On Third Parties

Final thoughts on the election, then a report on L.A. Metro (yes, there is such a thing).

Two additional topics worthy of mention re. the election. First off, the Democrats are famous for producing waves, not tides. At least that’s recent party history. Roosevelt defies that charge, but he was a long time ago. So, unless the Democrats become more effective activists between elections by doing all the hump work that makes so big a difference while appearing to make none at all, don’t expect this move away from right wing politics to last.

What’s needed is for Democrats to start working on solutions, not just harping on how stupid existing policies are. For brevity in this entry, I’ll avoid elaborating right now, but I’m going to make a little list of ideas off to the side for reference when I begin the next one. Things like public showers, sunrise/set facilities and litter/dog poop patrols. I know, the suspense must be killing you.

Second, the role of third parties in American politics needs to be carefully examined by anyone disenchanted with the two major ones. Building an alternative to one of the behemoths in America is much more difficult and time consuming than it is in Parliament-ruled democracies. I’m no expert, but some differences are obvious and shed a lot of light on this topic.

Most modern democracies are based on Parliaments. In that system, the chief executive office is held by the elected leader of the legislature, i.e., the Parliament. So, in England, for example, Tony Blair’s resume is much more akin to Newt Gingrich’s or Nancy Pelosi’s than to G.W. Bush’s or Bill Clinton’s. Yet his power is much more akin to that of a President than to any leader in either of our houses.

Prime Ministers usually have greater power than most Presidents, in fact, because they can almost always get legislative approval of anything they wish to implement. If a standing Prime Minister fails to gain legislative support for a proposal, the result is dissolution of the government, which means that, usually after a short opportunity to reorganize support from a majority in Parliament, a new election is held throughout the country for new Ministers (many of which, of course, run as incumbents).

When a party commands a clear majority, the Prime Minister is as powerful as our Presidents are when their party controls both House and Senate. In that situation, in either system, the parties that are not in the majority are completely out of the loop, just like our Democrats have been recently. The possibility of a President holding office while the House or Senate is controlled by the other party is anathema to a Parliamentary scheme.

When the leading party commands a full majority, it is rather irrelevant whether Joe Blow from Sussex (think the “Forty-third Congressional District in California”) is a Whig or a Tory (think Democrat or Libertarian) because the Prime Minister (think President) is not dependent upon them for support of any kind.

This makes for great theater whenever the Prime Minister (P.M.) has to answer questions from Parliament, as they routinely have to do. Most of the out of power Ministers ask questions solely in an attempt to embarrass the government by pointing out the absurdities of its policies. It’s often quite rowdy/entertaining and everyone should watch Question Time in the British Parliament (on C-SPAN, I think) at least once to see how differently this dynamic plays out in those other systems.

But back to my point: the need for support from a majority of the legislative branch to retain the power of the executive encourages the creation of minor parties. Parliaments frequently do not have one party that constitutes a majority by itself. When that happens, a very different dynamic from what we see in America comes into play. Whenever one party doesn’t have a clear majority, its only hope of electing one of its own Ministers to the position of P.M. is to form alliances with other parties to make up a majority. It that situation, the P.M. is beholden to the minor parties, which suddenly have influence despite their relatively small size.

In American politics, because they only draw votes away from the main party most like themselves, whenever a third party runs a candidate for President it increases the likelihood of the success of the party least like themselves. To a less dramatic degree, the same effect is true at almost any level of office. But, because the stakes are so much lower, third parties in America can build their base slowly starting with these low level elections. As they gain more followers, they can begin gaining influence by throwing their weight behind one or the other of the major parties in deals worked out prior to an election. By the time they reach the kind of numbers the Green party displays, for instance, they could be having substantial influence on the Democrats by assisting them in their election. But, as it is, all they do is shoot themselves and the Democrats in the foot.

Unfortunately, obvious or not, Ralph Nader hasn’t figured this out and, consequently, we have had to deal with the greatest challenge of modern times handicapped by the leadership of Right Wing ideologues. Not that the whole thing can be blamed on Nader, but he certainly was a deciding factor in 2000. In this most recent election ignorance of the best way to build alternative political power again came very close to being the deciding factor in at least one Senate seat. The result would have been a very different Congress than the one we managed.

Liberals who think their position is so pure that they can see no difference between the two dominant parties and therefore abandon both would do well to recognize how much more effective the right wing has been working within the Republican party than they have been while trying to work outside the Democrats. It also wouldn’t hurt to see in themselves the same tendency to ideology that characterizes those more politically astute Right Wingers.

Oh well, this rant has run on too long already, and nothing yet on the Metro. Sorry, guess that will have to wait until next time.

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2 Responses to On Third Parties

  1. Dear George, I know all the lore about Third Parties- the biggest being that you”throw away your vote” when you vote for a minority Party or Candidate. This “brainwashing,” a gift from the 2 Majority Parties, keeps us locked-in to a system that is unfair and corrupt. The 2 major Parties are so much alike that they should be joined at the hip. There is so much corruption- ballot stuffing, pre-programmed voting machines, etc., that it is truly disgusting.
    I would rather that a dissatisfied member of the voting public had the courage to vote for the Candidate and Party that he or she really wants to have serve in office, and I pray that all of the other Constituents also had/have the courage to do the same.
    Then we could return to a truly representative government for the people and by the people.
    I, personally, am so dissatisfied with the current regime that I am seriously considering moving to another country!
    Thank you for reading this!

  2. Hank says:

    It’s clear that the way our system works is that if there is a conservative third party candidate for president, the Democrat will be elected and that if there is a liberal third party candidate, the Republican will be elected. The only solution to this is to have a run-off between the top 2 vote getters. Of course that will never happen because there is too much vested interest in maintaining the status quo.

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