Third Party?

by Mark T. Mitchell on November 2, 2009 · 22 comments <span>Print this article</span> Print this article

in Politics & Power

thirdpartyKearneysville, WV. The race for New York’s 23rd Congressional District’s open seat has garnered national attention. The Democratic candidate, Bill Owens, is currently running a few points behind Doug Hoffman, who is running under the banner of the Conservative Party. Over the weekend, the Republican candidate, Dede Scozzafava, trailing badly in the polls, pulled out of the race and tossed her support to, believe it or not, Owens.

Some prominent conservatives have come out for Hoffman, but others, including party insiders such as Newt Gingrich, have, at least until she dropped out, supported Scozzafava on the grounds that party loyalty is essential for overall success in Washington. But perhaps this dedication to party above principle (or dedication to party as principle)  is indicative of some of the deep-seated problems lurking at the heart of both the Republicans and the Democrats.

Many political analysts are suggesting that this race may be a bell-weather indicating the fortunes of the Obama agenda. But even more, this could portend the rumblings of a challenge to the dominant two parties in America. Recent polls suggest that the vast majority of Americans think we are on the wrong track. Another indicates that fully a half of voters would like to see a viable third party.

What are the prospects of galvanizing this dissatisfaction into a coherent challenge to the entrenched people and interests of both the Democrats and the Republicans? On the one hand, it may be that the general dissatisfaction is real but is coming from far left, far right and everywhere in between. If so, then the prospect of a viable third party emerging from that morass is unlikely. On the other hand, perhaps, despite the differences, there is a significant portion of Americans who could rally around a platform that addresses some of the most urgent concerns underlying the pervasive dissatisfaction with the status quo. While this is merely a preliminary attempt to articulate the broad parameters of such a platform, here are ten positions that might fit the bill.

1. Fiscal Responsibility. Citizens cannot spend more than they bring in and the government should be held to the same standard. Redundancy and waste must be eliminated. A responsible monetary policy must include a stable dollar. Bailouts of private firms and sectors is an illegitimate use of tax-payer money.

2. Federalism. The federal government has slowly insinuated itself into every facet of our lives through the congress, the courts, and administrative agencies. In most cases this leads to a loss of sensitivity to the diversity of regions, states, and localities. It reduces the opportunity for creative experimentation that could lead to the development of innovative solutions to vexing problems. Ultimately, the expanding scope and power of the federal government represents a threat to the freedom of individuals and communities. This must be reversed. Power must be returned to the states. Congress might cede certain prerogatives back to the states, or in the likely event that does not happen,  states must act to assert independence from federal interference.

3. Environmental Stewardship. One of our fundamental responsibilities is the proper care of the natural world. Stewards must wisely use natural resources so that future generations will not be deprived. Limits are natural, and giving in to every impulse indicates a lack of virtue befitting spoiled children. Sustainable use of the natural world may include voluntarily limiting our consumption. Stewardship of our land and water resources requires wisdom, careful study, and a long-term perspective.

4. To big to fail? Break it up. If a corporation or business sector becomes so large that its collapse would threaten the stability of the national economy, it is too large. It should be broken up either voluntarily or, if necessary, by government intervention.

5. Regulatory Reform. Regulations that favor the giant corporation over small businesses should be eliminated. Lobbying laws must be reformed to eliminate the incestuous legislative process whereby corporate interests help to write regulations to which they will be subject. A level playing field, unimpeded by regulations created to suit large scale concerns, will provide an opportunity for America’s small farms and businesses to flourish.

6. Tax Reform. The tax code is far too complex and benefits no one but tax attorneys and accountants. Americans spend far too much time and money on tax compliance and preparation. A national sales tax should replace the current tax code.

7. Immigration. America is a nation of immigrants. Immigration is a source of our strength and diversity. Illegal immigrants, though, mock the laws that legal immigrants follow. Illegals should be treated as law-breakers. At the same time, the American economy currently depends on significant numbers of seasonal laborers and these are often illegals. Generous work permits for seasonal workers should be made available along with, in reasonable numbers, a means for moving toward citizenship.

