An update to the third-parties link post

The mechanics of this are a bit awkward, but I’m gradually adding links to this previous aggregator post on the future of third parties. Today I added a piece at Forbes outlining the successful strategy employed by the Working Families Party in New York.

I might move this whole thing over to the forum section when its done. We’ll see.


  1. Here’s another thought about effective governing via some form of party/parliamentary process. To achieve the greatest accountability from those elected, whether in process or in priorities, are we looking at the wrong end of the problem? Consider how the effectiveness and responsiveness of government might improve if voting were “encouraged” and expanded. The common argument is that people should vote only if they “want” to vote, yet Australia has a mandatory voting system and while I am hardly an expert on their political process, is there a benefit from having more people across all classes participate in selecting who will govern them?

    In our schools, we have largely abandoned Civics. Are we educating our children about their responsibilities as citizens and how our government is organized largely through media without sufficient historical, interactive classroom study and discussion? How are voter expectations formed?

    I agree whole-heartedly with the value of starting small – local politics, yet in a country the size of America, there are economies of scale in governance and operation that demand centralization. To what extent have changes in our laws – Citizens United, gerrymandering, voting rights – impacted the democratic process? Has our system become reactionary versus deliberative? Never before have so many been educated, yet are better decisions being made in how we operate as a country? Finally, has party become so driven by ideologues and the money they bring to the table that it supercedes country in importance? Where a party will default on a debt ceiling Congress has legally created?

  2. I would add two questions you might want to address:

    1) Is it a given that a parliamentary system is better at governing? Specifically, I want to bring up two recent examples: the current chaos in Britain surrounding Brexit, where the change in Primer Minister and the recent elections have, IMHO, reduced the ability of the British govt to manage the exit. And two, ironically, the recent effort to repeal Obamacare which failed. IMHO, parliamentary systems allow significant policies to be passed, but also make it easy to repeal, because power rests solely in the majority party. OTOH, our system virtually requires a broad consensus for major policy, making it very hard to pass (e.g. obamacare), but also, once passed, it’s very hard to repeal major policies just because of a change in power (unless the new majority party also forges a broad coalition).

    Which way of governing is better isn’t clear to me. Certainly people complain of gridlock in our system all the time, but I’m not sure the other system’s rapid whip-sawing is really better at governing effectively. But if you want to argue that we should move to a parliamentary system, I think you first need to establish that such systems are better.

    2) Are multiple parties really better? In group theory, it’s well established that if you have 3 parties, two with 49% of the vote each, and one with 2%, the most powerful party is the one with 2%. The two parties with 49% never work together. They’d rather make any concessions necessary to get the 2% party on board. This means multi-party democracy has the risk of being less representative of the general public than a 2-party system.

    Indeed, one of the reasons why there are so many parties in e.g. India, is not because new parties arose organically from citizens who felt the current incumbents weren’t representing them. They were made by ambitious politicians who split their party, carrying a few of their friends with them, because they’d have far more power as a new 2% party, than fighting for status within a 49% party.

    While it’s noble to think that parties arise from a genuine need to represent citizens’ interest, the raw reality of power politics is that parties are created when the people creating them can gain more power that way. It often has very little to do with representing their constituents better.

    I think your overall argument will be stronger if you first establish these implicit assertions.

    1. Good points – That conundrum has troubled me for some time as well. Historically, our system has worked because the two major parties have been willing to compromise. That has generally led to the US generally muddling through. Occasionally, one party achieves a super-majority in Congress with an active president and we have periods of rapid change. The Democrats had such a majority in 2009-11 and the ACA was passed. LBJ had such a majority from 1963 – 1967. The Civil Rights Act, Medicare and Medicaid were passed during that period. The combination of hyper-active periods and the low activity periods created a fairly stable system of governance.

      One time in our history, the willingness to compromise completely failed. This resulted in the Civil War.

      However, recently we have entered into a situation where the Republican Party has been almost completely unwilling to compromise. That unwillingness has been aggravated by the Hastert Rule which has allowed a minority faction (The Freedom Caucus) to completely obstruct legislative action, resulting in our situation of gridlock. Under the Hastert Rule they have enough power to prevent anything they don’t like from passing, but not enough power to really accomplish much. They also have enough power to ensure that the House Speaker is unwilling to confront them, creating our series of weak Republican House Speakers.

