Friday, March 10, 2006

The Rise of a Powerful Third Party

Former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan recently said that he believes that a well financed third-party candidate will likely emerge as a challenger in the 2008 or 2012 presidential election. I agree with him and I think that it will probably happen sooner than later. American politics is very narrow in the grand scheme of things with the division between traditional Democrats and Republicans being a very narrow margin on the full political spectrum. However some more liberal and conservative movements are much more involved in writing part platforms in recent years and this is causing alienation of traditionally centrist Americans. This coupled with the fact that both parties and the media at large have made sure that on controversial issues, one has to be in lock-step with one party or another. Such "polarization" has really made bipartisanship and common ground hard to find. There are no political parties for pro-life gun-control advocates as there is no party for pro-choice second amendment advocates.

In his farewell address as our nation's first president, George Washington spoke of his fear of what comes with political parties:

[A political party] serves always to distract the public councils and enfeeble the public administration. It agitates the community with ill-founded jealousies and false alarms; kindles the animosity of one part against another; foments occasionally riot and insurrection. It opens the door to foreign influence and corruption, which finds a facilitated access to the government itself through the channels of party passion. Thus the policy and the will of one country are subjected to the policy and will of another.

There is an opinion that parties in free countries are useful checks upon the administration of the government, and serve to keep alive the spirit of liberty. This within certain limits is probably true; and in governments of a monarchical cast patriotism may look with indulgence, if not with favor, upon the spirit of party. But in those of the popular character, in governments purely elective, it is a spirit not to be encouraged. From their natural tendency it is certain there will always be enough of that spirit for every salutary purpose; and there being constant danger of excess, the effort ought to be by force of public opinion to mitigate and assuage it. A fire not to be quenched, it demands a uniform vigilance to prevent its bursting into a flame, lest, instead of warming, it should consume.

Most of the things that Washington feared have come to pass. This has led to voter apathy among other things. Most people in America are not easily defined by a party because it is truly impossible to be in 100% agreement with anyone else over every issue. There will always be liberal and conservative ideas of various extremes, but human beings are not so easily classifiable by the positions that each party espouses on the ten or so "core issues." Things are not black and white (or Red State and Blue State) in this country although membership in each party depends on that being the case. There are more positions on an issue than simply for or against and there are countless permutations of issues that one can support or denounce. It is for this reason that I do see the likelihood of a third party candidate and possibly more parties appearing in the future. The idea of Red States and Blue States is insulting to those who do not completely support either party's platform. We have more in common than we are given credit for and it's not a question of if, but rather when someone will campaign on those ideas. It might be some time before a third party candidate occupies the White House, but it would improve the dialogue if one or more other voices joined in the debate.

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