8. Health Care. Americans should have access to quality health care. At the same time, people will not moderate their use of the health care system unless their choices are tied to market forces. Creative solutions are necessary to accommodate the various needs of individuals without compromising free choices. Nationalizing the health-care system will remove the incentives produced by market forces and, ultimately, undermine the quality of the system.

9. Energy Independence. As long as we depend on foreign oil for a significant part of our economy, American foreign policy will be deeply invested in some very unstable parts of the world. We must actively engage in developing alternative energy sources that are clean, safe, and renewable.

10. Foreign Policy. The sweeping aspirations implicit in recent attempts to rid the world of evil doers while bringing democracy to non-democratic nations has over-extended American reach, destroyed American standing around the world, and cost untold amounts of money and far too many lives. Undeclared, elective wars with no coherent measure of success or exit strategy represent a failure of leadership and a gross misuse of American military power. Our first President warned of foreign entanglements and, while a prudent foreign policy will not embrace a policy of isolation, it will recognize the necessity of scaling back American military presence around the world. America is a republic and not an empire.

{ 18 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar Russell Arben Fox November 3, 2009 at 8:07 am

My ideal third party would be a Christian Democratic party, a movement that combined a sense of Christian social responsibility with a belief in real democratic empowerment, of the populist and localist kind. Under our national system, with its two-party elections and the legislative and executive branches set at logger-heads, there is little chance such a party ever emerging; a parliamentary democratic system of some sort would, I think, be far more amenable than what we have today to the mix of values I’d like to see advanced. Still, if we could imagine a serious third party somehow emerging (and we shouldn’t give up hope; I’m a member of the DSA myself), I’d agree on seeing it support your basic list of principles, with a few amendations:

1) Fiscal responsibility–I think it’s a little much to expect governments (which, after all, are not in fact producers themselves, but only collectors and distributors of goods and services which other produce) to hold themselves to exactly the same standards as a typical family, but it’s a good idea nonetheless. Keynesian spending works to a certain extent to create jobs, but only because we have an economy that leave so many people without any effective capital of their own to work with. Alter the distribution of wealth and opportunity which corporate capitalsm creates, and the need for “prime-the-pump” spending would mostly disappear.

2) Federalism–I’d prefer to express it by way of subsidiarity. There are things which should be the national government’s job which currently aren’t, and there things which the national government has claimed control over which they never should have been allowed to. And along the way of having an argument over which level of government should be responsible for what–let’s create more states!

3) Environmental stewardship–absolutely. Sustainability, limits on growth and consumption, and renewable energy should all be our watchwords.

4) Break it up–again, absolutely. Our legal definition’s of “monopolies” should be much more aggressive, and include many more types of institutions besides corporations, including banks, insurance companies, and the like. (Though again, principles of subsidiarity and common sense should come into play; an anti-monopoly fetish shouldn’t be allowed to prevent a reasonable-sized city from instituting a common utility or a single-school board, if the voters support doing so.)

5) Regulatory reform–a big yes here too (but there must, along with it, be changes in how government speech, political campaigns, the money in politics generally tilts the playing field in the direction of corporate donors in the first place).

6) Tax reform–as I said in Caleb’s thread, I’m open to the idea that a national sales tax is more reasonable than an income tax, but I would need to be assured that exemptions could be built into it to prevent it from being atrociously regressive. I also suspect some sort of progressive income tax is still going to be necessary, because the reality of the gap between the very rich and very poor is often socially destructive in too many ways to mention.

7) Immigration–I actually thought some variation of Bush’s old plan, with limited amnesty combined with worker’s permits combined with stronger enforcement, was the right way to go.

