I’ve always had a sympathy, but never a real belief, in the efficacy of third parties, usually succumbing to the conclusion that a vote for a candidate other than a Democrat or a Republican amounts to little more than a vague, ineffective protest against the row A or B people who had an actual chance to win.
Lately, though, I am wondering if it’s time to change my point of view. Things have gotten scary down in Washington. Increasingly, it is appearing that the Democrat-Republican ruling structure just can’t get it together to solve our nation’s problems. The debt ceiling mess, which led to our bond rating being slashed, was alarming. The failure of the “supercommittee” to come up with a deficit-cutting plan was frightening. I don’t know if it’s some kind of intellectual palsy on the part of our leaders or them forgetting that compromise is what has kept this country of many disparate interests together for two-plus centuries. My suspicion is — or maybe this is just me grasping at straws in feeling that there’s some kind of rational, albeit evil, plan behind all this chaos — both parties are shunning compromise in favor of holding out for an opening that will allow them discredit the other for decades to come.
Whatever the reason, we, the people, clinging to our jobs, dealing with expensive health care and praying that there’ll be something left of Social Security when we finally get too old to work anymore, are not being served. We’re seeing BS elevated over common sense and partisanship exalted over common cause. This won’t work. What’s happening in Europe is a cautionary tale that must be heeded — lacking some kind of rational, informed re-think of the way we do economics in this country, our system could break down. It could all fail, and if it does, there’s no one to bail us out and we take the whole world down with us.
So, that’s where my urge for a third party is coming from. I would like to see it hewn out of the middle of the political spectrum — I admire the spunk of both the Tea Partiers and the Occupiers, but neither group possesses the coherence or the flexibility of belief to save this country. The party I am thinking of believes in science. It believes in finding out what solutions work and putting those solutions into practice, no matter where the idea came from. It somehow gets off the pork train, and it puts culture war issues on the back burner (of the stove out in the woods with weeds growing through it) to be bickered over in better times. It places the welfare of all above the welfare of vocal minorities. It acknowledges that everyone is going to have to contribute more to the collective, but the collective isn’t going to be all things to all its constituent parts. It will cherish intelligence and knowledge, and fight stupidity and ignorance.
I know, I know. Fat chance, right? Maybe. My inner H.L. Mencken tells me those in power will continue to push the buttons on voters to keep themselves in power and that the national dialogue will persist in feeling like a constant flipping of channels between MSNBC and Fox News. Until things really get bad and the electorate demands change at the ballot box.
But something else might happen, something that’s happened before in other countries and at other times when the conditions were right. Let’s say Congress and the president continue to fight, Europe tanks, China tanks. The unemployment rate goes way up; poverty and misery deepen, and to an increasing number of Americans, the two-party system is a failure. Along comes someone who says they can fix it. Maybe this person and his or her allies stoke the flames of resentment, or maybe they just say they know what to do to make it better and won’t let anyone stand in the way of their pure and selfless intentions. Elections are characterized as pointless affairs, as they are already bought off. Only they, motivated purely by the good of the nation, can be trusted to run things. All we have to do to have the kind of country we deserve is believe, and do as they suggest. Soon, suggestions will become orders. Those who speak up or ask questions will be labeled villains and removed from society as impermissible disruptions. If it works, those who do as they’re told will hail these people as saviors and be happy to see the Constitution amended to make things more efficient for the “good guys.” What we have then won’t be a democracy and it sure as hell won’t be rational. But the trains might run on time.
That’s the real danger of the failure of the two-party system. That a third party — powered by a growing sense of despair that Democrats, Republicans or both working together can do the job — will muscle its way in, with the malevolent goal of making America a one-party system. Whether it’s through the rational party described above coming into existence and winning support or it’s through voters holding our current leaders to a much higher performance standard, somehow, some sense of hope has got to be rekindled in this country. If hope does die, Lord knows what spectres will creep from its tomb.++
Dan Barton is editor of Kingston Times.