CHAPTER 11: BUILDING A THIRD PARTY--THE WAY AHEAD FROM A RETROSPECTIVE VANTAGE

 

 

                                                      CHAPTER 11

 

                                BUILDING A THIRD PARTY--THE WAY AHEAD

                                     FROM A RETROSPECTIVE VANTAGE

 

In its second presidential election of the 21st Century, America set a precedent which many just a few years ago may not have thought possible in their lifetime--the election of the first African-American to our highest office.  The election offers a hope of much needed new faces and better policies.

 

Nevertheless, in terms of applying 21st Century solutions to 21 Century problems, we really do need to think about reforming our political system.  Given peak oil and the concomitant serious problems of population and immigration, this is essential if this century is not to be a disaster worse than the last.

 

From my viewpoint it would also be a very good precedent if the next president after Obama were neither a Democrat nor a Republican and neither of the major parties had a majority in either house of Congress.  While the following piece was written more than a year before the 2008 election and is no longer relevant in a number of senses, I include the piece in this collection because it makes a number of points germane to bringing this about.

 

 

 

                                                  July 9, 2007

                                                                 MEMO

TO: Reform Movement Members

FROM: John Howard Wilhelm

RE: A Strategy for a New Third Party

 

                                   THE CURRENT POLITICAL SITUATION

 

Whatever one's view on whether America's two party system has become more dysfunctional, it certainly is increasingly clear that the system exhibits a distressing inability to tackle serious, pressing problems such as: 1) The interrelated budgetary and trade deficits, 2) Entitlement reform, i.e., Social Security and Medicare reform, 3) The consequences of imminent peak oil, 4) Issues of global ecology and 5) Unsustainable population growth in the face of uncontrolled and excessive immigration, etc.

 

Given the incentives and excessive partisanship which infest our political processes, it is certainly naive in the extreme to believe, in light of the two year election cycle which governs American political processes, that control by one or the other party of both branches will improve the situation.

 

And as the experience of recent decades clearly shows, it is also naive in the extreme to believe that divided two party governance will solve anything either.

 

To improve the situation, as a number of observers like Thomas Friedman and Bob Herbert and now perhaps Michael Bloomberg have recognized, we need viable national third party movements and we need them now.

 

It certainly should be clear that if responsible third parties could deny the two major parties majorities in both houses of Congress and the presidency as well, that profound changes will take place in our political processes.  If nothing else, such a situation would surely open up our political processes to new ideas that could be considered within our governmental branches, which could allow us to start tackling some of our problems on a more realistic basis.

 

The issue is: How to do this?

 

Creating a multi-party system requires overcoming two significant impediments to viable third parties.  The major impediment to such parties are: First our system of plurality, or first-past-the-post, voting and second the chronic dysfunctionality of American third party movements.  It is my contention that there are good solutions to both of these problems that need to be activated by creating a strategy for overcoming them and establishing a credible third party national presence.

 

It is not broadly recognized that the major impediment to viable American third parties is our system of plurality voting.  Some attribute the barrier here to our "winner take all" electoral system.

Such an analysis ignores the fact that in election systems where you do not have an electoral college as we do but do have plurality voting, there still is a very strong tendency for two party domination and third party marginalization.  Great Britain, where ballot access is much easier than in the US and where money still plays a lesser role than here, is one example.  Mexico today is another.  There after the break-up of the PRI's political monopoly you have, in the presence of first-past-the-post elections for president and the vast majority of congressional seats, a strong tendency developing towards a two party system as here.

 

If one wishes to open up our political processes to third parties it is essential to put in place a voting system that allows voters to express their true preferences to avoid the wasted vote syndrome inherent in a plurality voting system.  Some, especially Green Party members, advocate using instant runoff voting (IRV), which is a computerized version of the Hare system, as a means of doing this.  But as the technical literature shows, there are a number of serious problems with this system as compared to approval voting (AV) which is a system that both gets rid of the wasted vote syndrome and opens up the election process to third party candidates.

 

In multi-candidate elections under approval voting, each voter can give one vote each to the candidate OR candidates he/she approves of with the candidate having the most votes winning.  A number of professional societies, such as the American Mathematical Society, elect their officers by approval voting.  In the case of the AMS, AV was chosen over IRV because of the recognition by mathematicians of the latter's inadequacies.

 

Given requirements of the US Constitution and judicial precedent, especially in the 1970 US Supreme Court decision in Oregon v. Mitchell, it is clear that approval voting can be mandated in federal elections by a simple statutory act by Congress.  Such an act should also mandate places for five parties on the federal ballot, four occupied by the parties with the highest vote counts and the fifth by a national competition open to other parties and groups.

 

Election reform at the federal level is a necessary, though not sufficient, condition for opening up our political processes to responsible third parties in federal government.

 

The history of American third parties is one of a failure to understand what an effective party is and how it needs to operate.  You cannot have an effective party without some coherence in its members'

interests and views.  A party's task in our system precisely is to represent the interests and views of a coherent group of people.  In this sense, a third party tendency to be inclusive rather than focused is a prescription for ineffectiveness.

 

Third party movements often suffer from the absence of knowledgeable, experienced professional politicians who understand how successful political processes and structures work.  They need technical assistance in building sound party structures and they need professional politicians as members in key positions.

 

The national and state Reform Party is widely, and correctly, perceived as dysfunctional at both the national and local level.  In both cases there is confusion as to what group and officials are the actual party.  In Michigan, for example, it is clear from recent reports on a third party effort to open up state ballot access, that parties such as the Greens and Libertarians are working with the Buchanan group as the state Reform Party.  At the national level, it is also clear that the legal process has not clarified who is the Reform Party and its officers.