      Furthermore, the Republican Party has been willing to use any means of leverage available to maintain their power. That includes gerrymandering, voter suppression, and a host of other methods. That helps maintain the power of the Freedom Caucus.

      This does not resolve the basic quandary, but I do think that the pressures are building and the obstacles will be resolved in the not too distant future. This administration is so inept that the Congress is beginning to bypass it. The Freedom Caucus may soon be losing its effectiveness. All the resistance, outreach (largely by women), litigation particularly by the states, and other methods help. The people will hopefully speak with a clear voice in 2018.

      Assuming the center holds, which I think it will, the nation may see another period of significant activity beginning in 2021. That has basically been the genius of the American system. I hope that we are not approaching another complete breakdown.

      With a parliamentary system we would be going through a period of rapid policy reversals, since the elections have failed to give clear guidance. That is the situation the U.K. is in.

      Anyway the current stasis in public opinion and the gridlock is what has prompted this blog. We debate alternative scenarios. This should ultimately help to resolve the difficulties we face. It is one element of healthy civil discourse.

      1. Your comment about the center brings something to mind. Several groups have tried to get a moderate party off the ground with little success. It seems odd to me given that roughly 1/3 of the population describes themselves as moderate yet we can’t come together as a unit.

        A moderate party might be able to siphon off some legislators from both sides and seriously effect the course of legislation.

      2. To clarify my statement regarding LBJ, I am including the period from Kennedy’s assassination and prior to the elections of 1964. Due to public’s reaction to the assassination he was able to push through the Civil Rights Act giving him effectively a supermajority, even though LBJ did not have a true supermajority until 1965. That was lost in 1966 due to Vietnam.

      3. Regarding moderate parties – forming a centrist party is always difficult, since being moderate inherently means a willingness to compromise. Eventually, moderates tend to align themselves with one of the two major parties. Generally one of the two major parties tend in modify their positions to accommodate significant minorities. The Democrats did that and captured the Progressives. The TEA party was formed specifically to push the Republicans to the right. That is just part of the complete capitulation of the Republicans to the racist elements in the South and other areas of the U.S.

    2. You raise a valid question about multi-party democracy. Is it better than a two party democracy? Not necessarily.

      However, these pieces aren’t exactly about that. We would need a flowering of many different brands of second parties at the local level all over the country before we could even claim a credible two-party system. We’ll cross the “multi-party” bridge when we come to it. I am using the term “multi-party” quite a bit, because I foresee a time when Republicans and Democrats in a place like, say, Connecticut, might be sending delegates to a state convention on the strength of nominations and support from a dozen or more local sub-parties. But we’d probably still have those two parties (or another pairing) dominating our politics nationally.

      The local nature of those parties would mean that a Republican in one place is more like a Democrat in some other places. As a consequence of local splintering, a Congressman in suburban Chicago might feel more comfortable joining a coalition with a Democrat from Louisiana than with a Republican from Louisiana. And on the strength of these kinds of local affiliations, he or she might feel freer to make that connection.

      At any rate, regardless what else happens, even if one party manages to gain solid majority power in Washington, like right now, they will not represent a majority of the population. We are fragmented. As a result, a representative government should reflect that fragmentation. Our leaders should be pressed to work out new coalitions on the basis of whatever commonality actually exists on the ground, rather than ramming through legislation based on pro-forma legislative majorities that only have the support of about a third of the population.

      1. Thanks for the clarification. I definitely think there’s something interesting in the way that New York runs their elections, and it does give real (albeit relatively small) influence to “third parties” like the working families parties.

        But NY’s non-big 2 parties don’t really elect their own people. At best, they’re more like endorsements that carry somewhat more weight than typical endorsements like other politicians, unions, or newspapers. For example, the WFP touts the win of “its” candidate Christine Pellegrino. But in truth, Pellegrino is a Democrat who happened to also run on the WFP ticket, not the other way around. The WFP would probably claim that Pellegrino made some policy concessions to gain their nomination, and that was done with an eye to people who vote the WFP ticket. But how is that different than an endorsement?

        If the only definition of a party is that it is a group of like-minded people who are able to influence / force the candidates from at least one of the Big 2 parties to adopt their policy interests, then the Koch Brothers qualify as their own party. Certainly in Kansas, they are the 1st party, and the moderate Repub wing is the 2nd, with Democrats an insignificant rump. Similarly Grover Norquist made people sign loyalty oaths to his agenda stronger than any commitment they had to make to the Republican platform to gain the R-nomination. And yet no one considered Americans for Tax Reform to be a party.

