Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Third Party Options

There are so many "political center" third party proposals being floated these days I can't keep track of them all, and I suspect someone will have brought this one up before, but in case no one has, here's mine:

You don't need to go into battle with a full-fledged complete party organization. That probably will lead to rapid flame-out of enthusiasm, as you get rolled over by the Big Two.

But in the mid-19th century, third parties in America had some success by endorsing candidates from either of the major parties who came closest to their ideals. In many races, a third party could marshal the votes to tip an electoral race. And that would prove its power and give it something to build on for the next election.

And in certain key, winnable races, the third party would field its best prospects and back them.

Often there was vote-trading and political deal-making involved. You get your people to vote for my guy over here, I'll get my people to vote for your guy over there. Dirty hands? You bet. But if you want to win a political race, you have to play politics. We can be revolted by the excesses of the modern two big parties without aspiring to a level of saintliness that guarantees failure.

The 19th century third parties tended to be fringe movements, not centrist ones. As such, they pulled the big parties toward the fringes, in a bid either to co-opt the third party's support or absorb it outright.

That offers hope that the same process could work in modern times, to pull the big parties back from the fringes. If a new third party arises and at the end of 12 years it hasn't elected a president, but it has calmed the waters of American politics and ushered in a new era of sanity, I'd call that a worthy cause.

But not a goal. You get in this game to win, and you better believe in winning at every moment. Or you'll get nowhere.