The topic of a third party is one that our society has wrestled with for a long time, from the Whigs in the 19th Century to Teddy Roosevelt’s running as a third party candidate to Ross Perot’s Reform Party to the candidacy of Ron Paul in the recent elections.
I have to admit that I have generally been against attempts to create a viable third party. The problem is not having a third party per se, but that our governmental system is set up in such a way as to promote a two-party system. This is somewhat by design, as the Founding Fathers wanted to avoid creating too many factions in society. So my skepticism at creating a viable third-party is mostly born from this understanding.
That is not to say that I have always felt that a major political party, in my case the Republican Party, has always represented my interests. As a matter of fact, for most of my adult life I was a registered Independent, because I really felt that neither party aligned with me philosophically. However, in practice, I usually voted for Republican candidates.
The past few years has been especially tough for conservatives. Most of us were underwhelmed with President Bush’s fiscal conservatism the last few years of his presidency, and the Republican Party put forward a presidential candidate that most of us really did not get behind until Palin was picked as the VP running mate.
Political parties, by their very nature, exist to do one thing: create an organization that gets as many of its candidates elected as possible. They are not think-tanks or special interest groups. Despite popular opinion, political parties have traditionally been places of moderation – the tent, as they say, has to be big enough to get a majority of people to vote for their candidates. While this has generally been a good thing, in that it has a moderating tendency in our political discourse, it has also led to both major political parties having a vested interest in maintaining the status quo.
This does not mean that political parties want policy positions to remain the same. Each side tries to effect policy, which in turn makes its supporters happy and more likely to support their candidates (and give money). It does mean that the systemic rules don’t get changed all that much, since both sides take advantage of the rules when they are in power. Which is all well and good – if you think the system is correct.
Increasingly, many Americans are feeling like there is a systemic problem with our government as it has evolved. It isn’t so much a Democrat versus Republican thing, but a growing awareness that most of our governmental officials are not serving the people. Granted, currently this voice is the loudest from the conservative side of things. This isn’t in my estimation, because a Democrat won the White House. It is because there is a growing sentiment that this administration is but the proverbial icing on the cake when it comes to moving the government, and the society, further and further away from the core values of America as voiced in our founding documents.
Of course, well meaning people can disagree on what was meant by this or that in the Constitution, and can even argue over whether the Constitution is “living” or meant to fixed and relatively unchanging. However, I think that the unease felt by many comes from a more fundamental sense than just arguments over the Constitution. The unease, I think, comes from a sense that there has been a fundamental shift in the relationship between the individual and the government that has really begun to culminate over the past several years.
Which leads us back to a third party. There is a bit of a dichotomy in this argument, especially on the conservative side of things. Those who would think of joining a third party are disposed towards this because of the issues that they have with the two dominant parties. Also, among those with a libertarian bent, there is a skepticism towards collectivization at any level. The problem with all this is that, unless you organize with others that share a like-mindedness, your individual voice is no match to those that can organize effectively and present a united front to those in power.
So, the question remains…for those on the conservative side of things, is it time to put our weight behind a third party, to make it more viable? This issue is frought with concerns, not the least of which is the practical consideration that it would probably mean being political outsiders for at least a decade or so. Maybe the solution isn’t so much a political party, but a political action committee (PAC). PAC’s can be bi-partisan, and would provide some freedom of action to support the candidate that most represents what the PAC stands for. The question is whether this approach would lead to fundamental change within our government, bringing it back towards what it was meant to be?
I know that I have come to the conclusion that both major political parties no longer speak for me, or to me, on the fundamental issue of the relationship between the individual and the government. I believe that there are some in the Republican Party trying to correct its course, but I am not so sure that what isn’t needed is a massive change in course. Correcting it, at this point, is just not going to do it. Radical? Perhaps…but so was the Declaration of Independence when it was written. It completely altered the relationship between individual and government. The problem is that most of us have forgotten what the relationship is supposed to be, because we have all lived with a sort of creeping tyranny over the past several decades. Sometimes it barely moves, or even goes backwards. Other times (like now), it seems to be moving at a sprint. However, make no mistake that the government that we have allowed to come into being, under both parties, is massively different than what was anticipated by the founders of this country.
At the end of the day, the decision ultimately resides where it should: with each of us as individuals. We still have, at least at this point, the right to associate with whomever we choose. The decision shouldn’t be made lightly. My only request (as if I have the place to make requests) is that it be done with an understanding of what that decision means. To paraphrase a popular saying nowadays, “Choices Matter” – the decision to support this side or that, this party or that, should be made with contemplation and forethought. Some may choose to do nothing, which of course is their right. This choice, too, has consequences. As the Rush lyric goes, “If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice.”