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Why liberals and conservatives should vote third party and abandon the two-party duopoly
Since the debt deal, alienation with Washington and the two parties is at an all-time high, according to a Washington Post poll. The majority of Americans oppose the debt deal, with the majority of opposition coming from Republicans and to a lesser degree Independents, while Democrats are divided. Three quarters of Americans have little or no confidence in Washington to repair the economy, and eight in ten say they are dissatisfied with the way the political system is working. In addition, seven out of ten Americans say Washington is focused on the wrong things.
The latest poll on third parties from Gallup finds that fifty-two percent of Americans believe that a third party is needed because Democrats and Republicans do a poor job of representing the American people. For the first time, a majority of Republicans also support a third party, while only 33% of Democrats support one. This is a bit of a switch from the past, when more Democrats then Republicans supported a third party. It likely has a lot to do with the fact that a Democrat is in charge right now, so the desire for a third party among democrats has slipped. But as I will argue, liberals should be just as eager to clamor for a third party as Republicans.
With alienation this high, the time for a third party is ripe. But Americans still know little about third parties and fall victim to the idea that a vote for one is a “wasted’ vote because they have no chance of winning and will steal votes from the lesser of two evils. There are also the seemingly insurmountable barriers all third parties will have to face to get on the ballot, in the debates, reasonable media coverage, etc.
But Washington needs to get the message that we’re fed up with the crap they’re offering, and a third party vote would be a good way to do that if enough people did it. Many Republicans and tea party activists are mad at the Republicans because they feel the bipartisan deficit reduction plan didn’t go far enough. I share those sentiments. The plan would reduce spending over the next decade, but doesn’t call for immediate cuts in spending which would solve the problem quite fast. It’s a bit pathetic that politicians in the U.S., a country based on free market principles, can’t prioritize and cut government spending to the extent that European countries can, the latter of which is often bashed by conservatives as “socialist” countries. As a moderate libertarian, there are many things I would cut, starting with military spending, but our politicians can’t agree on barely anything to cut.
Liberals should be just as mad. As someone who formerly identified with the liberal label when I was younger, I’m aware of how hardcore liberals often feel that the U.S. political system works against true left wing ideals, with Democrats like Bill Clinton and Barack Obama often taking moderate, insufficiently left wing positions. For the anti-war wing of the Democratic party, like Dennis Kuscinich, they should be extremely disappointed with Obama’s foreign policy, as well as his seemingly dismissive and disappointing attitude toward civil liberties. And liberals think Obama compromises too much. While I would dread what a so-called “true’ progressive presidency would look like, I do think liberals should vote for whoever represents their ideals the best, and that would not be the democratic party.
Why Republicans should vote third party
:The big government conservatism of George W. Bush is now out of vogue in the Republican party, with the advent of the tea party, and a growing libertarian streak. Even the pro-war faction of the Republican party is losing its strength (albeit not strongly enough for my taste). With libertarian candidates in the Republican party like Ron Paul and Gary Johnson who are anti-war, in addition to moderates like Jon Huntsman, the Republican party is decidedly more open to anti-war positions than it once was, even though the pro-war ideology still maintains dominance among establishment figures. Also, recent polls suggest that many Republicans are slowly but surely turning against the war in Afghanistan and the interventionist foreign policy that Bush promoted the last decade. Accordingto the Pew Research Center, while a majority of Republicans still think the troops should stay in Afghanistan until the job is done, the percentage who support immediate withdrawal has risen by twelve percentage points since last June, with 43% favoring withdrawal from Afghanistan, while in June it was 31%.
Republicans have two legitimate third party alternative choices: the Constitution Party or the Libertarian Party. I mainly focus on these two parties because they are the most popular (along with the Green Party) and would have a better chance of sending a message to the establishment than some more obscure third party.
The Libertarian party
Some would dispute that the libertarian party is a legitimate alternative for true conservatives. I certainly think it belongs in an ideological category all of its own, but it certainly is more at home in the Republican Party than the Democratic Party. That is why libertarian conservatives like Ron Paul and Gary Johnson choose to make their name in the Republican Party, not just because the third party route is seen as a lost cause.
Since the anti-war faction in the GOP is growing, the libertarian party would be a good choice if you also either support or tolerate relatively liberal views on some social issues. For example, the libertarian party supports the legalization of all drugs, is vehemently opposed to censorship in all forms, which includes obscenity laws. Although libertarians are divided about abortion, the official party platform supports it. It also supports gay marriage, but to a different extent than liberals do. Libertarians don’t believe the government should be licensing marriages in the first place; their position is that if two gay people want to consider themselves married through some private ceremony without government approval, no one should stop them. Most libertarians are also opposed to the death penalty as well.
