Malaise and third parties
I enjoyed the thread in lambert's post and thought I'd throw up a fresh thread on it, along with a few thoughts on it.
I think one of the hazards of a national social/political blog like this is the illusion of smallness. There are commenters here from all over the country (and beyond!), so it's easy to get into a discussion here and think a nationally scoped ambition can be achieved a lot more easily than it really can. There's a sense of "hey, we're all on board here, right? Onward!"
Third parties don't start with moon shot presidential runs. The one that came closest in recent history was a glorified cult of personality in 1992. Going back a century, even a third party headed by a former president failed to launch.*
Matt Yglesias has a great sketch of what it takes for a third party to form: Success farther down the ticket, and a certain number of existing officials jumping to the new party. That's the only way I think it can work. Don't start with the presidency, start with the city council and the school board.
One of the themes in the earlier thread was: vote third party. No, don't vote third party, run third party. That's where more local activism comes into play. One of the effects of the anti-fracking activism I've been involved with is the rumblings among activists around runs for office. If the bums won't support you, throw the bums out.
That's doable on a local level, but still an enormous task. We don't have our own infrastructure; we have to build it. We don't get walk lists or phone numbers from a party or union. We have to put them together, one name at a time - one doorstep at a time.
It's a lot of work, and very time consuming, but it's manageable at the local level. Our group is bouncing around trying to do that. The first step is getting someone to actually run, and that in itself is a heavy lift. People are reluctant to put their names forward; launching a run like that - when you don't have any experience in political science, don't know what to expect and don't know how it will be received - is a big deal.
(By the way: If you're going to decline to try a run for office, for the love of God don't decline because you just Care Too Darn Much and are going to Scare People Off with your Passion. That shit makes me crazy. Decline because you have family or work obligations that would not let you devote the needed time, decline because you have a new puppy to housebreak, but don't decline because you think you'll alienate everyone with your enthusiasm. If that really is a problem, temper your enthusiasm. But lots of people are drawn to someone who is not just articulate but gives a damn as well.)
Use local activism as the on ramp to local politics. Over time local politics can grow bigger. Larger scale formulations like the 12 Word Platform can be a useful lodestar along the way, but given the current environment - where we can't even get the damn carried interest loophole closed - it's not a useful near term ambition. To the extent that it distracts us from putting on our comfortable shoes and getting out there in our neighborhoods, it's an active hindrance.
* NOTE: This isn't about debating the legacy of the Progressive party, but a discussion of launching a successful third party. From a policy standpoint, the Progressive party platform contains lots of proposals that later came into being. A failed third party can still have a wonderful legacy. That's not the point of this post, though.