8) Health care–I disagree that a national health care plan with corrupt the system, as the fact that the Canadian, French, and many other countries health care systems manifestly still work pretty well clearly demonstrates (unless, of course, you think the only measure of innovation and “creative solutions” is inventing new technologies and new drugs, at which Americans obviously excel…though that kind of measurement seems to run against your wise principle about limits up above).

9) Energy indepedence–also a big yes. Goes along with 3) above.

10) Foreign policy–yes, yes, YES! How about we actually insist the president be obliged to obey the War Powers Resolution, for a start?

avatar Devan November 3, 2009 at 8:38 am

My fiancée lives in Watertown, NY, in that district and I visited her this weekend (I live in Western NY right now as I attend graduate school). I can’t speak for the other areas of the 23rd, but Hoffman is BIG in Watertown. Rough estimate is that for every 1 lawn that has an Owens sign out front, there are 3-4 Hoffman signs. VP Biden came to Watertown this weekend to throw support behind Owens because they are deathly afraid he won’t make it.

Not that this decides elections, but it is exciting at least! It is rare that anyone pays attention to upstate New York…just ask Bill Kauffman.

avatar Empedocles November 3, 2009 at 9:23 am

I wonder about “The Party’s” stance on the environment and immigration and whether they conflict. If we’re looking for sustainability and limiting growth, shouldn’t we end all immigration? The reports I’ve heard of claim that America’s population would be steady without immigration and all population growth is the result of immigration and the children of immigrants.

avatar Albert November 3, 2009 at 11:16 am

I generally like the positions espoused here, though I think a statement of positions would be more attractive and intelligible if it were accompanied by a brief of broader principles outlining the benefits of local responsibility.

After such a statement of principles, I’d be inclined to see more specific positions than the ones described here that we can discuss with reference to that statement. Right now, the positions stated seem to be too “in between” a broader statement of principles and specific, practical positions to engender much helpful discussion. That’s just my gut reaction.

avatar D.W. Sabin November 3, 2009 at 7:43 pm

From Washington’s Farewell Address:

“While then every part of our country thus feels an immediate and particular interest in Union, all the parts combined cannot fail to find in the united mass of means and efforts greater strength, greater resource, proportionably greater security from external danger, a less frequent interruption of their peace by foreign nations;–and what is of inestimable value! they must derive from Union an exemption from those broils and wars between themselves, which so frequently afflict neighboring countries, not tied together by the same government; which their own rivalships alone would be sufficient to produce, but which opposite foreign alliances , attachments and intrigues would stimulate and embitter.—Hence likewise they will avoid the necessity of those overgrown military establishments, which under any form of government are inauspicious to liberty, and which are to be regarded as particularly hostile to Republican Liberty. In this sense it is, that your Union ought to be considered as a main prop of your liberty, and that the love of one ought to endear to you the preservation of the other”.

There, in a nutshell is a reinvigoration of States Rights and Mutual Obligations under the banner of our Republic in Liberty. The Separation of Powers does not weaken, it strengthens and the continuing notion that a more complex world requires a more “efficient”…make that “powerful” Federal Government is a counter-revolutionary heresy that should be spurned by all. “Efficiency” and centralization is a seductress that has suborned profligate idiocy and buried the United States Constitution under a mudslide of choking inertia that enriches those standing in the shadows while choking the citizen it was written to serve. The Federal District is akin to a hostile occupying force and to think that it is anything other than an enemy…despite its best intentions and inadvertent or not….. at this late date…. is to ignore not only history but our very own values…our instruments of self government and our collective strength. It is called checks and balances and at this juncture, the government of the United States of America is unchecked and therefore unbalanced. It will fall of its own devices because no matter how hard it tries and how credulous we disaffected citizens are, gravity will ultimately prevail and we will sink with this ship of state as we gaily pump ever more waste into the bilge.

Washington , near the end of his remarkable speech (co-authored by both Federalists and Republicans) and well after a disquisition on the importance of regional distinctiveness, , stated: ” Let our object be , OUR COUNTRY, OUR WHOLE COUNTRY, AND NOTHING BUT OUR COUNTRY”.

