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As I unfold this series, I have received many comments telling me that a third-party movement is pointless and impossible. America, I'm told, is hopelessly entreched in the Democrat vs. Republican paradigm.

History tells a different story. Consider the following facts:

- In 1832, two non-major candidates won electoral votes in the presidential campaign.

- In the 1850's, a new party (The Republicans) emerged and sent the traditional Whig Party to its grave. They rallied around a major social justice issue in American history, the abolition of slavery.

- Before World War I, there were more than 600 cities with mayors who were socialists and belonged to neither major party, with Milwaukee being the largest. Much of the worker justice movement was born in these cities and because of these mayors.

- In 1912, a third-party candidate (former Republican president Teddy Roosevelt) outpolled the incumbent Howard Taft, allowing The Democrat Woodrow Wilson to win - initiating a sea change in the history of the Republican Party and the tone of American politics in general.

- In 1968, a regional third-party candidate (George Wallace) gained 45 electoral votes. The way he split the Democratic base and enabled the dawn of the Republican Southern strategy signalled another sea change in American politics. In addition, his racist rheotric and loyal following exposed to the nation the deplorable attitudes of much of the South toward segregation.

- In 1992, billionaire Ross Perot literally bought his way into presidental contention. He didn't win any electoral votes, but recevied 19% of the popular vote and enabled Bill Clinton to win a surprise victory over incumbent Geroge Bush. Perot brought the issue of national debt into the limelight, and his campaign style raised questions about the influence of money on elections.

- Since 1990, two independent Senators (Bernie Sanders and Joe Lieberman) have been elected. Lieberman's comeback win after a primary defeat shows how personality can trump party.

Clearly, one does not need to have an (R) or a (D) by one's name to make an impact on the American political system. Those who make that claim are either ignorant of history, or have loyalties to one of the major parties that prevent from seeing other possibilities. The more public opinion grows suspicious of the Republican/Democrat hegemony, the more tightly those two parties cling to their power and distort the facts which suggest that other paradigms are plausible.

In the next post, I'll dig into a question that is very relevant to anyone seeking life beyond the two major parties. Many say that while it might be possible for a third party to rise (as the Republicans did in the mid 1800's), it will inevitably lead to the death of one of the other major parties - giving us the same two-party system, just with different names.

Such a shift, however, is not innocuous. It invariably leads to one of those sea changes in American politics, such as the election of Wilson right before World War I - an event whose significance can't be overstated. Clearly, third party candidates are often the catalysts for some of the most significant changes that happen in our nation.

Stay tuned!

Originally posted to Jim Moss on Wed Jul 25, 2012 at 07:07 AM PDT.

Also republished by Trolls.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Ralph Nader is still too raw in my memory. (5+ / 0-)

    I will never forgive him for targeting swing states. The legitimate way for a third-party to develop is from the grassroots up. If it is authentic and expresses genuine impulses of the people, it will be quite obvious before there are national candidates.

    This site is dedicated to electing more and better Democrats. It is probably not the appropriate venue for your discussion.

    Is it true? Is it kind? Is it necessary? . . . and respect the dignity of every human being.

    by Wee Mama on Wed Jul 25, 2012 at 07:15:14 AM PDT

    •  Don't you think (0+ / 0-)

      that discussing how progressives have changed history in the past is a good way to help your goal happen, as well as mine - which is to create a more just political system with or without the Democrats?

    •  Yes, of course, but even now we are seeing (0+ / 0-)

      political imposters jumping into and out of local races across the country in order to manipulate outcomes.  It has certainly happened here in MI where a state rep with a D raised money as a D and on the last day of filing decided he was an R after being influenced by the R speaker of the house.  Then they got a totally unknown nephew to file to run against him as a D.  Money changed hands.  The nephew decided finally to drop out.  There was the Alvin Greene victory in the Dem primary for a candidate to run against DeMint in SC even though the Dems had a candidate who was smart and viable.  And yesterday's news that Cullen in WI will stop being D and become I.  We're seeing a decomposition of the two parties, not through the natural rotting of political compost, but through energetic and fraudulent grinding of the system.  Mockery on steroids, so what's the harm of third parties?  Perhaps we could find our way back to authenticity.  If we think we're just evolving, then perhaps a third party is part of the evolution.

      Romney went to France instead of serving in our military, got rich chop-shopping US businesses and eliminating US jobs, off-shored his money in the Cayman Islands, and now tells us to "Believe in America."

      by judyms9 on Wed Jul 25, 2012 at 07:26:53 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Understanding how third parties work is useful (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      EdMass, Garrett, bunsk

      If you wish to support the Democratic Party as currently configured, one use in knowing how third parties arise is understanding what steps need to be taken to prevent a third party from harming Democrats.

