Tuesday, September 6, 2011

The Third Road Not Taken

If you look at what's going on today, Robert, in America, we're having an economic crisis and the politicians are having an election and it's like they don't even overlap. And what we argue is that's because the incentives of politics today — money, gerrymandered districts — are so misaligned with the needs of the country that they become like a closed circle, operating on their own, and something's gotta break through that, and what we argue for is an independent, third party that actually can show that there is a huge middle in this country that demands a different politics.
Thomas Freidman "Thomas Friedman On 'How America Fell Behind'' All Things Considered. National Public Radio. Tuesday, 6 September 2011.
There is, in my opinion, a major flaw in Mr. Freidman's analysis. Given that it is we, the voting public-at-large, that elects politicians into office based on those very incentives — namely money and gerrymandered districts — why would you expect that a new political party would change that? After all, there are already plenty of political parties in the United States. If you only take those that came up since the turn of the century you get: the America First Party, American Populist Party, American Third Position Party, America's Independent Party, Boston Tea Party, Citizens Party of the United States, Green Party of the United States, Independence Party of America, Jefferson Republican Party, Modern Whig Party, Objectivist Party, Party for Socialism and Liberation, Populist Party of America, United States Marijuana Party, United States Pirate Party, Unity Party of America and the Workers Party. How many more do we need before we realize that it's not enough to wish for a "third," or a seventy-fifth, party to come along?

Money is important because most Americans who are not politics junkies make little to no effort to actively go out and seek information on new political parties. After all, how many of the parties I listed above had you heard of before reading them? So in order to reach people, which should be as simple as setting up a website, political campaigns have to spend up to millions of dollars on advertising. I could put up a website with nothing on it but videos of Felicia Day doing calisthenics in a kaftan and, via simple word-of-mouth, generate more unique visitors in a day than many of the websites for the above political parties will in their entire existence  Don't get me wrong, Ms. Day is an attractive woman, but if watching her work out while dressed like a middle-easterner is more compelling than politics, yet another new political party won't solve the problem.

And the same with Gerrymandering. This practice (the name of which is an affront to salamanders) only works because once you know what party line most people follow it almost never changes. So if you properly Gerrymandered district to be Democratic or Republican, it more or less doesn't matter what policies one espouses, only the party they belong to. The person whose party affiliation matches that of the constructed voting block wins, virtually invariably. Again, exactly how is a third party going to change this? Especially in a culture that derides any vote other than for the two major parties as literally thrown away.

I understand where Mr. Freidman is coming from. But a third party is not going to come in and rescue us, for the simple reason that we wouldn't willingly go with it unless we were certain it was going to win. And the idea of a third party rising to parity with the "big two" from a standing start is laughable on its face. But, perhaps more importantly, once we change the way we interact with politics, by becoming more willing to seek out an evaluate differing positions to understand which ones we feel best represent us and which ones represent the best chance to improve our lives — and punctuate that with a willingness to change course if things aren't quite what we expected, we won't need to be rescued. The two major parties will have lost their holds on us.

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