Individual and collective strength, a healthy whole both demands a healthy individual while providing succor to the whole and without a reinvigoration of the edifying effects of our national regions, both strong themselves and strong in concert with their fellow, we shall not achieve the approbation of the world we once enjoyed to an almost exclusive extent. Healthy regions demand healthy towns. Rain may fall from above but true and lush growth emerges from below. A productive farm can never be run well from the other side of a continent. This Republic, our national will and mutual cornucopia is the closest form of government to farming one can create and we have been spending the last one hundred years of its life attempting to cast it in a new role as industrial factory….ever tinkering , ever modernizing and ever improving something which needs no substantive improvement because it is founded upon certain inalienable truths …truths that are eroding more quickly under a deluge of lies.

Federal State Equipoise, Subsidiarity, Unity in Diversity, a nation of laws and not sentiment..these are the things we continue to ignore . The Framers built a nation and it has fallen upon us to demolish the rotting stench of empire that has subsumed it. Something tells me a well pruned apple tree is a fine symbol to adorn what must become a nation of pruners.

avatar cecelia November 4, 2009 at 1:51 am

Owen has won in the 23 rd. I suspect these elections have little in the way of national significance and a lot in the way of local significance. Which should make all of us localists feel good.

I think the lesson to be learned from the NY 23 election is – the national figures should stay out of local politics.

I would agree with every point you make in your post Ruseell Arben Fox – can we make it into a platform for a third party? But would you please say more about redistribuition of state and federal responsibilites?

avatar Bruce Smith November 4, 2009 at 6:41 pm

It would seem prudent that any platform constructed has to be done so against a clear understanding of how power is derived and wielded to shape our world. Outside of repressive violence two means should be recognized; votes cast through the democratic process and votes obtained from the deployment of capital. It is the latter form of power that is not recognized as an equal to, if not greater at times than, democratic power. Understanding these two sources of power would have resulted in a very different American Constitution than the one drawn up and if a third party, or reformed party, is going to be effective long term it has to frame policy, including re-framing the constitution, in the light of this knowledge.

I tend to agree with all ten positions but would make the following comments:-

[1.] Keynesian stimulus should remain in the tool kit for extreme situations (Marshall Aid after the Second World War, for example, was Keynesian). The Federal Reserve has to be democratized and co-ordination of financial regulation undertaken at Federal level.

[2.] The Swiss model of canton decision making methods and how these are harmonized with central government should be examined in greater detail and greater use made of internet voting for candidates and referenda.

[4.] Big is not necessarily always bad it depends who is benefiting and who is being exploited.

[6.] Technically in a digital age it is possible that the amount of sales tax an individual pays could be related to their expenditure over set periods and automatically sampled at set intervals. There is a big privacy issue here but at worst if a high sales tax is implemented a bar could be set below which those who opt to be means tested could pay no sales tax at all.

[8.] Competition in health care is a laudable idea but cartels can easily operate in this service sector especially amongst professionals who use their professional bodies to control the numbers entering their profession. For example, in the UK per capita treatment costs are approximately half that of the US. This is because health care is predominantly run by non-profit making government funded and regulated trusts. Responsiveness for non-emergency treatment is much worse than the US although the government has recently announced that after 18 weeks a patient can receive treatment privately. I suspect that the poor responsiveness for non-emergency treatment is due to inadequate health care professional staffing just as the cause of high cost is in the US. Drug companies too exploit their position and other methods of drug production need to be urgently investigated.

