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Malaise and third parties

danps's picture

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.

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jumpjet's picture
Submitted by jumpjet on

missing. It happened at the Republican Party's founding, and the Whig Party also benefited from prominent national figures at its outset, chiefly Henry Clay of Kentucky. It's not essential, not if you build the party from the local level, but it's certainly been helpful across the history of American politics.

But who at the national or state level would be willing to abandon the legacy parties these days? It seems everyone who goes into politics gets sucked into the morass, feeding on the wealth pump.

okanogen's picture
Submitted by okanogen on

Danps had an excellent post on the political class culture that described exactly why the majority of office holders, even local ones, don't jump to a third party. Why the majority of smart, successful civic leaders don't go that route. Win or lose, if they adhere to the set script, they maintain their political capital. Going third rail is just not done, not unless you have passion and don't care what the PTB think.

For instance, I know a guy, he's basically a good person, idealistic, very smart, wants a better, more progressive world, etc.. In another universe, where the political climate was far to the left of our own, he would be right on board with that political climate, and maybe happier about it. Problem is, he was once speaker of the state legislature, then ran for attorney general and later, governor. He lost the last two. But because he stayed on the team, he is still in the mix and appointed to commissions and a player. He is still in the political elite. He is succeeding within the existing "realm of the possible" as defined by those in power. The only thing he could do now is maybe change the color of the drapes. Maybe. He is part of the machine that "gets things done". Which, btw, includes rubbing elbows and being collegial with those on the other team (the ones that aren't insane). Because they both realize they need to get just enough done with each other to avoid other players (i.e. third parties) from entering their game.

They don't want a repeat of Jesse Ventura, the last third party candidate to successfully win a major office.

DCblogger's picture
Submitted by DCblogger on

one reason that I advocate voting emergent party down ballot is because that is where I assume that all the progress will be made. One reason that I push the Green Party over others is that of all the progressive emergent party, the Green party is the closest to being a national player. But the Presidential really is not important, it is all those local races I know nothing about that are critical.

Also little local issues have a way of inspiring national movements. It was not the NAACP the desegregated America's schools, it was parent organizations in Topeka Kansas and Little Rock Arkansas. It was not the SCLC or SNCC that desegregated America's public accomodations, it was the Montgomery Improvement Association. It was not Solidarity that stopped work in Poland, it was the workers at the Gdansk Shipyard Factory. It is a local issue with the power to capture the national imagination, and fracking might, just might, be that issue.

So I really agree that local activism is far more important than any national movement. There is a great deal of unhappiness and dissatisfaction with the national power structure right now, it is just a question of time before one of these local causes catches fire.

Submitted by lambert on

... so don't take this as anything other than a wish, but I wish you'd expand that comment into a good-sized post with more examples and maybe some personal names and/or local color and anecdotes ;-) No links necessary, just out of your personal knowledge.

I don't hear anybody else saying it, I think it's true, and I think it's important.

I'll even write the headline!

Submitted by lambert on

I agree that the only way to make change through the electoral system is from the bottom up and in a manner appropriate to local conditions. (It's also good to vote for Stein* or any emergent party since anything that undermines the legacy parties is good, but I don't have any hope that policy will change, and if the Ds adopt any Green policies at all, they will do so as a ceiling of achievement and not a floor.) DCBlogger has said this consistently. I agree with her.

As far as the 12-word platform and its opportunity costs... One of the items of work Corrente does, and this goes back to the "invention" of the political blogosphere in 2003, is to "change the discourse." I certainly don't think that conceptualizing the platform is sufficient, but it is necessary, and we've got at least one candidate who promotes it. One example of this is "legacy party" which after two years of steady work I think I've managed to propagate. It wasn't easy to create a bucket to throw both Democrats and Republcans into, and then get people to use it! This is not to contradict what Dan said, but to expand on it.

I think that running is good. But I also think that any form of civic engagement is good. People need to start where they are.... And they also need to do what they are good at. I'm far better at managing anger as a writer than I am at managing it in RL political contexts.

NOTE * I worry a bit that the Greens are like a tumbleweed with no roots. Stein and Honkala are principled individuals, no question, but without any real party apparatus (which would then raise its own questions).

Submitted by lambert on

Dan writes:

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.

We use the Christian Coalition as a precedent, but seem to focus only on the technical, nuts-and-bolts aspect of starting at the School Board level and working up. But we never point out that the CC was also animated and driven by passion for a "larger scale formulation" that I'll call, for lack of a better word, Christianism. I mean, they weren't called "The Coalition" but "The Christian Coaltion."

And that's why they ran for the school boards: They wanted to control the curriculum, both so their own children wouldn't be contaminated by secular whatever-it-was, but as a means of proselytzing. (For us, it would be better to start with zoning and land use, I would think. Whatever controls the permitting process.)

