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We Need a Third Party

But not the same old song

April 2017

The corruption and dysfunction of America's two major parties has reached the point where a majority of citizens are disgusted with their performance. To counteract the party extremists, a party for grown-ups, for reasoning independents, is needed: a party that foreswears corruption and self-serving tactics and promises to make government work again.
For more than a century and a half, two political parties have dominated government in the United States at all levels. Whether federal, state, or local, the Republican and Democratic parties have split the political pie among themselves. Every federal law except the Constitution, every state law in the fifty states, and nearly every city and county ordinance in America's thousands of local jurisdictions have been crafted by these two parties. If one-party rule is a political monopoly, the exclusive rule by these two parties has rightly been termed a "duopoly". They act in many ways as a monopoly would: while they need each other as opponents in order to preserve the appearance of democratic processes, they have acted together to fashion laws and rules that serve to secure their exclusivity, and have established bars against new political parties by setting unreasonable standards for their participation.

Any system incapable of reformation and renewal will atrophy. After a decade where the corruption and dysfunction of the duopoly have risen to new levels, a historically high forty-odd percent of American voters now want nothing to do with the Democratic or Republican parties; they call themselves Independents. I am one of these; I have had enough of corruption, of lobbyist influence, of the buying of elections by billionaires and corporations. The presidential election of 2016 spoke clearly: in the Democratic primary race, the independent candidate Bernie Sanders very nearly pulled off the upset of the century, and clearly held a huge edge in enthusiasm. His achievement was widely seen as a popular rejection of the party's "politics as usual" candidate. On the Republican side, sixteen party politicians were rejected in favor of the outsider, Mr.Trump, who seemed to offer a change from the status quo to "something"(?). In sum, it was an election whose theme was rejection of the destructive behavior of the duopoly. Unfortunately, events seem to show that this has had little effect on the two major parties, both of whom see their problem as not having spent enough money in the last election, and have vowed to raise and spend even more money in the next.

We don't have to put up with this any longer. The time has come to turn the largest but hitherto least influential political mass in the US – the independents – into a functioning force. This means we must turn the mass into a body, we must organize the independents. A number of worthwhile efforts have recently been made to mobilize independents. An example is the Independent Voter Network, but no successful effort has so far been made at organizing independents into a distinct body, a "party" if you will.

So is that an oxymoron, "organizing independents" into a party? Isn't it in the nature of independents that they are independent of ideological authority? Probably resistant to party leadership? Perhaps, but I will argue that the strangeness of the idea of independents joining together in a party comes from our traditional view of the meaning of a political party. We're used to the idea that a party's leaders develop a program for the party, and that members are expected to support the program, often with serious penalties for illoyalty. This is the historical political party; it's organized to achieve specific programmatic ends. Such a party is most effective in its youth and early maturity, while the aims are still clear and unity of purpose is the party's driving force. But times change, some aims get achieved, the party ages, and new aims are more debatable. The party now hunts around for something to stand for, and like the current parties of the duopoly, winds up standing for the idea of having power. When your party has power, you as a politician live on a higher plane; the opposing party is then an enemy who must be stopped from taking your power away. This makes positions non-negotiable, because there are no outcomes other than we win or they win.

I will suggest a different type of political party, one that values the members' independence of mind as absolutely basic. This party should be organized not around a specific program, but be based on principles and method. The principles that could guide the party's elected representatives, as I see them, would include:

  • Earth's natural environment is the basis for our existence, and must be protected at all cost.
  • The party provides the principles; the politician forges solutions within the principles.
  • Big money in politics is corrupting; political donations should be limited to small sums.
  • Decisions are made on the basis of humane rationality and non-dogmatic free inquiry.
  • The US is one society, where all must have the opportunity to achieve a satisfying life.
And as for method:
  • Rational debate results in cross-party solutions; the other party is not the enemy.
  • Political public decisions must be far-sighted, to provide for sustainability.
  • Political decisions are not made for the good of the politician or the party, but for the people.
  • Limit borrowing from future generations (i.e., national debt) to a minimum.
  • US should move toward publicly funded elections and short campaigns to reduce corruption.
To me, the above principles and methods suggest the following current priorities:
  1. International
    • Human activities contribute to the Earth's warming. It is critical for our survival that we combat this.
    • We continue to pollute the Earth: plastics in the ocean, toxics everywhere. The problem is massive.
    • All of civilization's problems are exacerbated by human population growth. It must be reversed.
    • International military build-ups are aiming toward another disaster and wasting resources. Let's stop it.
  2. Domestic US
    • The conditions of core areas of many US cities are unacceptable; a major coordinated national lift is needed.
    • The state of much of US infrastructure is critically deficient. Renewal must be given very high priority.
    • Our national debt is a sword of Damocles over our heads. We must stop and then reverse its growth.
    • US education at the elementary and secondary levels is wholly inadequate, resulting in semi-illiterate youth.
I was gratified, just this week, to discover a relatively new group, called "Unite America" which, though not a political party, attempts to achieve much of the above. The plan of the project is to elect independent representatives and senators to Congress in order to bring about compromise and reduce single-party solutions, by denying either party a pure majority in the houses of Congress. I've recommended this approach since 2005 as the best way to begin to clean up Washington. This is in practice a tall order (the duopoly will not be easily denied), but the project's platform – a set of principles, actually – is so sensible that they could gain a lot of support. (Though – with our electorate you never know...) They have my support, and I recommend their effort to all who have had enough of the party wars and corruption in Washington. So stop by Unite America, and give them your support.

© H. Paul Lillebo

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