[10.] It really is time that the US took stock and stopped trying to export a dysfunctional form of democracy to developing countries. Joseph E. Stilglitz makes this point admirably in his book “Making Globalization Work.”

avatar rex November 5, 2009 at 12:13 pm

Mark, I would sign onto that party’s platform in a minute. The only thing that I would change is to strengthen number four:

#4 Pursue a constitutional amendment to end corporate personhood. Corporations are to be chartered for a specific purpose and definite duration. Corporations are prohibited from owning stock in other corporations, from making political contributions, or engaging in lobbying activity. Free speech does not apply to corporations. Corporations that violate laws may face the dissolution of the charter. Owners and managers may be prosecuted for criminal activity conducted by the corporation.

avatar Mark T. Mitchell November 5, 2009 at 1:33 pm

Rex,
This question of corporate personhood is important, and the implications, as you intimate, are far-reaching. What would it take to get this issue on the radar? My sense is that as a plank in a political platform it might just be too radical. Perhaps too distracting. I may be wrong on this. I would like to hear what others think of this suggestion. Such an amendment would certainly change the nature of the game.

avatar Bob Cheeks November 5, 2009 at 6:22 pm

How about FPR Conservative-Democrats? But no socialized medicine, and we’ll give Arben and his fellow travelers the lead on writing up a gummint re-distribution program to be hammered out in committee and on the floor of the House, which, by the way, is chosen by lottery…truly democratic!
DW and Katherine get their federalism, states’ Rights, nullification plank, while incorporating and jawboning Caleb’s thoughtful proposals as well, all in the appropriate committees.

avatar rex November 8, 2009 at 7:28 pm

Mark, it looks as though there is no interest in discussing this. That is a shame, I am an awkward fit here on here on the FPR, and I may not remain long. As a confirmed agnostic, and a reformed anarchist, I find myself agreeing with many of the pragmatic views expressed here, but embarrassed by the codgery of many of the posts and comments as expressed. Que sera. Your proposal, although not framed as such, has merit. See you across the bonfire.

avatar Mark T. Mitchell November 8, 2009 at 10:40 pm

Rex,
Two questions about your self-description if I may.
1) what’s a “confirmed agnostic”? Sort of sounds like “dogmatic agnostic” and since agnostic means “to not know” it seems an agnostic (at least one who believes in the possibility of knowledge) should be an “open agnostic” or a “seeker” or something along those lines.

2) what’s a reformed anarchist?

Not to pry. I’m just curious. And I’m glad you’re hanging around FPR.

avatar rex November 9, 2009 at 10:45 pm

Mark, the easy one first: I bought into Illich pretty heavily in the late 70′s and early 80′s. It is a shame he could not transition to plain speech. I reformed with the realization that as long as someone can bonk you on the head head take everything from you anarchy is doomed. (A concussion from the WTO demonstrations in Seattle may have helped that thought a long a bit.) Illich was brilliant – taking is less so, but arguing has a cost in brutal society.

The confirmed agnostic bit is an affectation. Personally, I love the British term “confirmed bachelor” – it is unassuming, free of gossip, and avoids the vulgar in an eloquent manner. I am hesitant to express myself here, but for many years I considered the question of the existence of a higher being not worthy of a capable mind. So much has been written by less than capable minds, what could I add? Suffice to say that I have always avoided the dogmatic. An open agnostic seems a far more defensible position than a seeker. A seeker, ‘though a romantic image, is lost. An open mind is merely open. Looking often defeats its purpose through effort of looking.

Mark I look forward to you future thoughts.

avatar ben November 10, 2009 at 11:49 am

Why doesn’t this proposed platform address the right to life?

avatar Trobius November 10, 2009 at 12:54 pm

Rex- your idea against “corperate personhood” intriges me. Please don’t feel rejected. It may just be that the idea is being mulled over in the minds of many. I hope it grows legs. I have never heard that proposed before and I am not having any serious conflicts with it after five minutes of thought. Hopefully those with more advanced thought on the matter will weigh in soon. Again, I would love to see it become an idea that is debated broadly and perhaps adopted.

