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Are Third Parties the Answer?

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For years there has been a constant debate concerning the role of Third Parties and whether or not they play an active role in American politics. For the past six years Ralph Nader has been subjected to numerous efforts both legal and through the media to not only discredit his standing as a candidate but to deny him his rights as an American citizen. Mr. Nader has become aware of the limitations of advocacy in the 21st century in America. He has raised the banner of electoral politics not only because the foundations are currently in a financial crunch, but also because the road to power is the only one capable of accomplishing the legislative and structural changes now needed to move America forward.

Standing in opposition to this road have been long-time Democratic stalwarts, Barney Frank and Tom Hayden. They are apparently the designated hit-men for the Democrats when it comes to trying to marginalize third party efforts such as the Greens. Their credentials have established them a base among liberals and new century radicals. They're actions indicate profound hesitation towards an agenda that can implement change in the 21st century.

The situation being what it is there can be no illusion that there is not a potential for either a left of center third party such as the Greens, or a right of center party, such as the Reform or Libertarian Parties. The question is why doesn't it happen?

The two party system is the political paradigm that represents the emerging multi-national corporate state. Its function is to represent corporate interest, not the interests of stakeholders or citizens. As a result there remains a significant body of citizens and residents in the US who are not represented in the decision-making process. The term "marginalization" has long been used to describe people with no voice in the political process. Democracy is determined by the dollar amount that one can contribute to the campaigns of candidates.

This transformation of the two major political parties into contributor-based organizations has resulted in a shift away from traditional constituency groups. Instead, campaigns consist of fund-raising contests in which millions of dollars are put on the table in the pursuit of favorable governmental allocations and regulations for the economic interests of a privileged oligarchy.

As constituency groups (defined simply as voter blocs) disappear in significance, there is an increasing convergence of interest of the two political parties seeking financial support from the same sources. In this context, the platforms and political policies of the two parties are increasingly homogenized. Trade policies, monetary policies, entitlements, the social safety net, foreign policy, and environmental policies become less based on whom the parties are representing, than who is signing the checkbook.

As the power of the two parties and their financial supporters increase, there is less willingness to analyze the circumstances of the body politic, and more of a desire to obfuscate the dynamic that seeks to preserve the prerogatives of the few. To do this, new interpretations of Constitutional law are required and changes are needed in existing language.


In a survey published in July 2004, the AARP found that 56% of baby boomers (ages 40-57) support a strong third party, see . In recent elections for President in 1992 and in 2000 there has been a third party constituency with representation at the ballot box. Getting 19% of the popular vote in 1992, billionaire candidate H. Ross Perot demonstrated both the limited access to the presidential ballot, by using his own fortune for his campaign, and the constituency that is accessible to third parties. As the candidate for the Reform Party, he is never tied to the description of "having been thought by many to have caused the election of Bill Clinton as President". Getting less then 4% of the vote in 2000, the same can not be said of the Green Party candidate for president, Ralph Nader.

The election of reform Party candidate Jesse Ventura in 1998 as Governor of Minnesota is a demonstration on the state level of the potential of third parties and the electability of third party candidates. The mayoral runoff of Democrat Gavin Newsome against Green Matt Gonzalez demonstrated that third party candidates have their own constituencies that represent very real and present dangers to those vested in the political machines of duopoly-controlled cities and states. New Paltz, New York elected third party mayor, deputy mayor and the majority of the city council. New Mexico's third party candidate for governor in 1992 received 11% of the state vote, and a third party candidate for Congress received 15% in one election and 17% in another.

From this contention has emerged faint but distinct voices of opposition from parties that are not completely focused on constituent-based electoral politics. The Libertarian Party demonstrated itself as a small presence, but a significant force in the Presidential campaign by the willingness of its candidate to raise opposition to the war in Iraq in his campaign. The Reform Party sparked a national debate on the budget deficit in 1992, and gained a vote sufficient to receive matching funds in 1996. "In 1996--for the first time in the 20-year history of public funding--a non-major party Presidential candidate qualified for general election funding before the election. The Commission certified Reform Party nominee Ross Perot as being eligible for roughly $29 million on August 22." .

In 2000, Green Party candidate for President Ralph Nader received 2,882,955 or 2.74% of the total popular vote. . A new citizen voice has arisen out of these campaigns and from the local grassroots engagement in Nader's state campaigns. There is no question that four years of the ABB public relations campaign to blame Nader for GW Bush's election produced its desired effects. In 2004, Nader paid the price for his persistence in upholding the right of the American people to vote for the candidate of their choice and insisting on the right of candidates that are qualified to be given ballot access. This, in spite of, numerous efforts to deny him the opportunity to be on the ballot through high priced lawsuits. "Moffett says his group has raised about $100,000 to fight Nader and is relying on pro bono work from lawyers across the country who have contributed up to $2 million worth of labor."

