September 20, 2009
The Real Problem with Third PartiesBy C. Edmund Wright
Yes third parties always lose national elections. Not only that, if successful enough to grow, their very existence guarantees victory for the candidate or party most opposed to the beliefs of the third party voters. But this is not even the real problem with them.
The real problem is third parties are like virgins: Upon consummation, they are no longer virgins.
The purity is gone by definition.
(There is a great Dennis Miller bit about the terrorists, 72 virgins, bewilderment, 3 a.m. and so on that would be a fabulous analogy here - but this is a family website.)
Part of the problem with third parties is that the frustrated call for them -- at least on the right -- is really a plea for something else altogether. They are also generally built on a cult of personality and not ideas. More on that later.
First, consider some lessons from the last significant third party effort: the Ross Perot "Reform Party" of 1992-1996. Though there were philosophical and intellectual problems with the movement that caused far fewer to fall for the act the second time around, it still enabled the election of a man far to the left of Perot voters in both elections.
In 1992, there was just enough tough-minded pragmatism in Perot's message to successfully siphon off angry Republicans and Reagan Democrats from the "kinder and gentler" George H.W. Bush. Bush only got 38% of the vote. That gave Bill Clinton the White House with 43% of the vote. Perot polled most of the other 19%.
The irony is this: the Perot message -- much of which resurfaced in 1994 in the Contract with America -- was about 80% Reagan conservatism with a little pro-choice and Republican bashing thrown in on the side.
But nobody noticed this publicly for some reason. Well, at least not Bush 41 or his campaign, neither of whom ever did understand Reagan. And certainly not the Perot followers, whose main source of pride was that they were Perot supporters. Had they connected the dots that most of what Perot stood for was conservative fiscal policy, they would not have voted in a manner to allow the most liberal of the three candidates to gain the White House.
Many couldn't tell you why they supported Perot really. But they were almost arrogant in their "none of the above" stand. They were Reform Party proud and enjoyed the feeling that they were on the ground floor of something. In this way, Perot meetings almost had the flavor of an early Herbalife Opportunity meeting.
This is not unique among third party movements either.
The real kicker, however, is this: the Reform Party became what any political movement of any size becomes, a political party. You know, an insider's game of aphrodisiacal power, access and turf protection. Just like the parties so hated by the Perot people. Even the non-political outsiders who joined "on the ground floor" and got jobs within the campaign operation quickly embraced their newfound political status and quickly moved to protect their turf within the party.
The newbies were in for a rude awakening however. You might remember that Perot needed a political team and he went outside his groupie universe and hired Republican re-tread Ed Rollins to run his campaign. Rollins is the consummate Washingtonian insider and he naturally did what Washington insiders do. He hired a lot of other Washington insiders to work with him on the campaign.
Thus, the Reform Party was being re-formed by the consummate party hack.
A political party apparatus was born and the baby came equipped with a full diaper. The "pro's" hired by Rollins were dismissive of the groupies and the groupies were resentful of the pro's horning in on their turf.
Well what do you know -- the problem with political parties is not the R or the D in front of their name after all. The problem is that they are run and staffed by imperfect creatures known as people and people do what people do. They act in self-preservation.
In this way, parties are somewhat microcosms of government in general. Power is defined by how large their budgets are and by how much control they have over others. People in government are therefore often motivated to work at cross-purposes with constituents. Thus, as stated by Ronald Reagan, government is a necessary evil.
Political parties are much the same. Certainly this is true of today's two main parties and it proved true for the supposedly wind driven snow pure Reform Party as well. Funny how this works. To play in the game of politics, you have to have a political team. And political teams are called parties. And they have inherent flaws. Period.
So what is it that people crying out for a third party really want? I submit it is simply smaller government. Huh?
Human beings in positions of power in government or a political party will always act to sustain their universe -- which is either a government agency or some fiefdom within the party.
It is a law of nature. It can't be broken. And this is always going to irritate folks not in the political system. So forming a third party will either result in something so small that it is inconsequential -- or it will be successful enough to grow large and thus become that which it was supposed to replace.
A smaller government, however, greatly reduces the source of irritation. This is classic Reaganism by the way. He understood this. In 1980, 84 and 94, the leaders of the GOP understood this too. (Yes, I know they have forgotten.)
Our country is now suffering from way too much government. When government grows, it also grows in influence and the entire party-lobbying-union-community organizing complex grows. The source of irritation is so big that we can hardly escape it in any phase of your life. We are surrounded by bureaucrats who control our life while our taxes pay for their gold-plated health and retirement plans.
And don't call them at 8:59 am or 5:01 pm and expect an answer either.
One way to release frustration is to just say "throw all the bums out" and to push for a third party. Understandable, but it denies the reality that the next set of bums will be infected with human nature just like this set.
The only answer to this frustration is a smaller government political system. And like it or not, the very flawed GOP -- with all of their big government RINO's -- is the best hope to slow down or stop the big government juggernaut of Team Obama.
The third party energy should be funneled into taking back the Republican Party -- to return it to the base beliefs that created the Reagan Revolution which did so much for America and for freedom everywhere. Reagan was a Republican, but he was quick to invite liberal Republicans to "go their own way."
We cannot create a bum-proof government or bum proof parties. But a smaller government makes US a bit more bum proof. And you know what, I think that is what the Founding Fathers were saying all along with that little document they scratched out in Philadelphia.