Many conservatives may be open to the anti-war positions of libertarians, but unsure about these seemingly socially liberal positions. But it’s important to note that the two most cited issues in the culture wars, abortion and gay marriage, doesn’t require libertarian endorsement of either activity. As noted, libertarians are legitimately divided about abortion, because of a disagreement about when life begins. Ron Paul is pro life, but thinks the issue should be left to the states. And the libertarian position on gay marriage doesn’t require acceptance of homosexuality either, just that the government shouldn’t license or sanction any marriage, nor should they stop gays from calling themselves married. Social conservatism is welcome among libertarians, as long as you don’t try to impose your views on the rest of society by outlawing drugs or sodomy, etc. Ron Paul is socially conservative, but is opposed to imposing his views via legislation.
To learn more about libertarianism, I actually wouldn’t recommend the party’s official website, LP.org. Its platform tends to take the kind of absolutist stances that turn many people off from the party, even though many of their presidential candidates take much more moderate stances, particularly Bob Barr. I would recommend the Hit and run blog on Reason.com, which does a better job, I think, of introducing people to a more moderate form of libertarianism, particularly one in a more socially liberal vein. If you’re turned off by the social liberalism, visit lewrockwell.com or perhaps the law blog, the volokh conspiracy which takes a more conservative/libertarian approach.
The Constitution party
For both social and fiscal conservatives who happen to be anti-war, the Constitution Party would be an ideal choice. This is the party that would be ideal for “paleo-conservatives” like Pat Buchanan, who are basically conservative on everything except war. Indeed, I think this is a more popular constituency within the Republican Party at the moment than libertarians. While Republican opinions are changing on war, there still is less reluctance among them to adhere to socially liberal opinions, particularly abortion and gay marriage. I think, if given the choice, more Republican voters would choose this party over the libertarians. I wouldn’t, but that’s me.
Here is the constitution party’s website and their platform:
So the obvious question now is, what third party would the pro-war Republicans vote for? I don’t know. Certainly there are some pro-war third parties; they just aren’t very popular. As said before, I’m sticking to the most popular third parties. Certainly, if many Republicans voted for the constitution or libertarian candidate for president, it would divide the party considerably, and may, some say, “steal” votes from the Republicans or “hand” the election to their opponent. While these are legitimate concerns, I would rather have a helter-skelter scenario like this happening than continue with the same old stuff. If enough people did what I’m suggesting, including Democrats, the establishment would get the message and our political system may change, or our discourse would be more open to a diversity of viewpoints. And ultimately, It shouldn’t really matter whether your vote somehow steals votes from a candidate you only support as the lesser of two evils. If our political system were truly fair, we would be voting our principles without worrying about this stuff. I mean, some former communist countries have more freedom of choice among parties than the U.S. does! How pathetic is that?
Of course, I doubt most Republicans would vote for either the constitution or libertarian party, because their views on national security and social issues are still too much for much of the GOP base to swallow. So it is possible that constitutionalists and libertarians who normally vote for the GOP would “steal” votes from the Republican. But it would certainly shake up the establishment, and even if it didn’t, you wouldn’t be voting for a lesser of two evils just so some other, worse guy wouldn’t win.
Why Liberals should vote third party:
Many liberals often feel like the entire political system in the U.S. is set up against them. After all, leftist positions that are popular in places like Europe, like universal health care, a big welfare state, public financing of elections, etc, are not supported by most mainstream Democratic political candidates here.
Liberals, despite what some people say, don’t “worship” Obama. In fact, many of them have been quite critical of his less-than-left wing positions on foreign policy. We are spending more on the military than we were under Bush, and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have not ended. In addition, we are now in a new war in Libya. Hardcore liberals should be very angry about this. Unless you’re a hardcore, big-government populist (in other words, economically liberal and socially conservative, the polar opposite of libertarian), you can’t accept this abandoning of progressive principles, or give up your views on civil liberties and war just because Obama might be slightly better on economic policy than anyone else.
Liberals also complained when Obama abandoned the public option for health care. They also think he has conceded to the Republicans too much by admitting that the deficit and federal debt is a serious problem, while many hardcore progressives don’t even think it’s a problem at all. In fact, many are calling for Obama to focus on a jobs bill, or, in other terms, another, bigger stimulus package, which he has recently done.
The Green Party, then, has a list of positions that would be the hardcore progressives’ wet dream. On this page of their website, they list their entire platform, ranging from advocating for universal health care, an end to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and more spending on welfare programs. It’s tempting for people to believe that since ‘our guy” is in power, we can’t vote third party because it will steal votes or hand the election to the other guy. But Obama should be viewed as a huge disappointment from a progressive perspective.
I actually reluctantly voted for Obama in 2008 as a “lesser of two evils’ vote, and am still regretting it. Why? First of all, he has spent too much money and his economic policies I generally don’t agree with. But also, he’s been a disappointment on civil liberties and war as well. His anti-smoking bill, The Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act is one disappointment, as well as the fact that he’s completely ignoring and doing nothing about the DEA (Drug enforcement administration) raiding medical marijuana dispensaries in states where it’s legal, despite the fact that they are supposed to respect state laws. Since Obama expressed support for marijuana decriminalization prior to becoming president, I can assume that he either doesn’t care enough about the issue or didn’t believe in it that strongly in the first place. With the tobacco bill, though, I’m sure most progressives supported that. Most liberals are not civil libertarians like me. But for those who are, it’s a disappointment. I applaud Obama for ending don’t ask don’t tell, but that’s about the only good thing he’s done.
