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Alternatives to a National Third Party

By       Message Jim Arnold     Permalink
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It's become clear to many of us that the Democratic Party and federal government have been captured by corporate interests, and may be beyond meaningful reform for the foreseeable future. A third party in the U.S. has never been so desperately needed, and the obstacles to making it viable have never been so enormous. But there are fifty-plus potential long-term remedies, alternatives to a national third party: autonomous, populist parties established on the state and/or local level. The State Party of California, or just The California Party. The State Party of Minnesota. The Ohio Party. The District Party of Washington. In larger states, parties could even be formed intra-state: The West Texas Party. In some cases, parties formed in counties, boroughs, and congressional districts could be good first steps: The Manhattan Party, the Broward County Party.

There are several advantages to a state-by-state and local approach. It would be fresh and newsworthy, a buzz-worthy development. A state party can bring state issues and the representation of state interests in Washington into better focus by bringing them closer to home. It can appeal to people who have a strong identification with their state or locality, closer-felt than with that monolithic entity, the federal government. It would avoid the general aversion to the feds "inside the beltway" in Washington. Many people tend to enjoy or need to feel exclusive, or opposed to as well as for something - my state as opposed to other states; my state could do it better than other states. And imagine a candidate's name on a ballot next to an affiliation with "The [state] Party"; for the embarrassingly large bloc of voters who make their marks on a whim, the party name would have an inherent advantage.

The 2010 election was devastating for many state governments, far more drastic than the Congressional results. The state level is likely to be the crucial battleground between people's interests and corporatist interests in coming years.

State and local parties could address many issues more effectively than national campaigns, even if initially by relatively piecemeal efforts. We've seen examples of this with various statewide safety and environmental standards that exceed those at the national level.

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State budgets are focused on social services, and their collapse will be most sorely felt. A state party can be most effective in pushing tax fairness instead of budget cuts. Education and health care can be advocated most effectively by a state-based, anti-corporatist party.

Corporatist influences in state politics can be more clearly perceived as not only foreign, but also in many cases as intrusions from interests in other states.

Lobbying isn't so concentrated at the state level, and its corruption can be more easily exposed.

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State laws govern the conduct of elections. Voting transparency, public financing, instant-runoffs, etc. can all be resolved at the state level.

Advocating the creation of a state bank as in North Dakota would be one of many ways an important victory could be won while raising public awareness of a state party and its standing as a distinctly anti-corporatist force.

Political parties and political movements "take on a life of their own", but defining the basis of their formation can be vital for setting them in a populist direction. I believe the basis of a new, populist third party(s) should be specific and simple: "Pro-people/anti-corporatism" and "to restore the economic vitality of the middle class." A party based exclusively on economic issues will have a much larger base than one that tries to push social issues - which can continue to be advocated much as they are now, outside party organizations - and anyway, until significant economic issues have been resolved, social reforms will continue to be misrepresented, divisive and largely unsuccessful. For a basic strategy we need to avoid the mistake of the Greens, who have often angered and alienated those they could have been able to rally: Candidates should be run anywhere there isn't already a good populist alternative, candidacies should be sustained only so long as it's clear they don't undermine peoples' best interests by handing an election to an extreme corporatist, and other parties' candidates should be endorsed if and whenever it best serves populist interests. (e.g., "The California Party endorses Democrat Lynn Woolsey in the 6th Congressional District." "The Vermont Party endorses Independent Bernie Sanders for the U.S. Senate.") A party that puts people first, party ambitions second, will be recognized and embraced for doing so.

There's no need to speculate on how populist state and local parties might evolve and coalesce long-term. The future can be re-considered one election at a time, based on experience gained and campaigns won or lost. But something has to be done.

Are autonomous state-by-state (and local) parties likely to be an effective alternative to the two-party system and national third parties? If no, then what would be? If yes, then let's do it! Something has to be done.

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A former visitant of UC Santa Cruz, former union boilermaker, ex-Marine, Vietnam vet, anti-war activist, dilettante in science with an earth-shaking theory on the nature of light (which no one will consider), philosopher in the tradition of Schelling, Hegel, Merleau-Ponty, Marx, and Fromm (sigh, no one listens to me on that either), author of a book on wine clubs (ahem), and cast-off programmer of ancient computer languages. I've recently had two physics articles published in an obscure but earnest Central European journal (European Scientific Journal http://www.eujournal.org/index.php/esj) but my main interests remain politics and philosophy.

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