As a people, we are very quick to place labels on people. Doesn’t matter if those labels are religious, ethnics, economic, educational, emotional, or political…sometimes we have a hard time self-identifying without a group or an other. While we do strive, on personal levels, for a level of uniqueness we are also always looking to belong and to create groups alike or different from ourselves. In America, we’re especially interested in creating spectrums of these differences–diametrically opposed groups and ideologies the create really polarized perspectives and lead to the illusion that there are only two viable choices or options.
In our political culture that binary choice is defined between Democrats and Republicans who are conversely referred to as the Right and the Left, The Poor and the Rich, Blue States and Red States, Conservatives and Liberals; all the same each of these groups has a variety of subcultures, subgroups, internal issues, and a variety of groups that clash with each other. We have trained ourselves to look at these as two umbrella groups but there is significant dissent within each and also converse similarities between the two large groups.
For years, I suspected that the Democrats and the Republicans worked in collusion to maintain the status quo rather than working in opposition or concert towards progress. By the time the third presidential debate of the 2012 election rolled around, I was convinced that this was the case. I could not believe how two men, supposedly so different, could essentially hug each each other in a brofest of general agreement on issues. Where others saw broad differences in policy and position I saw two men discussing the difference between 1% and 2% milk. The difference between the proposed figureheads of the political spectrum was negligible. I saw two empty suits with different colored ties, discussing 20th century perspectives on 21st century issues. The labels of Democratic and Republican have become worthless, and in effect, toxic.
The label has become toxic as they are, by any perspective rendered meaningless on the one hard and offensive on the other–both neuter the effectiveness of persuasion. Being a member of the Democratic Party will automatically create your base, Republican the same. There is very little room for divergence as it seems most of the electorate is prone to playing party line politics and then vote accordingly. There are only slight gains to be made, and the country is pretty evenly divided. The difference in terms of the popular vote in 2012 was the difference between about 5 million votes. In terms of the States carried, Obama carried 26 plus Washington, DC and Romney carried 24. By any math, other than the ridiculous electoral math, this constitutes a pretty even split in the country.
However, when you talk to people, you often find that they have a wider variety of viewpoints than those offered by the party platforms and by what candidates have to say. Occasionally you even get moral or platform inversions from candidates from what you expect from party politics yet party line voters allegiances stay the same–for example Rob Astorino in New York supports public schools while incumbent Democrat Governor Andrew Cuomo wants to break the unions and privatize the school system (going so far as to call public schools a monopoly). The rhetoric matters little while the party affiliation will be the deciding factor for many.
When we look at the national scene, we can see that the Congress has been ineffectual since the last round of mid-term elections. The obstructionist practices of the House of Representatives provides the most obvious evidence. But, one has to wonder if this obstructionist behavior is in fact obstructionist at all. There have been no attempts by either party to bridge the gap, and in so doing they have publicly played a very ticky-tack, tit-for-tat game of spite. It is astounding that hundreds of adults, elected to represent the interests of the United States people cannot find representation among themselves to sit down and iron out agenda items. Instead they have been in a school yard argument for the better part of an administration. With elected officials acting as children do, who will be the adults in the room?
It seems the only things these party shills can manage to agree on is shutting out the third party voices that threaten to shake up their comfortable status quo of incumbency and ineffectiveness. Additionally, there are narratives in the general electorate that support the single Status Quo party that cannot be ignored.
The first narrative is that “a vote for a third party candidate is a wasted vote that spoils the most similar candidate”. This is generally untrue as there have been a number of presidents elected that were not Democrats or Republicans. In fact, those parties haven’t existed for the totality of American History, and are not even the first parties to assume those same names. While long lasting and most effective, these parties aren’t part-in-parcel with our democracy nor are they the only parties to have elected presidents. Washington is the only president to have been elected without a party endorsement, but presidents have been elected as Whigs, Independents, and as National Union candidates (though the latter was a rebranding of the modern Republican party). Numerous others have been elected to federal, state, and local positions over the years.
In fact, the narrative itself stems from an infusion of money as legitimacy into national politics that gradually came to fruition over the generations and was recently solidified by the Citizens United ruling. As a matter of self-preservation, the larger parties have time and again found ways to adapt the positions of grassroots third parties and integrate them into their platforms. Most recently this was attempted by the GOP with the TEA Party movement, which has proven in general to be a detriment to the general image of the party. TEA Party candidates while occasionally raising some relevant conservative points are just as extreme as their liberal counterparts in terms of shredding the constitution. Where as extreme liberals as typified by Occupiers tend to skew towards a post-constitutional, agency based, welfare state, TEA Partiers tend to want to minimize the government to the function of military and anti-abortion, pro-Christian ideals.
