Mike Kueber's Blog

September 27, 2011

A third party in American politics

Filed under: Issues,Politics — Mike Kueber @ 2:28 am
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Matt Miller, a columnist with the Washington Post (and a former Clinton aide), wrote a column today in favor of a third party in American politics.    According to Miller, the current political parties are (a) too focused on winning elections and not on solving problems that are eminently solvable, (b) unduly dependent on their special interests, and (c) afraid that voters will abandon anyone who talks straight with them.  Who can argue with that?

My favorite line from Miller’s column – “As always in a democracy, better leadership starts with better followership.”  I think there is a tendency to blame our politicians for America’s perilous condition, whereas I think the voters need to accept responsibility and accountability.  And Miller acknowledges that new groups such as Americans Elect and No Labels are doing good work in  developing, “a new politics of problem-solving. But we’ll never mobilize the ‘far center’ without an agenda around which people can rally.”

Miller takes a crack at creating an agenda for this new third-party:

  1. Fix the economy before fixing the debt/deficit.  Stimulate the economy by eliminating the corporate income tax and the payroll tax, and eventually replace them with a consumption tax.  Also impose an import tax on Chinese goods to counter their unfair currency manipulation.  And finally, spend to create jobs on shovel-ready infrastructure.
  2. Fix education.  More money for teachers, but nothing about union-based impediments to evaluating teachers and getting rid of those who are ineffective and are unable to be effective.
  3. Fix health care.  Tweak ObamaCare so that it relies more on private insurance, while retaining universal coverage, albeit less gold-plated and more catastrophic.
  4. Rein in Wall Street.  Increase capital requirements.
  5. Fix our broken political system.  Increase voter turnout by entering all people who vote into a multi-million-dollar lottery, give each registered voter $50 “patriot dollars” to give to the candidate of their choice, and lower the voting age to fifteen.
  6. Require national service.  Two years.
  7. Get our fiscal house in order.  Balance the budget by 2018 by cutting national defense and entitlements (Social Security and Medicare) and increasing taxes by implementing a dirty-energy tax and a new tax rate of 50% on those making more than $5 million, plus letting the Bush tax rates expire on everyone, not just the rich.

Although Miller’s agenda is unmistakably liberal (what would you expect from a former Clinton aide?), it is worth discussing.  Unfortunately, in our current environment, both sides would declare it dead-on-arrival.  Republicans would refuse to consider any tax increases or any stimulus spending, while Democrats would refuse to consider any cuts to entitlements or any tax increases to the middle class or any education reforms.

I’m not convinced that a third party is more likely to be effective than trying to elect moderates within the two parties, but I will be following this issue with great interest.

November 11, 2010

The Tea Party conundrum

A recent analysis in the Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza suggested that the Tea Party cost the Republican Party several seats in the United States Senate.  See http://voices.washingtonpost.com/thefix/senate/tea-party-candidates-underperf.html.  That is unfortunate, not because I’m a partisan who wanted the Republicans to take control of the Senate (although I did), but because our democratic process failed.  The process failed because the voters of Delaware, Nevada, and Colorado didn’t elect their preferred representative.  Fortunately, there is a simple way to fix the process. 

As Cillizza pointed out in his analysis, Christine O’Donnell in Delaware, Sharron Angle in Nevada, and Ken Buck in Colorado received the Republican nominations for the U.S. Senate due in large part to the energetic support of the Tea Party and the tepid involvement of moderates in the primary process.  That contrast reminds me of a sore loser (Yeats) who said the best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity.

One of the reasons that moderates are only tepidly involved in the primaries is that they are outnumbered and get beat up regularly by the hardcore partisans in their party.  Ronald Reagan used to talk about a big tent, but hardcore Republicans today disparage moderates as RINOs (Republican in name only).  In fact, the Republican Party in Texas recently had a plank to deny party support to any candidate who wasn’t pro-life.  Talk about ideological purity.

A common reaction to these exclusionary practices is to suggest the formation of a third party.  Just yesterday, opinion writer Matt Miller in the Washington Post wrote, “Why We Need a Third Party of (Radical) Centrists.”  http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/11/10/AR2010111003489.html?hpid=opinionsbox1.  In the article, Miller suggested a new party for people who are fiscally conservative and socially liberal.  Although the Libertarian Party (LP) might argue that it already occupies that niche, I think Miller considers the LP to be too extreme (cutting government expenditures by over 50%, plus isolationism abroad), and instead he wants a third party of moderate, pragmatic politicians.

I suspect Miller is too young to remember that fiscally conservative, socially liberal voters have been yearning for a similar-minded third party for almost 40 years, but the electoral dynamics in America is not conducive to forming a third party.  Fortunately, Miller’s objective of a moderate, pragmatic government, stuffed with fiscal conservatives and social liberals, can be achieved by a relatively simple electoral adjustment – Top Two primaries.  https://mkueber001.wordpress.com/2010/06/10/what-is-a-pragmatic-politician-to-do/.  

The recent experiences in Delaware, Nevada, and Colorado support that thesis.  If those states had Top Two primaries, the primary elections would have created a heightened level of voter interest, and, in turn, it would be more likely that the far-right Tea Party candidates would have been eliminated in the primary.  Furthermore, even if they weren’t eliminated in the primaries, they would more likely have faced a moderate, formidable candidate in the fall.  That would be a good thing.

Top Two primaries will be implemented in California in 2012.  If the concept works well there, I expect the concept will be exported throughout the U.S., just as I hoped California’s legalization of marijuana would soon spread throughout the land.  Sometimes change takes time.