibit the Republican Party from co-opting conservative positions to dilute the impact of a conservative movement – the evidence is in full view with the adoption of many of the Tea Party positions in the 2010 mid-terms and the subsequent “watering down” of those positions to fit a more “establishment” mold.

If any political party is to have longevity, it must have the support mechanisms and the organizational support for the long haul.  There must be a strong foundation, not only in ideology but on the operational side as well. We can be confident in our convictions but unless we can win elections, we will just be relegated to writing and talking about it – sort of like what I am doing now… This requires playing the long game. Flash mob politics won’t get us there and lasting parties can’t spring fully formed on the political landscape as if they were Athena springing from the cloven forehead of Zeus. They have to be built to last from the bottom up.

Democrats and “progressives do understand the long game; they have been chipping away for decades. They don’t see change in 4 year presidential term increments, they look 40 years out. They realize that American politics are rarely an exercise in paradigm shifts, a rapid lurch to one side or the other. Political evolution, slow and steady, is the process by which long term change is implemented and cemented. Most conservatives want a tectonic shift in 2014 – ain’t gonna happen, folks. 2014 is just the next battle. It can start the transformation but it won’t BE the transformation any more than Obama was the singular liberal transformational event for the Democrats.

Voting for the lesser of two evils does guarantee the election of an evil, we can all agree on that – and a two party system does propagate this potentiality. I will vote Republican in 2016, maybe not because I am fully supportive of the nominee but because of a more general support of a philosophy. I wish that were not the case but electability must be considered because if you can’t get elected, you can’t govern.

Some absolute rules of politics are these: 1) you can’t govern if you can’t get elected, 2) you can’t change government from the outside, therefore, 3) electability is important, 4) true political change is a long term proposition and 5) we need the presidency AND control of Congress to make any structural changes. This may appear to create a “Sophie’s choice” sort of thing for conservative Republicans who will have to choose a candidate by electability over being a perfect conservative but only if we singularly focus only on the next election. I know many people who voted for Bob Barr in 2008 because they couldn’t stomach voting for McCain but voting for an unelectable candidate is a guarantee to get a Democrat elected. Even a 60% conservative Republican is better than any Democrat.

Pragmatism does not mean compromising on conservative principles; it means that the focus is on the long term implementation of conservative policy by winning elections with people who know how to play the long game. It means planting the seeds of conservatism the same way that Democrats have planted the seeds of liberalism.

I’m a classic liberal/conservative first and a pragmatic Republican second.

If people want to ignore the reality of national electoral politics and continue to vote for the Bob Barr’s and Ron Paul’s of the world, then by all means, enjoy your quest for conservative purity, that is your right but be careful in your righteousness because true change agents are seldom pure ideologues. They can’t be and be successful because true change involves leadership and leadership requires inspiration of everybody, not just your supporters. Reagan was an example of a true change agent.

I wish that it was as clean-cut as some wish – but the pragmatic strategist side of me says that it isn’t, therefore, I must propose that the fastest route to proper deference to the Constitution and effective governance is thorough co-opting the Republican Party, not the creation of an opposition or “third” party – but in real terms the longer strategy for creating a “third party” and a co-option strategy is the same. It isn’t quick but building something that is going to last never is. The faster we get started at the state and local level, the faster we will achieve the ultimate goal of returning the government to the people.

All is not lost; however, as I have noted that what has been the strength of Democrats is also their Achilles heel – the fact that their Party is a coalition of disparate, single issue groups, stitched together by political promises – their agenda is not really about support for a minority, is it? It is really about the accumulation and retention of power. The “progressives” have a history of uniting disparate radical groups who are opposed to what America really is – statists, communists, Marxists, radical black nationalists, counterculture rebels, anarchists, anti-religionists, anti-military – all are part of the “progressive” base.

Once these groups realize that there is no way for every group to have what they want – you can’t give the unions what they desire and give the environmentalists theirs, too – the game falls apart.

In closing, I’ll repeat something that I have written: If conservatives don’t learn how to play the long game, we should get prepared to settle in for more Democratic presidents and Congresses for years to come. Then we can all come back here after 2016 and commiserate about how much losing sucks and bitch about liberals…or we can start working a plan so that our kids won’t have to have the same conversations.

Our choice.

2 thoughts on “Revisiting Third Parties

  1. I really hope Cruz or Paul run. I believe this could be there time…..libs and RINOS (thank you, Boehner) are scared sh*tless of them. For a good time, read comments from headings under their names. We have become polarized to the extreme in the country (thank you, Obama.)

  2. Two major roadblocks to Conservatives playing the long game.
    1) The Feds deciding who gets to vote.
    2) The Senate by popular vote.
    With these in place, trying to sell half the population on the idea that they need to stop sucking the blood of the other half that supports them is going to be one hell of a uphill push.
    The left’s creation of a class that “votes for a living” isn’t going to stop, until the money stops. If you have any ideas how we can get here without a total collapse, please tell me. I’ve tried to imagine a scenario, but my mind is too feeble for the task.

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