avatar Siarlys Jenkins November 10, 2009 at 1:31 pm

I can support most of that. I am most firmly in support of

3. Environmental stewardship
4. Too big to fail? Break it up.
5. Regulatory reform. In particular, end the legal fiction that a corporation is a “person” entitled to “rights.” (Glad to see someone already raised that. No, it is not too radical, although millions of dollars of lobbyist money and TV ads will be unleashed to cast it in that light.) A corporation is a fictional creation of government, and like government, needs to be tightly controlled, to protect the freedom of citizens, live human beings, who are sovereign.
9. Energy Independence — the emphasis is on developing alternative energy sources that are clean, safe and renewable. (I would not support “drill baby drill,” although there is a place for some continued oil exploration. We need to focus on using petroleum resources for chemical and manufacturing purposes, instead of burning most of it.)
10. Foreign Policy. He doesn’t say anything about whether we should be in Afghanistan for fear al Qaeda will get hold of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal. That’s a tough one. But in general he’s got national priorities and limits about right.

In general language, I could support points 1 and 2, but many people will read these words to mean many different things.

Fiscal Responsibility: There are times when government needs to engage in deliberate deficit spending. I believe it was David Brooks who wrote that after eight years of profligate deficit spending, Republicans in congress demanded a balanced budget at the one moment when deficit spending was essential. But we should be paying down the debt, saving for a rainy day, and cutting taxes (all three, if we are going to be prudent) when times are good, doubling the debt in good times and running it up even more in recession. Bailout of private firms, IF they are indeed “too big to fail” without taking millions of innocent people down with them, should become wards of the state and, per #4, sold off in smaller pieces to return them to private enterprise.

Federalism: This will be the stumbling block to any broad coalition. Let’s be honest, every American has their own view of what the government should control, prohibit or regulate (in our neighbors’ choices) and what it should leave along (in our own). Federalism has been a cover for repeal of civil rights laws, allowing one state to pollute waters that flow into another, allowing one state to deny trial by jury in its state courts, etc. This needs more detail, but I could make a list a mile long of examples why I agree. The hesitation: states can be just as capable of tyranny as the federal government.

6. Tax Reform. A national sales tax has some good points, but I’m not opposed on principle to an income tax, and I want either one to be progressive. The money needed to provide basic food, clothing and shelter, medical care, perhaps even a family car, should be taxed at a lower rate, if at all, than the higher level incomes paying for things that are much more discretionary. Survival first.
A simplified income tax might abolish all deductions and credits, EXCEPT the first $20,000 of income, $50,000 for families with children, no matter how many children, and THEN have about 3 tiers, ending with 50% over $1 million. A simple national sales tax should, as many states do, exclude food, medicines, probably clothing.

7. Immigration. Sounds good as worded, but many people will twist those words to mean what they want it to mean. And, I don’t think we want to build prisons to hold literally millions of undocumented immigrants — which means we will have to deport them and try to keep them from coming back.

8. Health care. I want lots of choices, including a public options financed by premiums. That is a cost effective way to hold private companies’ feet to the fire, rather than clumsy price regulation. Whatever subsidies government provides for those who can’t afford coverage should be equally available no matter which public or private option an individual chooses. What most Americans have a real problem with, which will be an obstacle to this program, is that SOMEONE has to pay for every bit of health care delivered. We have to be honest about that. It may be me, for myself, from my own money, it may be insurance companies, from my premiums and those of others (shared risk), it make be government (me and all my fellow taxpayers), it may be medical care providers (forced to accept payment below cost of delivery), but it will all be paid for in the end. Let’s be honest about who should pay what.

avatar Bruce Smith November 11, 2009 at 5:57 pm

Phillip Blond’s “communitization” ideas start to change mainstream politics in the UK:-

http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2009/nov/11/labour-manifesto-public-services-sector

http://www.respublica.org.uk/

avatar rex November 11, 2009 at 10:48 pm

Trobius, there are reams of thought by far more cable minds than myself on the subject of corporate personhood. For me it is the elephant in the room. I won’t suggest a starting point for fear of directing an outcome, other than to say that nothing I have suggested was not a state law at one time in the past.

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