A New Political Party Is Needed

Set aside any Obama euphoria you feel. The other important news is that third-party presidential candidates had a miserable showing this year, totaling just over one percent of the grand total with 1.5 million votes nationwide, compared to some 123 million votes for Barack Obama and John McCain.

It couldn’t be clearer that Americans are not willing to voice their political discontent by voting for third-party presidential candidates. The two-party duopoly and plutocracy is completely dominant. The US lacks the political competition that exists in other western democracies. Without real political competition there is insufficient political choice.

A key problem is that for many years, third parties have not offered presidential candidates that capture the attention and commitment of even a modest fraction of Americans, unlike Ross Perot (8.4 percent in 1996 and 18.9 percent in 1992), and John Anderson (6.6 percent in 1980).

This year, among the four most significant third-party presidential candidates, Ralph Nader without a national party did the best with 685,426 votes or 0.54 percent of the grand total (a little better than in 2004 with 0.4 percent but much worse than in 2000 running as a Green Party candidate with 2.7 percent). He was followed by Bob Barr the Libertarian Party candidate with 503,981 votes or 0.4 percent of the total (typical of all Libertarian candidates in recent elections, including Ron Paul in 1988), followed by Chuck Baldwin of the Constitution Party with just 181,266 votes or 0.1 percent, and then Cynthia McKinney of the Green Party with only 148,546 votes or 0.1 percent.

Showing the problem of ballot access, engineered by the two major parties, is that there were only 15 states where all four were on the ballot. In all but one, Nader received more votes than the other three third-party candidates. In four states only one of the four candidates was on the ballot; in one state none of them were ( Oklahoma ).

Nader’s best state was California with 81,434 votes, as it was for McKinney ’s with 28,624 votes. Baldwin was not on the ballot there. Alan Keyes received 30,787 votes in California . Barr’s best state was Texas with 56,398 votes. None of the other three were on the ballot there. In his home state of Georgia where he had been a Representative Barr received 28,420 votes (and none of the other three were on the ballot). Baldwin’s best state was Michigan with 14, 973 votes. Nader was not on the ballot there.

In round numbers, Barack Obama raised $639 million or about $10 per vote, and John McCain raised $360 million or $6 per vote, compared to Ralph Nader with $4 million and $6 per vote, Bob Barr with about $1 million or $2 per vote, and Cynthia McKinney with only about $118,000 or less than $1 per vote. Money matters, but the ability of the two-party duopoly to keep third-party presidential candidates out of nationally televised debates matters more for media attention, money and votes.

It must also be noted that there were countless congressional races with third-party and independent candidates, but none were able to win office, with only a very few reaching the 20 percent level. That third-party candidates can win local government offices means little because political party affiliation at that level is overshadowed by personal qualifications.

I say that current third-party activists should admit defeat, shut down their unsuccessful parties, and move on. Unlike so much of American history, current third-parties no longer play a significant role in American politics or even in affecting public policies. They have shown their inability to matter.

We need a new, vibrant political party that could bring many millions of American dissidents, progressives and conservatives, and especially chronic non-voters, together behind a relatively simple party platform focused on structural, government system reforms (not merely political change). Examples include: replacing the Electoral College with the popular vote for president, restoring the balance between Congress and the presidency, eliminating the corrupting influence of special interest money from politics, preventing the president to use signing statements to nullify laws passed by Congress.

What would unite people is a shared priority for revitalizing American democracy. It should position itself as a populist alternative and opponent to the two-party plutocracy. It should define itself as against the corporate and other special interests on the left and right that use money to corrupt our political system. Possible names: Patriotic Party, United Party or National Party. With Thomas Jefferson as its spiritual founder it should seek the political revolution he said was needed periodically.

Here is what helps. Despite considerable enthusiasm for Barack Obama, there is widespread unhappiness with both the Democratic and Republican Parties. One indication is that so voters register as independents. Plus there has always been a chorus of negative views about the two-party system. In one pragmatic sense this is the ideal time to create a new party. Why? Because of the incredible loss of stature of the Republican Party. Why not envision a new party that could replace the Republican Party on the national stage and provide a sharp alternative to the Democratic Party? In other words, we don’t need a new third party as much as we need a new major party.

Joel S. Hirschhorn was a full professor at the University of Wisconsin, Madison and a senior official at the Congressional Office of Technology Assessment and the National Governors Association; he has authored five nonfiction books, including Delusional Democracy: Fixing the Republic Without Overthrowing the Government. Read other articles by Joel.

11 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. Phil said on November 13th, 2008 at 1:43pm #

    I’d personally never support any party called Patriotic, and United and National are sterile overused terms that don’t convey any hint of what said party’s goal would be. Why not something meaningful, like Progressive?

  2. Don Hawkins said on November 13th, 2008 at 2:34pm #

    “It’s hard to say what’s going to happen,” Crowley said. “The very fact that you have this nonglacial [warming] atmosphere with polar ice caps [still present], presents a bizarre scenario.

    “I don’t know that we have a comparable analogy for it in the geologic record.” National Geographic

    The reason is we are putting CO 2 into the atmosphere 10 thousand times faster than the natural rate as far back as we can measure. Bizarre scenario is a good way to look at how so far we have tried to fix this economy. With what more people are now starting to understand is coming this fix so far is academic it will not work. For the people at the top of the food chain it is not to hard to understand why they think this way. We need a new way of thinking because again I will say it has to be a total focus working together and unless that happen’s I guess there will still be people on the top of the food chain for awhile just not as much food. What’s this new administration now thinking no real progress until 2010 because of the economy sorry that’s not reason or wisdom but just more talk and listening to people who are not using there mind. I could have written that in a different way.

