Two of my comments on a post on the Bellingham Herald’s Politics Blog regarding the desire for a “third party.”
Everybody wants another party so they can get something politically viable that doesn’t have the things they don’t want about the real parties that elect people. Here’s the thing:
Unless you outwork and outspend the people you don’t like, they will win more often than not. And they are likely to still be busy working after you decide you want to do something else. And this will not change, no matter how much or how loudly you whine.
Working within a party to change its direction takes time, effort, and commitment. Commitment measured in decades of sustained effort, not just showing up for a demonstration or blocking a street or chanting something catchy and simplistic.
I don’t care how many people think they want a “third” party. Until they’re ready to do the work it takes to make a party work, with all the compromise and consensus-building it takes to build a party that can put forward electable candidates at every level nation-wide, none of what they think they want will matter. Doing that takes motivating a very large bunch of people to work in the same basic direction at the same time, and anytime you think that’s easy, try it sometime. I’ll give you a small hint though — Ross Perot, Ralph Nader, and the Green Party haven’t done it. These folks who want change are going to need to work hard enough to replace the people they don’t like, and then replace their own people with their own people — that’s when you’ve made a significant change.
The last successful Third party was formed 170 years ago: the Republican Party.
And, finally, responding to someone who said “If we can get public financing passed, the movement will be towards no party affiliation–towards independent candidates, not a third party.”:
There is that movement. And it’s going to run into a very ugly wall if we continue down that path very far — Washington State might get there with what we’ve already got, thanks to the “top two” primary. All of this “I don’t like parties” doesn’t make the services a party organization provides disappear. Let me illustrate:
Suppose you have 100 candidates who file to run for Governor, and there are no party organizations there to vet those candidates for you. How are you going to choose between those 100 candidates? Are you going to try to meet with all of them and ask them questions that are important to you? Are you going to read over all of their websites? How will you know if the things they say on their websites are all true? Are you going to rely on journalists to dig into all of that for you? Party endorsements and nominations provide you with a useful measure of the basic qualification and positions of a candidate, and, if left alone, will tend to sift out the least qualified candidates.
Suppose you want to run for office, and there are no party organizations around. How are you going to find like-minded individuals with experience running successful campaigns who are willing to work to get you elected without being paid? Parties are where these kinds of individuals gather, select candidates and causes they want to support, and gain experience in how to be effective at it.
Suppose you are elected to the legislature, and there are no party caucuses there. How do you choose the leadership for your house? How do you assign members to committees to guarantee that multiple points of view will be represented proportionately to their make-up in the house? Party caucuses provide a workable way to make these kinds of allocations of position.
Now, you might say that you don’t strictly need parties to serve those roles, and you might be right about that. But you will need something to serve those roles, and what guarantee can you provide me that those alternate solutions will do the job as effectively as the existing system, with no more problems than the existing system has?
Our current party system produces an aristocracy of the effective. Not exactly the aristocracy of merit that Jefferson spoke of, but it’s along those lines. Whatever alternative people are trying to make to the existing party structure will produce its own aristocracy. Who will that aristocracy be? I don’t know, but it’s not going to be the aristocracy of the people who think the existing system is corrupt and stifles their freedom. They will be the suckers of the new ruling class, but there will be a ruling class. The current system leaves the doors to that ruling class open to people who are willing to work for what they believe in — who will have access to the new system?