May 23, 2020

Time for a New, Third Party in America?

by Hal Gershowitz

Comments Below

That’s a question, not a conclusion. But it’s a question begging for an answer. It is a question that will make many Americans very uncomfortable. Truth be told, it’s a question that makes this writer pretty uncomfortable. But we seem to be at a time, not unlike other times in American history, when the question needs to be addressed. The last time a new, enduring major party emerged in America it proudly consisted of Americans who understood that their nation was losing its way. It was March 20, 1854, in Ripon, Wisconsin. Then the new third-party drew fellow Americans from all walks of life. There were African-Americans, many white Protestants, quite a few factory workers as well as their bosses, and many farmers too. It was called the Republican Party.

Political parties have been a part of the American experience almost from the very start of the new republic. George Washington, (still our greatest President) dreaded the formation of political parties because he knew they would inevitably become divisive, and work primarily to promote what was in the party’s respective best interest rather than what was in the nation’s best interest. History, of course, proved him correct.

The country managed to avoid the emergence of political parties during the Washington and Adams administrations, but under Jefferson and Madison, our third and fourth presidents, the Democratic-Republican party emerged and American politics has, ever since, devolved into a contest between factions or parties. The modern Democratic Party traces its roots to those Americans who coalesced around our seventh President, Andrew Jackson. The early Democrats embraced limited government, states rights, and yes, you guessed it, slavery. In fact, that pretty much characterized the Democratic Party through the nineteenth and quite a bit of the twentieth century, with southern Democratic-Party Jim Crow laws becoming the 20th century’s surrogate for slavery.

Federal entitlement programs really didn’t exist until the twentieth century, 1908 to be exact. That’s when the Federal Employers Liability Act was passed to provide benefits to injured railroad workers. And that pretty much described the nation’s safety net until the emergence of the Great Depression. Later, Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society and his war on poverty along with the Civil Rights Movement began to change the character and the priorities of the Democratic Party. The Vietnam War greatly polarized the nation and when it ended, America got up, dusted itself off, and found itself politically divided into the camps that have lasted well into the 21st century.

The political camps were pretty definable, but both parties embraced varying degrees of welfare capitalism, in which either government or industry (by law) provides for certain defined basic needs of citizens. Laissez-faire (literally: leave us alone) capitalism, which characterized the 19th and early 20th century swiftly faded into a by-gone era, to which most thinking people were quite ready to say good-bye.

Throughout our history, though, both major political parties embraced certain fiscal or social ideals or positions and sought candidates for public office who espoused and supported those ideals or positions. Candidates, by and large, were chosen because voters believed they could best advance the ideals and positions of their respective parties. That being said, however, it would be naïve to pretend that there have not been periods in our history where the personality of the politician didn’t attract more votes than the positions espoused by the politician. In the twentieth and twenty-first centuries Teddy Roosevelt, Franklin Roosevelt, John Kennedy, Barack Obama, and, yes, Donald Trump have been the beneficiaries of voter swoon, as much as voter embrace of specific policies. Previously, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Andrew Jackson were also the beneficiaries of voter swoon more than voter allegiance to policy initiatives.

Of the forty-five presidencies and the forty-four different individuals who have served as Presidents (Grover Cleveland served two non-consecutive terms as President, making him the 22nd and 24th President) the overwhelming majority of US Presidents have been elevated to the highest office because of voter support for the policies they embraced, or voter displeasure with the policies embraced by their opponents.

Today, there seems to be nothing resembling consensus with respect to challenging new ideas. Today, policies and positions seem eclipsed by the outsized influence of personality. Yes, we’ve embraced cult-of-personality politics before in America. Today, Republican politicians know they have very little room to openly deviate from what pleases President Trump without incurring wrath from the oval office that might, very well, prove fatal in the next election. Cautionary Republican voices with respect to such issues as deficits, debt, tariffs, and the proper role of government are essentially silent.  Democrats, on the other hand, have either embraced the far left-wing (think Sanders) or, alternately, the structural-change advocates of their party (think Warren), or the anybody-but-Trump faction of their party (think Biden).

The coming campaign between Trump and Biden will offer little that is instructive to the American voter. The debates, assuming there are any debates, will not represent much of a learning experience for the American electorate or for the next generation of voters. There will be no real debate of ideas or of visions. The campaign will be a duel of a thousand cuts with character assassination and disparagement the blades of choice. In such a contest, President Trump has no peer, and Joe Biden lacks the swift tongue or the crass instinct required to parry with the President. The voter may not be able to look to either the Democratic or the Republican Party for a constructive way forward any time soon. That might take a new third party. If so, the sooner the better.

