June 01, 2006

Is A "Third Party" In The Cards?

Peggy Noonan writes this morning in her WSJ column about a minor movement aimed at the 2008 Presidential Election. There's a new party a-brewin': Unity '08. The idea is that some moderate Democrats and moderate Republicans are trying to create a fusion ticket for President.

Noonan laments the current polarization of U.S. politics and bitter rancor that passes for the current level of partisanship. Could we be seeing the seismic shift in party affiliation that has failed so many times in the past, she wonders?

I'm inclined to think...nah. Noonan's normally astute insights are failing her here. There's a reason why there has never been more than two major, lasting political parties in the history of the United States. One party stands for this, another party stands for that and the folks in between don't really stand for much of anything. It's a nice, touch-feely idea that we can find common ground on every issue; that we can always meet in the middle. This is true in some cases and certainly compromise is often necessary to come up with something that most people can live with. But the fact is that there are two sides to every issue or political philosophy, not three. You have two competing sides and one or the other wins over the majority of the population. And usually the two sides are logic versus emotion.

Despite noble attempts throughout American history, third parties make a splash but their ripples quickly fade. Ironically, it seems to come about every 20 years or so. Since 1900, we've seen Teddy Roosevelt's Bull Moose candidacy (1912), Robert LaFollette (1924), Strom Thurmond, the Dixiecrat (194 , George Wallace (196 and last, but certainly not least, H. Ross Perot's Reform party movement (1992). In each case you had a strong personality that inspired the otherwise disenfranchised voter. The candidacy is almost always about the candidate rather than a political movement.

My own opinion is that in order for a new party to emerge, one has to self-destruct. The last time that happened was in the 1850's, when the nascent GOP emerged in the wake of the failed Whig party. The new party was created out of a legitimate movement - the anti-slavery platform of the Republicans versus the pro-slavery position of Southern Democrats combined with a "live and let live" attitude common among Northern Democrats.

We see a lot of disunity among the loosely-joined special interest groups that comprise today's Democrat party. But Democrats are still firmly entrenched in both national and local politics. True, there is a bit of a battle going on between the far-Left wing and those who still try to hold to the ideals of the Democrat party of old. But I don't see either faction separating from the whole. The far-Left is determined to gain control of what currently exists and the not-so-Left don't really have any unifying issues to coalesce around - at least nothing anyone else particularly cares about.

But most importantly, in order to create a "middle-ground" moderate or unity party, you have to have a base of support. And while there are plenty of American voters who consider themselves "middle-of-the-road", they aren't motivated enough to provide the necessary support or consistent voting patterns for such a party to succeed.

In my town, less than 20% of the voting population comes out to vote on budget referendums. The remaining 80% don't show up because they don't feel strongly one way or the other. And if they don't feel strongly enough about such an important local concern, how can you expect them to show up on election day?

A strong personality could offer a temporary surge of enthusiasm - maybe even significant enough to surpass the 17% of the popular vote that Perot got in 1992. But as for the creation of a new political party that takes root in American political system? History is not on its side.

Posted by: Gary at 10:30 AM | No Comments | Add Comment
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