A Serious Third Party Could Be a Breakthrough–Just Not This Year

There are 224 state-level ballot-qualified political parties in the United States.

Most are obscure.

Before the 2016 presidential election, third-party candidates did not hold considerable credence.

Yet something happened when Democrat Hillary Clinton squared off against Republican Donald Trump.

Third-party candidates, particularly Green Party candidate Jill Stein and Libertarian Party candidate Gary Johnson, secured 4.9% of the popular vote.

That may not sound like much until we consider third parties didn’t even break two percent in the two previous elections.

The debate still rages over whether third-party candidates split tickets, occasionally putting the wrong people into office.

For example, would Woodrow Wilson have been elected if Theodore Roosevelt hadn’t formed the Bull Moose Party to challenge his former vice president William Howard Taft running against Wilson?

It’s possible George H.W. Bush would have secured a second term if Ross Perot hadn’t run as an Independent against him and Bill Clinton, who ultimately won.

Would Al Gore have triumphed over George W. Bush in 2000 if Ralph Nader hadn’t siphoned off 2.7% of the popular vote? (Although Fla. Secretary of State Katherine Harris purging over 58,000 African Americans from voter roles and the Supreme Court ordering Florida to stop its re-count likely played a larger role.)

Would Republican voter suppression and Russian disinformation efforts have worked to propel Donald Trump into the White House if some disenfranchised Bernie Sanders supporters and other progressives hadn’t voted for Jill Stein?

Those questions may never be settled.

But now that Donald Trump is running for a second term, this time against former Vice President Joe Biden, we find ourselves re-engaging in a quadrennial debate over the “lesser of two evils.”

As The Guardian reported last week:

“Although Democrats put on a formidable show of unity [at the DNC convention last month], there are still refuseniks on the left who see little distinction between Biden and Donald Trump or the parties they lead.”

That’s why more than 12,000 signed up to attend August 30th’s virtual People’s Convention assembled for the purpose of voting on the formation of the Movement for a People’s Party (MPP),free of corporate money and influence,” that already boasts almost 100,000 members.

Before we go dismissing it as some futile leftie version of Comic Con, it’s important to note some of the distinguished speakers:

  • Harvard University Professor of the Practice of Public Philosophy and Professor Emeritus at Princeton University, Dr. Cornel West, who served on Bernie Sanders’ 2016 DNC Platform Committee.
  • Bernie Sanders’ 2020 presidential campaign national co-chair, Nina Turner.
  • 2020 Democratic presidential candidate, author, and spiritual leader, Marianne Williamson.
  • Actor and humanitarian, UNICEF Ambassador, former United Nations Development Program Goodwill Ambassador, and Bernie Sanders surrogate, Danny Glover.
  • 2020 Democratic presidential candidate, Sen. Mike Gravel.
  • Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist, author, former foreign correspondent, Middle East Bureau Chief and former New York Times Balkan Bureau Chief, Chris Hedges.
  • Code Pink founder, activist and author, Medea Benjamin.

The list goes on.

MMP national coordinator Nick Brana stated:

“A choice between Biden and Trump is no choice at all. The Democrats and Republicans have made it clear that they will always choose profits over people. So we’re going to replace them.”

Quoting The Guardian:

“The convention revives an evergreen debate on the left: whether to follow the likes of Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York and reform the Democratic party from within, or to conclude that it is irredeemably beholden to corporate interests and walk away to create something new.”

Noticing Joe Biden’s DNC acceptance speech made one reference to the middle class, one to “working families,” and none to poverty, Brana explained:

“We believe that the Democratic and the Republican parties, as long as they’re financed by corporate money, will never represent working people. You cannot simultaneously be financed by Wall Street oligarchs and billionaires and massive multinational corporations and represent working people. You cannot simultaneously have corporate lobbyists on your national committees, as both parties do, and simultaneously represent working people. That’s why the key here is that, in order to have true representation in government, a party has to be funded by its people–crowdfunded just like the Bernie campaigns were, $27 at a time. So we do not believe that the Democratic and the Republican party can be salvaged.”

Check out their platform.

So…

Has the two-party system finally reached its climax?

We must consider several factors.

First, our electoral system is designed for only two parties.

We do not have a parliamentary system nor a national-level system of proportional representation.

This has benefits and drawbacks.

One drawback is that if we decide to vote third-party, we are effectively throwing away a vote that might otherwise have gone to one of the other major-party candidates.

Donald Trump won Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania by less than one percentage point.

If even a fraction of voters in those states who voted third party had voted instead for Hillary Clinton, she might be sitting in the Oval Office right now.

Another drawback pertains to location.

In a solidly Republican state like Mississippi, or Democratic state like New York, voting third party is not bound to swing elections one way or the other.

It’s a given New York is going to “go blue” and Mississippi will “go red.” But in swing states, like North Carolina, in our “winner-take-all” electoral scheme, throwing our lot in with the Libertarian or Green Party could make winners of candidates we really don’t want.

A third drawback is voter suppression. Republican states are setting records for purging voter roles.

Voter apathy is another drawback. We talk a good game about practicing our “civic duty” and “free and fair elections,” yet our turnout at the polls is embarrassingly poor.

Voting third party might satisfy our sense of morality.

It might make us feel we have performed our civic responsibility without supporting an “establishment” candidate.

As utopian as it may seem, American third parties aren’t viable–at least not yet.

Why are there are no Green Party members in Congress?

It’s not because there are no Green Party politicians. Many currently serve in local governments.

There are some Libertarians in Congress but it’s more of a policy category. They’re Republicans.

There is a reason Bernie Sanders chose to run on 2016 and 2020 as a Democrat instead of a Socialist, Independent, or Green.

It’s because he refused to run as a spoiler.

Even though he ruffled a few feathers for endorsing Hillary Clinton four years ago and Joe Biden today, he acknowledges the two-party system despite its flaws.

But could  really take off?

It’s possible.

There have been political shifts before.

Remember the Whigs?

Things are changing in America, and we probably shouldn’t rule out a serious future third party.

This year, though, is probably the worst to splinter off from the Democratic party. We’re going to need all hands on deck.

To move it in a more progressive direction, the most prudent option is to get inside the Democratic party and take it over.

That’s what Bernie Sanders has done.

That’s what Elizabeth Warren has done.

That’s what AOC has done.

That’s what progressive candidates winning primaries all over the country are doing.

Image credit: www.thelastamericanvagabond.com

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