      While the American political system makes it incredibly difficult to have a permanent national third party (I'd argue a regional party is viable), third parties have caused major parties to shift their policy goals and electoral coalitions.  If you believe the Democrats need to make such changes (the "better Democrats" in "more and better Democrats"), then a third party affecting things is one historically proven path towards that end.  We can debate the efficacy of such efforts, we can question the motives of people pushing that idea, but it looks like fair game to me as something that can and should be discussed here.

      Theoretical discussions of third parties have been approved.

      The rule has always had a subtext that it is OK to talk about third parties in the abstract, about the (alleged) need for them and how they would improve the country if we had strong ones. Those who do so should expect a strong reaction, but it's not against the rules.
  •  Ok, but save this until after November (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Wee Mama, Unit Zero, OIL GUY

    Writing a diary lauding third parties a few months before an important election on a site dedicated to getting Democrats elected is a pretty bad idea.  

    While you lump the Rs and Ds into mutual power-grasping, I think it's pretty clear that there is a very distinct difference between the two and that the outcome in November will have tremendous consequences for the US and abroad.  

    Buck up--Never say die. We'll get along! Charlie Chaplin, Modern Times (1936).

    by dizzydean on Wed Jul 25, 2012 at 07:18:14 AM PDT

    •  Why save it? (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Wee Mama, skohayes

      It's not going to be any more relevant later.

      Citing Lieberdweeb as an example of independents "shaping" politics is not exactly what I would be holding up as an example of why 3rd parties are any better than the 2 crappy parties we have now.

      Nor is nader any better.

      The path of the righteous man is beset on all sides by the inequities of the selfish and the tyranny of evil men.

      by xxdr zombiexx on Wed Jul 25, 2012 at 07:34:07 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Like him or not (0+ / 0-)

        Lieberman has had an influence, even after being rejected by his party.

        Point of my post is that third party, independents can make a difference, and have. You can't deny that.

        •  There aren't enough of them (0+ / 0-)

          to make a difference in a good way (witness Lieberman standing against the Medicare for everyone over 55).
          Bernie Sanders caucuses with Democrats 100% of the time.

          “We are not a nation that says ‘don’t ask, don’t tell.’ We are a nation that says ‘out of many, we are one.’” -Barack Obama

          by skohayes on Wed Jul 25, 2012 at 11:31:59 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

  •  If You Have Enough People to Make a Competitive (5+ / 0-)

    3rd party, you have enough to take over the Democratic Party, and you don't have to spend years in obscurity you can leverage donor and media assets of the party starting on day 1.

    That's how the rightwing took on the Republicans. Not by moving to the center, not by starting a 3rd party.

    But 1st things 1st: November 6th.

    We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy.... --ML King "Beyond Vietnam"

    by Gooserock on Wed Jul 25, 2012 at 07:20:53 AM PDT

    •  When I was writing about this (0+ / 0-)

      two years ago, I got the same responses. Party supporters don't like this discussion no matter when it happens.

      •  3rd parties will NOT be viable (0+ / 0-)

        until they are corporately owned and provide the same shitty policies we complain about now.

        The path of the righteous man is beset on all sides by the inequities of the selfish and the tyranny of evil men.

        by xxdr zombiexx on Wed Jul 25, 2012 at 07:34:52 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  Because most third party candidates (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Wee Mama

        are spoilers, not viable candidates.

        “We are not a nation that says ‘don’t ask, don’t tell.’ We are a nation that says ‘out of many, we are one.’” -Barack Obama

        by skohayes on Wed Jul 25, 2012 at 11:33:31 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  viability (0+ / 0-)

          is determined by media coverage as much as anything. Completely legit candidates with a message counter to the 1% and their interests will likely be marginalized and struggle to get through the corporate filter just like the truthful narrative about most important issues today. The deck is seriously stacked against third aprty candidates at any level, but especially at the national level - unless, that is, they have some gimmic to get them press notice and the opportunity to establish some narrative. The conversation is limited as much as possible to maintain the status quo.

          when I see a republican on tv, I always think of Monty Python: "Shut your festering gob you tit! Your type makes me puke!"

          by bunsk on Wed Jul 25, 2012 at 01:36:07 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

    •  This is right (0+ / 0-)

      A lot of those examples are too old to be of real use. Far more recent are the intraparty efforts within both parties to pull them to the right.  Those are the "third parties" of our day.  