  3. JN said on November 14th, 2008 at 1:00am #

    What “corporate & other special interests on the LEFT” use money to corrupt your political system? The main problem with US politics is that there is virtually no organised left at all at the national level. The very fact that someone like Obama can be presented as radical demonstrates how narrow & far to the right ‘mainstream’ politics is in the US. What NEEDS to be done is to BUILD strong, organised & radical movements that represent a genuine alternative, not just “patching up the capitalist order.” You want to know where reformism leads, look at the British Labour party or the German SPD. What is needed is a party that will openly argue that capitalism is morally & rationally unjustifiable, & moreover that it is literally unsustainable. A mass based SOCIALIST party (with or without the name). Now more than ever.


    PS: By ‘Socialism’ I do not mean the betrayal of Socialism (Stalinism, etc)

  4. Eric Patton said on November 14th, 2008 at 2:49am #

    A new political party would only mean anything if it were pareconish. Since, if it’s created, it won’t be (it will be coordinatorist, like everything else the left does), it will be valueless … except to people like doctors, lawyers, managers, and engineers — the backbone of the current U.S. left.

  5. Doug Rogers said on November 14th, 2008 at 10:40am #

    Certainly the third party left needs to be re-evaluating itself after these results. But I don’t think you can say that they should just go away and let someone else have turn. There is no one else. Their efforts should be re-evaluated and strengthened not dismissed.

    Personally I think we should turn off the computers more. These left-wing chat sites are becoming an intellectual ghetto. The current atmosphere is very difficult for third parties with everyone watching TV and generally doing what they are told. I intend to be out in the streets in my own community more.

  6. Max Shields said on November 14th, 2008 at 12:07pm #

    Doug, I agree. The turnout for this election with it’s billion dollar marketing campaign didn’t do any better than 2004.

    Maybe more African American voters but on net it was a wash.

    If you mean by streets actually getting out and building than I’m with you; if you mean joining a parade (protesters) I’m busy.

    The political system is dead. Third Parties just become part of the dead system. I support progressive alternative voices, but that doesn’t mean I believe that by electing them we’re actually accomplishing anything.

    The political parties of any stripe are a conundrum. It is not a party, as much as the concepualizing and action which is important. “We” want different candidates, but we want them to be like the smooth talking groomed ones the duopoly puts forth.

    So, easy to piss and moan.

  7. Jeremy Wells said on November 14th, 2008 at 9:56pm #

    Not another “third”party but a new socialist second party this has the involvement and interest of the organized labor movement and unorganized working people.
    Both capitalist Democratic and Republican parties support corporate agendas for supporting unending wars for profit, where corporations pay no taxes, where living wage jobs disappear overseas, etc. Obama supports a corporate profit privatized health system, not single-payer which is essential for a universal sustainable health system.
    The capitalist economy, even in best of times, has never been able to support the economic needs of all working people. The system nationally and globally is broken and, like Humpty Dumpty, “all the kings men cannot put Humpty back together again.”
    Nationalize (socialize) Wall Street, the banking and financial system as it is forever corrupt! Nationalize the energy industry (oil, nuclear, coal, gas, electricity,etc.) and take it out of the hands of the oil profiteers and manage it to fill the needs of the people.
    Obama transition points to more war and repression
    14 November 2008

    (Read WSWS World Socialist Web Site http://www.wsws.org
    redesigned web site with graphics and audio/video clips.)

  8. Garrett said on November 15th, 2008 at 11:05am #

    It’s tempting to believe the various “third” party people can unite behind a handful of issues like those mentioned in the article. And, thus, form a viable new party. It’s tempting to believe my vote for McKinney actually meant something.

    But I have to agree with Doug and Max. There’s no hope for the political system. We…actually, I better not speak for others. *I* need to take direct action.

  9. rosemarie jackowski said on November 15th, 2008 at 2:22pm #

    We don’t need another political party. We need to get over the cult of Parties. We need more candidates who are Independent. It is the whole idea of political machines that got us where we are now. We need to expose the corruption of the Party System. In every race that I watched – local, State, and national there was a direct correlation between the money in the campaign fund and the number of votes gotten. We need to think in terms of issues – not Parties or personalities.

  10. bozhidar bob balkas said on November 15th, 2008 at 5:13pm #

    establishing the second party in US (remember, uncle sam cannot be split in two) is better than having a movement.
    but since nationalism is dying or already dead along w. god(s), we need a second party in all capitalistic lands.
    i say this because it appears to me that we have a twoparty planetary system of governance.
    we live on a tiny, ever getting poorer, orb w. a socialist and plutocratic party.
    so we have a planetary socialist party. hang onto it for dear life. it’s much weaker econo-military-diplomatically than the World Plutocratic Party.
    can we make it as strong or stronger than the PP? but first, is it as monolithic/united as i see it?
    i think it is united like never before. the second party on world scene may be callled “Peasant Party” or “Serving Serfs” and thus be also a PP or SS?
    or it cld be also called SSS: serfs serving (uncle) sam. thnx.
    ok i got a bit silly after all that serious stuff i just wrote. but i do oft get stupidity attacks.

  11. magistre said on November 16th, 2008 at 2:01pm #

    The big problem is a common “entrentchment” in most state election laws. If you are Democrat or Republican all you need on your petition as a candidate is like “5” signatures; however, if you are an Independent you need “5 billion” signatures. In other words, any attempt at competitors for the “D’s” or the “R’s” is all but stifled. “Free Market” for the Economy but Fascism for Politics.