 

If members of the initial Reform movement want to be effective and have an impact on the country, it is clear that they and their potential allies need to organize a new party.

 

                                    A REORGANIZED REFORM MOVEMENT

 

Given its situation, the Michigan Reform Party first needs to activate itself and initiate an effort to form a new national party.  In doing so, it ought to seek technical help and assistance from the Liberal Democratic Party of Great Britain which has an international outreach program for parties in other countries.  Such an approach will do two

things: 1) It will provide for much needed technical assistance in running a third party from an experienced third party in a similar election environment to ours, i.e., a plurality voting system.  2) And it will signal the American public that, as opposed to past situations, such a movement is serious about tackling one of the problems which has infested most third party efforts--their internal dysfunctionality.

 

Second, It needs to work with a group like the Greens to initiate a national campaign to petition Congress to reform federal elections by instituting approval voting in federal elections and insuring federal ballot access for five political parties at the national level.

 

Many argue that such an effort will never succeed because of the two major parties' opposition.  But we will never know, since this has never been tried and as over two hundred years of experience in our system shows, it is not possible to have viable third parties under the current system of plurality, first-past-the-post, voting.  Opening up the American political system to third parties requires a concerted effort to educate the American public about the realities of our dysfunctional election system.

 

Third, it needs to get some of our good professional politicians like a Craig Ruff in Michigan, a James A. Leach, a Curt Weldon, and a Lincoln Chafee and members from a group like the Concord Coalition involved in a new party.  And it needs to find a good professional politician like a Warren Rudman, to serve on a pro bono basis as its national executive director or chief executive. 

 

And above all, as a viable third party, it needs to form a coherent coalition and policy position.

 

Given what I understand to be the views of the initial Reform Party core, which I would describe as traditional Republican values, I would suggest that a coherent coalition for a new third party based on those views should consist of:

 

     1)  Initial members of the Reform movement including those associated

         with the American Reform Party and the Independence Party of

         Minnesota.

 

     2)  Traditional Republicans like a Lincoln Chafee or Christopher Shays.

 

     3)  Those of a serious, non-racial concern about immigration like a

         Richard Lamm or Dr.John Tanton and an Alan Kuper.

 

     4)  People like Jennifer Gratz and Ward Connerly of the Michigan Civil

         Rights Initiative concerned about misuse of affirmative action in

         public policy.

 

     5)  Members of the Concord Coalition.

 

     6)  And those concerned with peak oil and its consequences.

 

In formulating a coherent policy position, a new third party based on Reform values, should draw from the following:

 

     1)  Those associated with The Social Contract in Petosky, Michigan.

 

     2)  Richard Lamm, Co-director of the Institute for Public Policy Studies

         at the University of Denver.

 

     3)  The Concord Coalition.

 

                                    A POLITICAL STRATEGY FOR 2008

 

The primacy of election reform has to be the first order of business for any third party because without progress here no viable third party movement is possible as over two hundred years of experience clearly shows.  If it cannot make progress here, this gives a third party the most important issue it can take to voters. And doing so is the only way we can succeed in something much needed by the country--opening up our political processes to responsible third parties.

 

The election strategy policy focus of a new reform party should be on:

 

     1)  Immigration

 

     2)  Affirmative Action

 

     3)  Fiscal Responsibility

 

     4)  Energy--Peak Oil and its implications, and Global Warming

 

This leaves out two important and crucial areas: our foreign policy and the medical care crisis.  The current discussion on all sides of these issues are, in the current partisan atmosphere, leading to nothing but bad proposals.  If these issues are to be dealt with in a rational way, it really is essential that they be discussed in the calm of a new administration and Congress with a mandate to start tackling the really important issues facing the country.

 

It would be refreshing and truthful for a third party to tell the electorate that neither it nor any other party in current circumstances can come up with good solutions to these problems in the heat of a political campaign.  And it needs to be emphasized that good solutions to the problems in these two areas require a genuine dialog between our next leaders and the public before any sensible action can be decided upon.

 

For a presidential candidate a reorganized reform party needs to focus on a Richard Lamm, a Sam Nunn, a Warren Rudman or at least a person with a good non-ideological grasp of policy issues.  For a vice-presidential candidate one might look at someone like a Ward Connerly.

 

For Senate seats a new party might look at people like a Jennifer Gratz in Michigan and a Jessie Ventura in Minnesota.  For House seats, one might look at people like a Curt Weldon in Pennsylvania, a Joe Schwarz in Michigan, and a James Leach in Iowa. 

 

In any case, in selecting candidates a viable new third party movement needs to avoid political novices and well-intended people who are politically naive.

 

The election goal of a third party in the 2008 election should be to deny both major parties majorities in both Houses of Congress and the presidency.  This is a task that, given the current disillusionment with both Congress and the presidency, is feasible.  Although success in the House is important, success in the Senate is even more so given that Senate terms are six as opposed to two years for House members.

Any success in the Senate will give a third party much greater leverage as such leverage would be assured for at least six years.

 

In selecting a presidential candidate for 2008 a reinvigorated reform movement needs a candidate with the strengths of a Ross Perot sans his naivete about how political processes can and should work.

 

Given his interests and concerns, it would make a lot of sense for parties like the Greens and a new reform movement to try to engage Michael Bloomberg on the issue of supporting a genuine effort to bring about the changes needed to open up our political processes to third parties.  On this score, a renewed reform movement party ought, along with a group like the Greens, to approach Michael Bloomberg and his political advisers on issues of mutual interest.