Sunday, August 21, 2016

Why Third Parties Fail

I apologize for the interregnum between posts- I had reached Political Exhaustion, a condition caused by too much talking head discussion and  not enough substance from anyone. Plus, I have been building boat docks, sheds, cutting dead limbs, and basically doing all the work associated with getting years of work done before winter.  I can confidently assert that "it ain't a job on Palisades Park."

So, I have been thinking about the history of third parties and why for the most part they do not succeed. When I mean that, I use the caliper of electoral success, which of course is not the only measure. (More on that later.)

We have a very long and illustrious history of third party challenges to the established political class. Jeffersonian Republicanism, Jacksonian Democrats, Lincoln Republicans, the Populists,  and more recent examples, George Wallace, Ross Perot , Ralph Nader- many of whom while were not successful, did have a dramatic impact on the electoral outcome. Yet, certainly the examples from the Populists forward were unable to form a cohesive movement that lasted from election cycle to the next.

There are several reasons for this (and you all may find more).  First, some of them have really bad ideas that appeal to only  a fringe of voters. Bad ideas do not gain long term adherence and thus, while might engender support as the issue becomes important, it cannot sustain a movement.  {An example of that would be the Build the Wall movement today- which if focused on the movement of illegals into the US from the South misses the point,]

The second reason is that running for elective office is drama, theater, and the actors must be able to perform for the elective audience. And like anything, it requires practice.  Watch the candidates that are truly running from the outside and you will see what we call authentic, but what are really untrained actors.  They sound, for the most part, a little out of place.  Perot had business experience but on many non-NAFTA issues, seemed out of his element.  Trump is a seasoned actor, but his most severe deficiencies derive from his lack of fluency with policy issues.  Hillary has the fluency, but is no actor, and that is another story. Jill Stein is a doctor, as was Ben Carson. Now doctors can deal with diagnoses and treatment, but their bedside manner relating to a wide audience such as voters is often not well tuned.

The third and most significant reason that third parties fail is that their best ideas (and let's be honest, many of the best ideas come from them) are co-opted by one of the major parties.  Look at the Populist platform of 1892 and you will see the foundation of the policies of the 20th century Democratic party. Income tax, redistribution, bottom up power, use of government regulations to manage the economy- all of these saw their formal adoption under Democrat rule, as the Populists turned back to their non-political lives.

And one other issue that matters. It is a very lonely existence in politics if you have no friends  The lubricant  of politics is not money, but power.  And power comes from gaining chits among friends so that you can give what friends need and gain their favor back at the opportune time their return favor.

If you run against the Established Order, you are telling everyone you do not need their favors.  Bernie Sanders essentially ran as a third party, but once he found himself beaten, he had two choices:
continue the "movement" with lots of support but few friends, or go back to Senate where he could try to influence policy on the edges by reminding his colleagues of how successful he ALMOST was.

Trump was, is, I'm not sure, running as a third party still, which is why so many Republicans have themselves disassociated themselves from his campaign.  They want to win re-election, or keep their conservative purity (not sure again what that means exactly), or they, like Ted Cruz, just cant get over the insults. (GIve me a break Ted.)

When you hear that, think self interest.  Bernie and Ted are alike in that regard; they long for power, and when you realize you dont have it, and wont without friends and chits and promises. they have to retrench and go home and do some deep thinking.

We all long for more choices, we want honesty, but in the end, we make the choices we make because, well, we want friends too, and at least in our politicians, someone who makes us feel good.

And we know that half a pie is better than none.


1 comment:

Susan said...

How refreshing to read some thoughtful insights. I know third parties haven't really succeeded in winning, but I'm hoping at least it will make a statement if Johnson does relatively well. John Oliver had a sketch last night about Trump's alternatives which centered around a book called The Kid Who Ran for President. It was pretty funny.....but the book sounded very interesting!