Monday, June 05, 2006

Three Party System - Conclusion

Allow me to examine one last era of history for I believe it will answer some objections that have been raised. That is the Progressive Era around the turn of the 20th century. We have seen how 3rd Parties can overcome regional odds and win national elections eventually replacing old parties. The Progressive Era shows us a second way 3rd Parties are important. During this time we see two 3rd Parties rise and fall: the Bull-Moose Party and the Progressive Party. They had some electoral success such as La Follette being elected governor and into Congress. But nationally they failed. Or did they?

The Progressive Party stood for ‘progressing’ society, and they desired to use the government, at all levels, to accomplish that purpose. They clearly stood in the Nationalistic tradition. They were for government regulations on food industries, women having the right to vote, senators being directly elected by the people, prohibition, removal of the gold standard, women’s suffrage, income tax, busting up monopolies, and child labor laws. Sound familiar? All of them are laws today with the lone exception of prohibition, but that did make it into the Constitution for a time. There are child labor laws despite the child labor amendment to the Constitution being defeated. Yet, the Progressive Party never won a national election. Teddy Roosevelt defected to the Bull Moose Party, and only succeeded in getting Woodrow Wilson elected President. They never controlled congress, or even came close. How did these third parties get everything they wanted without winning?

They got everything they wanted because the other parties stood up and took notice. They never really had a large public face or great ballot box victories. La Follette from Wisconsin and La Guardia from New York were about as good as it got, but these men turned their positions in the House into soap boxes. These men were elected to seats and that kept seats from the two big Parties, the Republican and Democrats. It did not take long for the parties to respond. Woodrow Wilson helped kill the Bull-Moose Party by taking all their ideas. The Progressive Party died the same death when the two parties came around on the positions taken by the Progressives, eliminating the need for them. The Constitution was amended twice between the Bill of Rights, 1792, and the Civil War in 1860. Two times in 50 years. Then the Civil War necessitated three amendments. Those lasted until the Progressive era of 1900. 5 amendments in over 100 years. Then in a 25 year span (1910-1935) the Constitution was amended 6 times plus one amendment that passed Congress only to be struck down by the states. The Progressives dominated this time despite having no national power at all. People voted for them, and that was enough to send the message. The two big parties responded, and the 3rd Party died, but won the day. Its ideology became enshrined in the two party system.

This is why voting for a third party is not throwing your vote away. It is a signal to the two main parties they are losing touch. If they respond, the 3rd party has served its purpose and goes away. If they do not and continue to neglect the people, more and more will join the 3rd Party until it replaces a party at the table. Look back on Ross Perot. He cost President Bush the First the election with a campaign slogan of "throw the bums out" that decried government corruption. Since then we had the Republican Revolution, which ran on balancing the budget and reforming government. This was Perot’s platform, and Perot endorsed the Contract with America during the 1994 Congressional races. I think Perot’s Pie Charts about finances, corruption, and balanced budgets got through even though Perot’s party is now in shambles.

What about the Green Party of Ralph Nader? He severely hurt Al Gore in his bid for the White House. Since then we have seen the Democrats run to the far left with Nancy Pelosi as House Minority Leader, Howard Dean as DNC chair and Al Gore himself now makes Environmental movies. The Green Party responded by not nominating Nader in 2004, which sounded a lot like a death toll for them. The Democrats responded, and their need is diminishing. The Bull Moose Party did the same thing when they endorsed a Republican candidate against Wilson because the Republicans had taken up the Bull Moose cause.

The Republican Party is currently made up of anyone who believes in tax cuts. It houses big government men, it houses social liberals, it also holds libertarian leaning men. The Libertarian Party and the Constitutional Party and any other far right 3rd Party has a real opportunity, in my opinion. They should probably not concentrate so much on Presidential races, but run local Congressional elections. The House is where the power is for 3rd Parties. They need to talk about boarders and run away spending. Those two issues alone would probably play well for this election and 2008. It would only take the election of one man to cause shock waves. Men like Tom Tancredo and Tom Coburn are being pushed aside in the Republican Party of Compassionate Conservatives, and 3rd Parties can either return them to power in the Republican base by calling it back to its small government roots, or it may well be replaced.

In short voting for someone who is not a Republican or a Democrat is not throwing your vote away. It is a vote for an ideology. It is saying, "what is important to me is not represented by the two parties." When enough people ban together to make that statement, the parties listen. Voting for the lesser of two evils only guarantees evil. Voting against evil may allow evil to win or it may get someone to take notice.


Jay said...

Very interesting series of posts. Here's my two cents.

I think your final post nicely crystalized your primary point. The Progressive Party may not have had electoral success, but their ideas were nonetheless implemented. You say, essentially, that votes for Progressive Party candidates were therefore not wasted votes, even though they almost always went to support a losing candidate.

It seems to me that maybe the underlying phenomenon here is not the effect of third-party voting, but the effect of issue-based voting. Progressive voters cared more about the group of issues you listed than about any other political questions. They voted for a third party only because, and only until, one of the two major parties adopted their position on those issues. Their loyalty was not to party, but to principle.

So I guess the question for me is which principles aren't presently being represented by either party, and whether those are important enough to sacrifice other principles by casting a third-party vote. To take an obvious example, someone might be strongly opposed to the war in Iraq, and in favor of an immediate troop withdrawal. That person could vote for an anti-war third party instead of the Democratic candidate, who would be their second choice. As a result of many people choosing this course, the Republican candidate could prevail. That Republican might increase restrictions on abortion that make our original voter extremely unhappy.

Is the voter better off because he or she voted for the third party? In the short term, the voter gets neither troop withdrawal nor less restrictive abortion laws. In the long term, the Democratic party may adopt the voter's troop withdrawal position in order to win his or her vote. But by that time, the changes in the abortion laws may be irreversible. So the questions the voter has to answer are, (1) how important is my position on the war in comparison to all the other issues I care about, (2) what is the likelihood that issue I care most about will ultimately prevail, and (3) what is the likelihood that my position with respect to other issues will be permanently damaged.

If this all sounds too calculated, then what you're really saying may be to vote based on your principles, no matter what. Maybe things will work out, maybe they won't. But at least you didn't compromise your principles. My question then is whether voting is an act of pure principle. Maybe it's just an attempt to choose leaders who will do as much good as possible under current conditions.

Lee said...

I do believe people should vote based on issues. I am not a slave to third parties either. However, I do think it is often philosophy-driven voting. Seldom is a third party driven by a one issue difference with the major parties. The Iraq example is not so good because of the 'immediate' nature of the pull out desired. In 10 years we will be out of Iraq, so delayed results will occur no matter how you vote. But if you place the example as an issue or philosophy of small government it becomes a bit clearer. Small government might encompass many issues like lower taxes, Social Security reform, welfare reform, education, etc. Voting for a third party might mean those in favor of big government win in short, but in the long you might could undo all of it. Environmentalism might be an issue/philosophy on the left side of the spectrum. Issue based voting is what I am arguing for in voting for third parites.

I should also say that there are some issues, like abortion, where I will not compromise and if the issue gets worse, well at least I didn't compromise, as you said. That is not a bad position to take. The ends never justify the means.