Neither are really sound in terms of Constitutional values. When the GOP adopted the TEA Party generation of candidates, however, what they found was that they integrated a radically right set of inexperienced candidates who lack the political savvy or cultural competence to work in a multi-cultural United States. I don’t mean to bash the TEA Party in abstraction from the whole, but rather expose a potent point–the Republicans were in fact threatened by the TEA party and brought them into the fold with their dollars rather than attempting to fight them. The Republicans were well aware that they were going to lose districts to these candidates in 2010, and not to Democrats. The places where these races were in doubt were districts that historically skew to the Republicans. However, by taking on so many of these candidates they have detrimentally changed the nature of their party in vitriol and have created a rather large rift in leadership with the junior members coming into open and public clashes with the senior leadership. The Democrats did not attempt this, and though their party is also fractured in its vision, it is not as extreme.
This brings us to the second false narrative “Third Party Candidates can’t win”. It is exceedingly clear that these candidates are capable of winning elections if the Republican party saws willing to take on so many unproven commodities just to save face. Of the candidates that identified as TEA Party candidates, 32% won in 2010 which amounted to 45 Congressional seats between the House and the Senate. For a first outing, those are not numbers to be scoffed at.
Further debunking this false narrative (and supporting the idea of Status Quo collusion by the Democrats and Republicans) is the 1987 seizing of the Presidential Debates by the major parties’ Commission of Presidential Debates private firm. The debates were stolen from the League of Women voters (which had been previously hosting them) when the Dukakis and Bush campaigns resigned to an agreement not to participate in debates with Third Party Candidates. The League of Women voters released a statement citing that allowing the Democrats and the Republicans to run the debates would perpetuate fraud against the voters of the United States–and it has.
In 2000, following reasonably successful polls by Third Party Candidate Ross Perot in two elections, the Commission levied a controversial decision not to include candidates from parties that did not garner 15% of 5 polls. This stands in contrast to the reality of the fact that there are not two but 5 major parties in the United States, that have organizations large enough in enough states to be considered contenders (The Republicans, Democrats, Constitution, Green, and Libertarian Parties). In 2012 the Romney and Obama campaigns perpetuated further fraud in debate against the electorate by agreeing in advance on the questions and topics to be debated.
Clearly, the Democrats and Republicans feel that Third Party Candidates can, and will, win if given anything like a fair shake at reaching the people. So why shouldn’t we? We shouldn’t we hold this private firm be held accountable for all the voices of the people? The League of Women’s Voters was 100% correct, especially when you consider that 2012 Presidential Candidate Dr. Jill Stein had debated against Mitt Romney in the election for Governor in Massachusetts and was not only declared the winner by the Boston Globe but the “only adult in the room”. One can only imagine what the introduction of a third or even fourth candidate into the conversation would have shown in 2012.
There is no doubt that, then, that the Democrats and Republicans are working in collusion at the very least to stifle alternative candidates from the conversation in a money fueled ruse that purports only two views on any single issue. It further illustrates how and why we have political dynasties in this country such as the Roosevelts, Bushes, Kennedys, Clintons, Rands, and possibly Obamas and why the same two parties keep getting elected despite making detrimental change, or no change in representing the people. These parties have become toxic for the American people, and subscribing to their labels has killed the efficacy of American politics. They represent only their own continuance, incumbency, and wealth of power.
With Election Day looming in this mid-term we should all take the responsibility with our vote to look at supposed “Third Party” candidates (even the term Third Party is that of political oppression) and vote with the candidate that really most aligns to your position–not just the ones that say they do. It isn’t idealistic to vote for the best candidate and it is an act of Patriotism to find the most capable person, in your estimation, and vote for them. It is equally patriotic to undermine a plot against a government takeover but misinforming the people. If your best hope is a Democrat or Republican, feel safe in voting for them, and if it is a “Third Party” candidate give democracy an expanded voice. Finally, if none of the candidates align to your positions don’t fall victim to another false narrative and remember that a vote withheld in protest is a valid vote in itself.