Monday, January 09, 2012

Utopian "Third Party" Movements are the Bane of Centrism

I am grateful to Solomon Kleinsmith to participate in his blog collective, The Rise of the Center.

Recently I got to voice a pet peeve about something that has bedeviled every centrist forum I have been part of: the desire to create a third party between the Democratic and Republican Parties.

I think that in this country third parties are always utopian, sectarian, and do more harm than good.  In particular, they hurt the party that they are more in sympathy with by splitting the vote in an election. Not all third parties are centrist, by any means.  But the effect is the same: third parties are a gift your enemies.

Moreover, like all utopian endeavors, they take up too many evenings with too little to show for it.

The Republicans and the Democrats have nearly all the governmental action.  If you want to actually affect government policy, as I do, then you have to work within the big tent of one or the other major party.

There are many other ways to build up the world besides government policy, of course. Those other sectors allow for many fruitful centrist paths.  But American politics does not.

Most of the other participants in the Rise of the Center discussion, including Kleinsmith, disagree with me on this.

I would be interested in the thoughts of Gruntled Center readers on this topic.

9 comments:

Brendan said...

I think a ranked voting method for elections would solve many of the problems of third parties, but there's no incentive to go with ranked voting until there are viable third parties, so...

Anonymous said...

Third Parties are usually spoilers. Perot got Clinton elected.

gruntled said...

Agreed. And Nader got Bush elected.

Anonymous said...

Agreed.

Anonymous said...

I hope Nader gets Romney elected...

gruntled said...

A liberal third party candidate doesn't seem to be on offer this time. A Tea Party spoiler, though, seems quite possible.

Unknown said...

The notion that third party candidates are a gift to your enemies is certainly true and I am generally in sympathy with your analysis. Still there is an (admittedly utopian) part of me that believes that a strong third party might not be bad news for either party in the longer term.

Politics has always been (and still is despite the rhetoric and vitriol) more complicated than right/left/center. While libertarians are radically conservative on the size and role of government, they are often quite liberal on social issues, civil liberties, and the role of the military. If a tea party spoiler gets into this race it will guarantee President Obama a second term. But if the tea party emerges more permanently and splits the Republican party it could possibly (after a couple of glorious election cycles for the Democrats) allow a new Republican party to emerge with leaders in the John Heinz, Lincoln Chafee, John Huntsman, Scott Brown, Mitt Romney (circa 1994) mold.

If that happened it could chip off the centrist (and mostly overshadowed) elements of the Democratic Party (people like Gruntled and myself) and create a genuine middle space. Candidates like Huntsman would have to lean a little left to get us, but they might be successful if the tea party is running ultra-conservative, lower-taxes-on-matter-what candidates, and left-wing Democrats gain more control in their own party because of centrist defections.

These are Utopian musings to be sure—but even musing about Utopia is pretty nice.

Benjamin said...

Your perspective is largely supported by most political scientists:

http://themonkeycage.org/blog/2011/10/19/change-from-within/

So long as we have a winner-take-all single-member-district type of election system in the United States (which we do), there will rarely ever be anything other than a two-party system:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Duverger's_law

Anonymous said...

I like that centrists must pick form two parties. It is good to have moderates in both parties...