      A district based first past the post system discourages these, especially without strong regional identities.  How the libdems survive I will grant you I do not understand

      Courtesy Kos. Trying to call on the better angels of our nature.

      by Mindful Nature on Wed Jul 25, 2012 at 07:26:53 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Eventually I'm heading toward (0+ / 0-)

        alternative voting systems. But a little groundwork needs to be laid first.

        •  That'd be cool (3+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          dizzydean, Wee Mama, OIL GUY

          San Francisco and Oakland have adopted these. The game theory aspects of voting systems are cool.  

          However people aren't receptive because they can do math.  Third parties invariably hand the election to the party they least agree with in any election.  This is why the Tea Party ran within the Republican party and not against it.  They've had vastly more success that way than the Green Party has.  People have looked at this model and rejected it because as a practical matter it does not in fact work

          Courtesy Kos. Trying to call on the better angels of our nature.

          by Mindful Nature on Wed Jul 25, 2012 at 07:49:32 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  I see if from another direction. (0+ / 0-)

            To me, third parties that makes waves are reflecting some cultural discontent with the status quo. Whether they win or not, whether they throw the election to a worse candidate or not - their discontent often (not always) serves to shake things up.

            I don't think 2012 is such a time, but I think 2016 could be. And those who are on top of what is happening, have talked about it, are ready for it - basically, who can do more than just party sloganeering - will come out much better and see their ideologies ascend.

            •  Certainly (0+ / 0-)

              But the question is which model is more effective at giving voice to that discontent.  Given that broad extraparty movements (as opposed to single issue nonelectoral ones) are not as effective as intraparty efforts, Third parties probably shake things up less in the end because they fade into irrelevance   The DLC and the Tea party on the other hand have had staying power over more than a single election.  

              Courtesy Kos. Trying to call on the better angels of our nature.

              by Mindful Nature on Wed Jul 25, 2012 at 08:20:11 AM PDT

              [ Parent ]

  •  Third parties (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Wee Mama, skohayes

    while I see your point I think you have over looked a very large one.

    In the case of the Whigs and Republicans. The Republicans were not a third party for long they became the second party.

    Bernie and Joe caucus with one of the two parties.

    Mayors can be anything they damn well please they don't have to worry about governing within a three branched government. So really not a very good example.

    As for the rest where are they now? For all their supposed influence we still have a two party system.

    This isn't to say that a third party won't come along some day and over take either the Ds or Rs. But if one does then we will just have a different second party.

    Republican Family Values: Using the daughters from your first wife to convince everybody that your second wife is lying about your third wife.

    by jsfox on Wed Jul 25, 2012 at 07:26:34 AM PDT

    •  You just said what I said (0+ / 0-)

      in the last two paragraphs of this post. Stay tuned.

    •  Historically, third parties follow certain paths (0+ / 0-)

      1) They fall apart on their own.
      2) They get mostly absorbed into an existing party, changing that party's orientation.
      3) They replace one of the existing parties, creating a new two-party system.

      If I were writing a diary on how third parties work, my claim would be that you can't create a permanent multi-party system under the current political regime (well, I have a theory about the conditions under which you can, but it is hard), but that doesn't mean that third party movements are pointless or irrelevant.

  •  I can add examples, but it's a bad idea for 2012. (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Wee Mama, Garrett

    Your list of important third parties is suggestive but incomplete. The Populist Party won many victories in the 1890s, and pulled the Democratic Party  to the left on economic issues to ward off the challenge.
    The American (or Know-Nothing") Party, a diverse coalition which was actually progressive on many issues other than immigration, helped reshape politics in the 1850s, paving the way for the emergence of the Republican Party, as did the Free Soil Party.
    Truman's victory in '48 was all the more miraculous, given the defection of both right-wing (Dixiecrat) and left-wing (Progressive) Democrats. John Anderson in 1980 faded toward the end, but could have been a factor in the Reagan-Carter contest.
    That having been said, given the US electoral system of single member districts, election by plurality, one must be very careful about the likely consequences of a third party vote, as 2000 so forcefully reminds us. Until we introduce my favored reform, a multiple preference ballot (with votes transferred to 2nd or 3rd choices as low vote getters are dropped off), we must look at who would really benefit from a rising third party. I reserve the right to support such a party in the future, but certainly not in 2012. President Obama has not fulfilled all my hopes, but he is infinitely better for the country than Mitt Rmoney. Let's rally behind the Democrats in 2012.