He has also spent more on the military than Bush, and has started another war in Libya, despite acknowledging that we need to reduce the deficit. If he really believes that, why did he decide to interfere in the affairs in another country in the first place, if we need to seriously control our spending?
My larger point is this: Progressives may support him in some of the things he’s done, but they tend to criticize him for falling short in other areas, or bending his principles. If this is the case, why vote for the guy? And I bet his approval ratings would soar a little if he actually pulled our troops out of Iraq and Afghanistan as soon as possible, since most Americans are not supportive of those wars anymore, and some, including me, voted for him on the basis that he would end the Iraq war. Why not vote for someone who stands for the principles you claim to believe in?
(Note: I’m leaving out in this piece why independents should vote third party, partly because this hub has become entirely too long. Also, since independents tend to think outside the box and already may have leanings toward a third party, I don’t think they’d need as much convincing. Maybe I‘ll make a separate hub on this later).
Are third parties too “extreme?”
One of the objections I frequently hear about third parties is that they are too extreme to vote for. In some ways, I fell for this kind of logic in the past. Despite always having some libertarian leanings, I was reluctant to vote for the libertarian party in the past because I supported, to a certain degree, the welfare state, and didn’t believe completely ending it was a wise thing to do. But the welfare state is so fairly well-entrenched in our society that I doubt any candidate would be able to get rid of it entirely, even if they were dead-set on it. In addition, the libertarian party, while filled with some rebellious hardcore purists, doesn’t really nominate those ideologues as their presidential candidates. In fact, Bob Barr, their 2008 nominee was so moderate that you could question whether he was legitimately libertarian at all. I realized I agreed with libertarians (not necessarily the hardcore variety) on about 90% of the issues, so why should I not vote for one merely because of a disagreement about one issue, which is mainly a matter of scope for me anyway?
So yes, I can see how many voters would view many third parties as “extreme.” But most Americans fall somewhere on an ideological scale similar to the Nolan chart with liberals and conservatives, and libertarians and populists, with centrists in the middle. True liberals could vote for the Green Party without any objections, while the populists or more moderate Democrats could vote for the current Democratic Party, which seems to me to be pretty big government on virtually everything. Meanwhile, conservatives and libertarians could divide between traditional conservatives, while the Paleos and libertarians could go for the other two third parties. And if the tea party movement ever grows into a third party movement, another choice would be for republicans. People could vote for who they agree with most of the time, instead of a candidate they agree with a little more than that other guy. So there are plenty of good options.
There are, of course, a certain segment of voters who can’t be easily categorized or whose views are all over the place, such as true centrists or independents. For those voters, I can see why they would feel left out. But for most other people, I think the concern that third parties are “extreme’ is exaggerated. Even most independents, I’d say, have a leaning toward one party or the other, including a third party. Many independents tend to be moderate libertarians, as the Pew Research center’s 2011 ideological breakdown typology tends to show. I would probably be included as one of those ‘moderate’ libertarians. I can vote for the libertarian party knowing that they won’t be able to get their more extreme goals implemented even if they wanted to. And their candidates for president, such as Bob Barr, are more moderate (perhaps a bit too moderate, though), partly as a strategy for the libertarian party to appeal to more people so the hardcore ideologues of the party won’t turn off the majority of the public. I can’t speak for the strategies adopted by the Green or Constitution Party about moderation of their positions vs. all-out extremism since they’re not my choices, and I haven’t looked into their electoral strategies. But I could imagine them doing the same thing the libertarian party does.
Also, it should be pointed out that even if most people voted for a third party, it wouldn’t automatically change our system from two-party to multi-party (Even though that’s what I would prefer). But it would shake up the establishment and get some much needed dialogue going, opening up the discourse to new ideas. And even if the Green or Libertarian Party, for example, somehow gained prominence in mainstream politics, they would have to tone down some of their more extreme positions in order to get votes, or elect more moderate candidates. The “extreme” views of third parties would likely be weeded out and moderated if they gained more exposure. So even if some of the views of third parties seem extreme, it kind of wouldn’t really matter in the large scheme of things, because, at this point, a third party vote functions more as a protest vote than anything else. Yes, you should vote for who you agree with the most, but you shouldn’t reject a third party just because some of their views seem somewhat extreme. I guess it comes down to a choice. If both major parties suck, and the third parties seem too extreme, which is worse: The major parties who are damaging this country, or the third parties‘ “extremeness?“ The third parties’ more extreme positions will have less of an effect on the larger nation than the horrible two parties we have now.
But, like I said in a previous hub, I do think it is more productive in the long run for people outside the political establishment working inside the two major parties to produce change, but it is not what I would prefer. Thus, while I support Gary Johnson and Ron paul working within the Republican party to produce change, I vehemently disagree with the idea that the Libertarian Party should disband because of this. Having more options is a good thing, and having only two parties that have different constituencies gives a false sense of unity.