All comments regarding these essays, whether they express agreement, disagreement, or an alternate view, are appreciated and welcome. Comments that do not pertain to the subject of the essay or which are ad hominem references to other commenters are not acceptable and will be deleted.

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5 responses to “Time for a New, Third Party in America?”

  1. qua says:

    We do not need a third party. What we need is less power
    brokers in both parties who twist the tail of any candidate plus
    the enormous power of the media to swing and sway voters.

    A third party can only be achieved if a candidate were to be in
    control of the House and Senate. This is not possible at this
    point until people realize that the best off in this virus pandemic
    are the government workers both economically and are safe in
    their positions regardless of times. It is time to have government work for American workers rather than we work for them.

    Emergence of a third party is fearful. What we have to do is
    to get ordinary every day lay people to begin to take part in the
    process and fight for their party to deliver Statesmen instead
    of panderers. While the American public has washed their
    hands mostly of politics they must be re-educated to understand that involvement will bring back the prestige of both the Congress and the Presidency.

    At one time in our recent history the most prestigious of
    professions was politics sadly today it is the least which tends
    to attract less qualified candidates willing to be pilloried.

  2. Sheila says:

    While I agree that a third party idea has merit – a party that doesn’t pander to the far reaches of the right or the left in our country, and one that gives the large swath of the middle a place to rest, I believe you’re doing Biden a great disservice to call him an “anything but Trump” choice. I believe in the end, to call Biden an “anything but Trump choice” will only encourage the undecided, or those who could fall on one side or another, not to vote at all –this is the opposite of what we need for the election in November.

    I, for one, believe he is not only a viable candidate, but a strong and able candidate, with values that represent the majority of this country. Most important, he understands the world stage –he correctly identifies our allies, does not have visions of becoming an oligarch, and he will not compromise our country to do his business deals with hostile governments. He is a candidate who will uphold the Constitution and the rule of law (I can’t believe I even have to mention this), who will surround himself with the best and the brightest people who have actual leadership skills, who can begin to lift our country out of this horrific political, economic, social and viral morass of quicksand into which we are sinking more deeply every day.

    As for pitting him in a debate against Trump — you’re right, he doesn’t consider our country to be a reality show — and thank God, he doesn’t have that monstrous spirit, or vocabulary and world view that, to paraphrase George Will when describing Trump, was evidently honed and peaked on the third grade schoolyard. (Why don’t any of the Republican senators shame him for that?) Further, Biden will not be sending his AK47-clad, swastika and confederate flag waving base to storm capitol buildings, or to extort legislators who disagree with him. In short, I believe Biden will give us back our country and bring back a large degree of normalcy and peace to our lives–something we haven’t seen in 3-½ years — and if he loses this election, we won’t see again in our lifetimes.

    And lest anyone mention Biden’s gaffes — just listen for ten minutes at any given time, to what we have in the White House now. Enough said.

    This is the George Will article to which I was referring – comments which could actually be crucially important in deciding how to cast your vote on November 3. https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/only-one-of-these-candidates-is-actually-able-to-stand-up-to-china/2020/04/28/664621bc-8982-11ea-8ac1-bfb250876b7a_story.html

  3. Stuart Goldfine says:

    The basic problem is that both parties are at fault and neither wants to work together on the Virus pandemic. They make it a political football, with little interest of helping the people get back to work and healthy again.
    Americans need to be more patriotic, pledging to the flag, and work together for the common good. We should have now learned how to be prepared for the next epidemic, but it is doubtful that the governmental agencies will learn from their mistakes.
    We need to repair our dams, build more dams, repair our bridges, build new roads, and fix our electrical grid. This would provide great financial jobs. We need more trade schools; not everyone is suited nor can afford college.
    Another idea is having term limits for the US Congress, with a suggestion of 5 or 6 terms in the House and 2 terms in the Senate. Their medical and pension plans need to the same as our Medicare plans and Social Security plans. They legislate what we Americans should have and now we should legislate that they enroll in our plans.

  4. Rosemarie Buntrock says:

    What we need are ethics, morals, truth consciousness and faith in our existing parties….and how and why they were created…we need to look at what our needs are today and adjust. We need not throw away the baby with the bath water. Lies, coverups for what purpose…all the folks that were elected to represent Americans have to be held accountable.

  5. Mike says:

    The best argument supporting the need for a third party Is to consider who we get to vote
    for in November.

    And think about what would happen if you had a third party that had some power in forming a coalition government. Instead of the Hiuse or Senate being controlled by either Republicans or Democrats, his would the calculus change if they needed support from third party candidates with alternative views.

    Just a thought

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