    "If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, it expects what never was and never will be." - Thomas Jefferson

    by Blue Boomer on Wed Jul 25, 2012 at 08:28:16 AM PDT

    •  Remembering 1860 (and 2000) (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      The Democratic Party split in 1860, into rival Douglas and Breckinridge candidacies, and the Contitutional Union Party (mostly old-line Whigs) was also in the fray. The split in the Democrats allowed Lincoln's election! That was a happy result, I  believe, as the Republican Party was the better party for about three decades after its creation. But history doesn't always break the way we would wish. The Bush vs Gore result was truly catastrophic for our nation and the world.

      "If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, it expects what never was and never will be." - Thomas Jefferson

      by Blue Boomer on Wed Jul 25, 2012 at 08:41:39 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  re: Ross Perot (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Unit Zero, Wee Mama
    - In 1992, billionaire Ross Perot literally bought his way into presidental contention. He didn't win any electoral votes, but recevied 19% of the popular vote and enabled Bill Clinton to win a surprise victory over incumbent Geroge Bush.
    How did attracting a block of voters who were fairly evenly split between Clinton and Bush as their second choice "enable" Bill Clinton to win the election?  This right wing talking point is so old it's got moss growing on it.
    •  Theory goes (0+ / 0-)

      that he stole a lot of Bush's thunder and gave the race enough uncertainty to allow Clinton to surge. But it's all conjecture looking back like this. Point, though, is that Perot make an impact as a non-major praty candidate.

    •  Perot (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Bill W

      was unique because he was a legitimate centrist: he took an equal amount of votes from both parties. As a result, he had a real chance of winning the election (had he not dropped out). If any third party is to gain power in the future, it will be one along his lines.

      Republicans are far more socialist than Democrats. Just because they want to redistribute the wealth upwards does not make it any better.

      by MrAnon on Wed Jul 25, 2012 at 11:42:21 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  I'm all for third parties (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Wee Mama, chicago minx, skohayes

    I think the Republicans should form one.

    Us? Not so much. We need to make our party better.

    Liebercrap was kicked out of our party. He was elected as a disruptive effort by Republicans. The GOP paid for him and his ads. NOBODY wanted Lieberman as their Senator. Democrats didn't, which is why we kicked him out of the party. Republicans didn't, but they wanted someone who would vote with them so they could label their stuff as "bipartisan". He never was a third party. He represented only Joe Lieberman.

    Now, Bernie? He's not really a third party, either. He's what the Democrats should be.

    There really is no point to a third party in our system except for disruption. The examples you give are all disruptive.

    I am progressive. I am liberal. I make no apologies. - Kos

    My political compass: - 8.38,-6.97

    by pucklady on Wed Jul 25, 2012 at 08:52:15 AM PDT

  •  You can start a 3rd party (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Wee Mama, skohayes

    It may supplant one of the other two.

    It will still face these problems:
    1) Recruiting candidates who truly believe in the principles of the 3rd party
    2) Establishing a nationwide organization
    3) Enforcing ideological consistency without becoming too exclusive
    4) Not being co-opted by one  of the D-R dichotomy as a weapon against the other

    In short, you can create a progressive New Party, and when you have destroyed the Democrats, you will have become them.

    In the mean time the Republicans get to run the country and appoint the judges. By the time your New Party finishes transforming itself into the Democrats, there will be no nation left to save.

    In theory, there is no difference between theory and practice; but in practice, there always is a difference. - Yogi Berra En théorie, il n'y a aucune différence entre théorie et pratique, mais en pratique, il y a toujours une différence. - Yogi Berra

    by blue aardvark on Wed Jul 25, 2012 at 08:56:05 AM PDT

  •  Two graphs (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Wee Mama, dizzydean, skohayes



    These are dw-nominate scores. The horizontal axis is liberal/conservative on economics.

    In 1851, a party realignment period, the vertical axis is slavery/free soil/abolition.

    In 2009, the vertical axis has very little explanatory power about votes. What factor it measures isn't really known.

    In the 2009 graph, I don't see where a realignment could come from, or what the realignment would be about. The current parties are about as stable as they could possibly be.

  •  Where the third-party mantra fails today... (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Wee Mama, skohayes the notion that all you need is a compelling Presidential candidate.  The Libertarians and Greens have been trying this for decades without success.

    By compparison, the 19th century Populist Party movement was successful because it built grassroots parties and elected people to State and Congressional positions, and THEN look towards the White House, eventually co-opting the Democratic Party nominating process, resulting in a fusion ticket with William Jennings Bryant.

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