        I hate to say this, but infrastructure matters. To take it to the extreme, it may be the *only* thing that separates a “party” from an influence group. IMHO, the WFP will only become a real party (even as a 2nd party to the Dems) when they have the infrastructure to elect people *on their own*. That’s the only time that they’ll carry a big enough stick to force the Dems (or Repubs) to consider them as possible coalition partners rather than just one more interest group to appease. Way back when you were talking about the Blue Wall (sorry to bring up a sore point 🙂 ), you posited that a national party dies when it is seen as no longer having the capacity to elect a President. I’d suggest the same applies on the local level for small parties. I genuinely wish the WFP luck in getting there, and they’re doing the right things, but they’re not a party yet.

        The fascinating part, for me, is how this infrastructure is changing. Traditional parties maintained their power by controlling 3 things: funding, media exposure, and ground troops to run your campaign. The internet is upending the first 2 for sure, and may be the third one. DailyKos and its endorsement list, coupled with actBlue and virtual meetups for phonebanking that can be done by logging into a website and using your cellphone, is probably a more powerful “party” than any traditional 3rd party right now. They even have their own convention (Netroots Nation). Candidates in the future may very well live and die by their skill in outsmarting Google’s and Facebook’s filtering and search algorithms, than on access to any party’s stable of friendly newspaper journalists.

        But what to make of 2016? Trump and Sanders, neither of whom was really a member of the big-2 parties, got the largest crowds, and one went on to win. Both were able to get funds, media, and crowds without any help from the party infrastructure. In contrast, the establishment candidates in both parties were reduced to SNL caricatures and/or members of a clown car. It would seem that third parties were on the rise. And yet… despite the changes the internet has wrought, both chose to pursue their candidacies within the big 2 parties. Is that just a case of old habits die hard, or is there some other advantage to these parties that we’re missing?

        To add to your posting burden (you did ask for suggestions 🙂 ), it would be informative to look at why previous third parties in America failed. For example, Ross Perot’s party nearly won him the Presidency (maybe a slight exaggeration…), and was a force even in the next election, but then withered, despite electing Jesse Ventura as MN-Gov. For that matter, the Socialist Party in the early 1900s elected lots of local officials and even two Congressmen. But it died as well. Why?

        Anyway, I’m really glad you took up this question, since it’s far more complicated, yet far more insightful about the structure of our democracy, than people realize!

      2. One really critical detail about Pellegrino that has implications for all of the rest of this concept – Pellegrino won her seat because she went to the WFP for support. That’s a crucial detail, but it reflects on the priorities she’ll be carrying with her down the road. They were (are) her power base. She will probably face a primary challenge from a conventional Democrat in the next cycle. Her survival depends on the WFP. That’s how a sub-party gets a chance to play.

      3. May I offer an observation from WX Wall’s post and your response. WX suggests that small local interest groups have difficulty achieving election success without some major party assistance. What I see happening at the grassroots level today (on the left) are people who previously identified as Democrats now aligning themselves more with resistance groups than traditional party heirarchy. They may still consider themselves Democrats or Progressives because of concurrence on issues, but their direct involvement – donations, mobilization, coordination – is not throught the Democratic Party structure but driven by FB and other digital means. Sanders campaign utilized this concept with great success proving its efficacy both from an organizational basis to fund-raising. He didn’t win, but he did come close.

        Will this new form of adhoc political organization continue to impact future elections and the traditional party system? Or is it indicative of this particular election? I don’t know the answer to that. What I do know is that small donors have been able to demonstrate sufficient heft to make independent candidacy not as difficult as it has been in the past. FB and other social media and digital forces outside the traditional political mainstream appear to be changing the way in which people engage. This new “person to person” digital process is attracting people who have never been interested or involved before but are highly engaged now. The Tea Party which started its life in a similar vein, is changing its structure and acitvity to the more traditional model whereby they are writing legislation and lobbying within the system to achieve their goals. Which underscores the point: is a formal structure necessary for small groups to survive and achieve long term effectiveness?

        Does digitalization have the power to up-end the political process from within, negating the need for a formal party structure and essentially become a digitized “third party platform” – albeit one that looks very different from the traditional model?

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