So I deny that large scale formulations are necessarily an opportunity cost for local activism. The two ought to reinforce each other.

* * *

That said, and as I think I said elsewhere (too lazy to find the links) the 12-word platform, being a vision of national scope, doesn't have an account of fracking, either at the local or the continental (I avoid mentioning jurisdictions) scope. Maybe that's good, maybe that's bad.

For me, based on my landfill experience (not nearly as intense or consequential as Dan's work), the local effects are real, but the process issues of who controls the land from which resources are extracted and how and on what moral grounds are the $64,000 questions, and they're all fought on in a permitting process that needs to be overthrown. This all ties into issues of local sovereignty, even sovereignty over one's body* and so raising the level of ability to connect analytically and morally is really possible. Otherwise, all gets silo'ed. Up here, for example, opposition to the landfills made opposition to the East-West Corridor much easier; same players and playbook, just different resources, and everybody knows it.

danps's picture
Submitted by danps on

So naturally I'd talk down the 12 Word Platform at its birthplace. The Christian Coalition did indeed have a larger ambition animating it even as they ran for school boards. You write that the 12WP is necessary but not sufficient, and I think that's the right context. When I perceive it edging towards "sufficient" rhetorically I tend to push back. But your points on this are well taken, and I agree with them.

twig's picture
Submitted by twig on

my only problem being that it's a long, slow process and some of us aren't getting any younger.

Unfortunately, I find it really depressing to think that oh, maybe in another 10 or 20 years the pendulum will swing back to more people-centered politics. Which is great, but for selfish reasons, I just wish there was some way to move the process along more quickly.

It looks like the best we can do at the moment is vote non-legacy for the entire ticket. I'm hoping that if the Greens, etc., get even a tiny sliver of the vote, the pols will notice. The question is, what are they going to do about it? The Green gubernatorial candidate here in California was arrested when she showed up at the debate (2010) with a ticket for the event. Jerry Brown and Meg Whitman made sure there was as little competition as possible from third party candidates. If the PTB continue to suppress opposition so successfully, it's going to be tough to get a toehold.

Submitted by lambert on

For the rest of what you say, on the passage of time.... And our place within it, yes, I agree. We have to accept that many good outcomes may only come to be after we're gone. Then again, what that is really worthwhile lasts a single lifetime...

twig's picture
Submitted by twig on

and those of us who want our ponies NOW need to keep that in mind. I will try to do that.

But I just find it incredibly frustrating that the nimrods on the right have a major news network (yes, it's a joke, but a lot of people take it seriously), they have "think" tanks creating all sorts of diabolical schemes and memes and whatnot, and they have completely captured the rest of the media, etc., etc. Meanwhile, we have ...... a few blogs where we can come together and tear our collective hair out. WTF??

Maybe it's best not to look at the big picture, since it's so freaking depressing.

Submitted by Hugh on

1) Mass movement first, new party second.
2) The movement must be able to draw in white working class males and white middle class females.
3) The movement must keep its momentum and build on it.
4) The movement must have a clear platform and a short clear argument for it.
5) Don't make alliances; other groups can sign up to the movement, if they accept its platform, but the movement doesn't sign up to theirs.
6) Depend on organization, not money. Too many Kochs spoil the broth (and the credibility).
7) Depend on organization, not the media. Media is just the propaganda arm of the elites.

A new party is the political expression of the movement. Its candidates are drawn from the movement. You want good people, the primary requirement is that they understand and back the movement's platform. You want to steer clear of the current political classes (More and better elites) and those wanting to put some other agenda ahead of the platform.

8) Be honest.

Even under the best scenarios, it will take 2-6 years to take the government away from the current political elites and return it to the people. And the current PTB are not going to go quietly or non-violently. What is important for us, as we clean house, is to keep our eyes on the prize, a better society for all of us. We will need to hold the old two party regime accountable, but we must not get consumed by this. Justice not vengeance. There will be violence, but in so far as possible, it must be from their side not ours.

katiebird's picture
Submitted by katiebird on

Running for whatever office fits their interest. As an example, I'll say State Representative -- But, I really mean EVERY public office should be flooded with Independent candidates.

I agree that the 12 word platform is most applicable to national races (didn't someone say this?) but it can be the template for local races. What are the 4 most important issues in your state? Can they each be expressed in 3 or 4 words?

Then run cheap campaigns. Door to door. Neighborhood groups. Visit churches -- all the old fashioned stuff.

Then, I think - when you've won .... make deals with people. You've got 4 issues. Trade votes on stuff you don't care about for support on those 4 issues. Maybe work on one per session - I don't know about that....

Would coalitions form around issues?