Thursday, April 16, 2009

A viable third party

I've been thinking about what a viable third party in this country would look like. Many say that a successful third party is impossible due to our winner take all electoral system. I would agree that it would be hard to sustain three viable parties for the long term. What would have to happen is that either one of the major parties would go away(as happened to the Whigs in the 19th century) or various ideas of the third party would be coopted by the major parties(as happened to Ross Perot's movement).

It's passe to say that voters are disgusted with both parties. There's always been a lot of truth to that statement and to say it now as if things are worse than ever probably wouldn't be accurate. However, I do think that there are some issues that many Americans care about but which aren't represented adequately by either party. So let's look at what issues are being ignored, and what kind of third party could fill that empty space.

The first thing a third party would have to be is moderate. Most of America's existing third parties are radical, fringe parties. The only way third parties get significant support is by squeezing in between the two major parties, as Ross Perot did in the 1992 election and Jesse Ventura did in the 1998 Minnesota election.

But what does that consist of? Well, for starters, thinking in broad terms:

1) The party would be fiscally conservative but socially liberal. Right now the Democratic party is fiscally liberal and socially liberal, while the Republican party is(in theory) fiscally conservative and socially conservative. In this case, the new party wouldn't occupy the middle ground, so much as a more libertarian ground than either party.

2) The party would be moderate on foreign policy issues. Right now, the Democrats are too weak on foreign policy, to reflexively accomodationist. The Republicans are too reflexively hawkish and insult our allies. We need a party that strikes a good balance. In this case, the new party would exist in the middle ground.

3) The party would be skeptical of government and not seek to expand the government's powers. It would be favorable to individual rights, and place the burden of proof on those who would limit freedom to prove that it is absolutely necessary. Currently, we have the Democrats constantly seeking to expand federal power at the expense of states and individuals, and grab a larger and larger piece of the economic pie for them to distribute as they see fit. They believe there should be few limits on Congressional power. The Republicans have set up a national security apparatus that violates our privacy. They believe that the executive branch should have supreme power.

4) The party would be reformist. It would attempt to sever the connection between campaign donations and earmarks. It would end subsidies to favored businesses and also end confiscatory tax policy towards unfavored businesses.

5) The party would be a unifying force in politics, rather than a divisive force. Both parties try to divide us and make us hate one another. Republicans demagogue against gays, illegal immigrants, liberal academics, and the law profession. Democrats stereotype businessmen as greedy and corrupt. Both parties use this to convince us that we need to give the government more powers to protect us from these threats. The new third party would never try to spread hatred against others, no matter how useful a caricature they were for campaigning purposes.

6) The party would take seriously its elected members oaths to protect and defend the Constitution. Of course, there are often differences about interpretation. However, what we're seeing now in Washington is Congressmen and even the last two Presidents not even caring about whether legislation is constitutional, or seeking ways to narrowly craft legislation so that it is technically constitutional but violates the spirit of the supreme law of the land.

If this sounds like a moderate libertarian party, it's because it is. The official Libertarian Party likes to cite various polls showing that anywhere from 40% to 60% of the public leans libertarian. I think those polls are probably accurate, but it doesn't follow that Americans want to do away with Medicare, public schools, and retreat to isolationism. It's a shame too, because since WWII, neither major party has stopped the headlong rush towards greater centralization. They've only differed in their reasons and methods. We need a third party that won't want to dismantle the entire apparatus as the official Libertarian Party does, but one that wants to make government simply become less of a burden over time and recognizes that we live in a globalized marketplace.