The point is that the new opposition is a real threat to the two parties. The anti-war organizations preferred to remain mute and not make a public display of support for the Libertarian's anti-war position. By abandoning the effort to swing public opinion as an integral part of a Presidential campaign, they essentially justified GW Bush's invasion of Iraq through their silence and acquiescence. The Reform Party was taken out of the picture by Patrick Buchanan by 2000.

In 2006 once again the Democrats emerged from hiding. Unfortunately, they never demonstrated any willingness to unite around a common agenda. They were against the war, but were not for withdrawal. They were silent on Kurdish autonomy and appear falling behind the Iran Study Group simply because it proposes something concrete to them that they have not been able to develop on their own.


There is a continual effort to circumvent the issue of political representation through parties, especially from those "progressive" centers of power that currently benefit from the status quo. But, even they are unable to successfully accomplish their stated objectives. Some try to be tricky in developing strategies based on cross-party alignments. Some look disdainfully at electoral politics and seek scenarios that have been tried and tested and found lacking despite the best of intentions. The third-party strategy is based on the premise that political power is the determinant factor. And just as many victories of the past have been taken away by those who achieve power subsequently, it is just as true that new alignments of constituencies are capable of redefining the political agenda.

First, people need to grasp the futility of avoiding the issue and the failure of alternative strategies. Political parties require active leadership, mass support and financial resources that have long been directed to other forms of organization. For all the good that has been accomplished, we would be advised to review the existing allocation of time, energy and resources. The options are like buckets without bottoms: you could pour water in them for eternity and never fill the bucket.

Looking back at 2000 and 2004, we saw people come forward with efforts to avoid the issue of duopoly power by trying to devise campaigns that were based on vote trading or "safe-states". The obvious weakness in this approach is that there is no way of evaluating its success. There are only the results and they have resulted in losses in both presidential campaigns. In spite of ABB, the Republicans continueD to win. In spite of lesser-evil strategies, the greater evil continues to do what it needs to in order to claim victory. Like focusing the vote on a few, select "progressive" candidates, "safe-states" has already proved its uselessness. It is a loser because it still seeks to keep the basic playing field the same. Even when the Democrats do win, as in 2006, there is no accompanying agenda for change that has been mandated by the voters. If anything, the Democrats remain "lost in the 60's" and unable to project a new vision of America that will rally voters.

Some groups, like the Democratic Leadership Council, Progressive Democrats of America and the Christian Coalition have sought to influence the two-parties internally through allocation of funds and support of candidates. These groups both were structured on pre-conceived agendas and constituencies that had demonstrated some degree of stability in electoral politics. Their position, even in the most favorable of times, is to be a minority within the parties. The premise that ideological driven PACs will one day take priority over corporate contributors, without significant changes made first, is not one that stands the reality test in electoral politics. The fact is that their existence works against opening up the system of representation by continuing to provide a mechanism for the two-parties to raid nascent forms of political organization in primaries for their own benefit. The Kucinich and Robertson campaigns are examples of the sociology of how the two parties drive the sheep into the fold.

The existence of NGOs and advocacy groups is another example of how the activists have consciously sought to negate the political character of political organization. Instead, these groups seek to litigate, legislate and endorse duopoly candidates that meet their criteria. This is not politics at all. This is nothing less then the splintering of allies and an avoidance of the issue of political power. In parliamentary systems of government there are divergent parties that are accorded their proportional representation. These parties have distinct agendas and constituencies. Alliances are formalized as needed. This helps to provide third parties with the leverage needed for enactment of desired policies and appointments at the Cabinet level that ensure implementation of desired policies.

Efforts in the US at fusion, such as the New Party, or Green-PDA coalitions are just another expression of the lack of basic democratic rights needed to empower constituencies. Where they are formalized they represent essentially nothing more then a short-term ideologically driven support for particular candidates. While this may be desirable at times, there is no way to guarantee the platform and agenda of the candidate once he or/she is elected. After all, broken promises would hardly be a new phenomenon. Also, many of the efforts at fusion that have been made have sought to avoid existing channels of leadership. This only undermines both the source of the demands and the capability of either side deliver the goods, even if elected.

There is no substitute to winning elections through a third party. There is no shortcut to change. The lesson being what is known from the first step into politics: "Power concedes nothing without a struggle." Frederick Douglass.
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Martin Zehr is an American political writer in the San Francisco area. He spent 8 years working as a volunteer water planner for the Middle Rio Grande region. His article on the Kirkuk Referendum has been printed by the Kurdish Regional Government, Another article was reprinted in its entirety by the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) He is a Contributing Writer to Kurdish Aspect more...)

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