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Third Parties Don’t Solve The Underlying Problem

[ 214 ] October 6, 2012 |

Glenn’s post about the debates identifies a very real problem: that crucial issues like the War (On Some Classes Of People Who Use Some) Drugs and the prison-industrial complex are almost entirely ignored in mainstream political discourse, and voters are not presented with a real alternative. But the solution, I think, gets at the problem Erik recently identified:

One way to solve this problem would be to allow credible third-party candidates into the presidential debates and to give them more media coverage. Doing so would highlight just how similar Democrats and Republicans have become, and what little choice American voters actually have on many of the most consequential policies. That is exactly why the two major parties work so feverishly to ensure the exclusion of those candidates: it is precisely the deceitful perception of real choice that they are most eager to maintain.

The minor point here is that there’s an obvious selection bias here; if you start with the issues on which the two parties are largely similar, you’re going to miss the countless important ways in which they diverge. But we’ve hashed that out enough and Glenn isn’t advocating a third party vote, so let’s leave that aside.

The real problem here is the belief that having third parties play a bigger role will to anything to address the problem. The assumption is fatally flawed for two reasons:

1)Glenn seems to assume that a significant third party would have the same priorities that he does and advocate the same positions. But I’m not sure what the basis for the belief that an American third party would represent the tiny constituency of left-libertarians could possibly be. The two most successful third party campaigns of the last 50 years — Perot and Wallace — were largely right-wing populist campaigns, essentially the opposite kind of politics. The closest thing to a “successful” third party campaign of the left — Nader 2000 — had an impact because of the unique strategic context of the 2000 campaign rather than because it attracted large numbers of adherents, and to the extent that Nader’s largely empty, self-congratulatory rhetoric had any content at all it was focused almost exclusively on economic issues, not civil liberties (let alone the civil liberties and civil rights issues he’s sneeringly dismissed as “gonadal politics.”) Letting third parties into the debates hardly means that the third party candidate is likely to focus on the mass incaceration scandal, and indeed may mean more visibility for someone who wants to make the problem even worse.

2)Even if we can assume the can opener of a left-libertarian (or even a libertarian on balance less grossly pernicious than Ron Paul) third party candidate, we have to ask whether having this third party included in the debates would actually change public opinion on these issues. Given that presidents with their unusual visibility and extensive communication apparatus have no demonstrated ability to shift public opinion in their favor, the idea that a third party candidate speaking for a few minutes about the appalling nature of the drig war will transform public opinion is (to put it mildly) unlikely.

The inevitable ineffectually of a third party would be OK if we had a voting system that prevented irrational outcomes in which the only real impact a left-libertarian third party candidate could have would be to deliver the election to the far worse candidate, but we don’t.

As Erik says, the problem with daydream believing about third parties is that it evades the real problem: there’s no substantial constituency for good policies on many crucial civil liberties issues. If one can develop, then at least one major party will co-opt it. If there’s isn’t one, no third party candidate is going to represent it in a way that makes any difference. Either way, third party politics is beside the point. The problem is real, but to see the solution as being a third party is just evading the much more difficult things that have to be accomplished.

Comments (214)

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  1. I think this kind of issue analysis understates the kind of crystallizing effect Perot had on public opinion. He engaged in significant issue entrepreneurship on the deficit and NAFTA, both issues on which there wasn’t much Bush-Clinton divergence and the former of which hand’t been particularly salient before.

    I doubt Perot made anyone anti-deficit or anti-NAFTA who wasn’t already; but I do think he moved those issues up a lot of people’s scale of importance, and in so doing significantly moved Clinton’s first-term budgetary priorities (and almost, though not quite, succeeded in changing the politics of NAFTA enough to scuttle it).

    There’s a good-sized anti-drug-war share of public opinion; there just aren’t many voters for whom it’s highly salient. That could conceivably be changed– and that’s not the same kind of problem as “shifting public opinion in their direction” in the sense of actually switching people from one side of an issue to the other.

    • Scott Lemieux says:

      there wasn’t much Bush-Clinton divergence

      Well, there wasn’t, because both were already deficit hawks. Clinton stayed the same, but the next Republican president placed no priority on the deficit at all. And on NAFTA,there continued to be a consensus of partisan elites in favor of trade deals. So I don’t know what Perot accomplished exactly.

      • losgatosca says:

        The Republican Party was definitely not at that time deficit conscious, see Bush I, no new taxes betrayal, and since Clinton was running on passing stimulus measures to get the economy going it’s pretty easy pickings to prove Perot was by far the deficit hawk of the three candidates in 1992.

        Clinton’s move to increase taxes after the election and the contract with America’s inclusion of balancing the budget followed by the national consensus to balance the budget were all driven by the incentive to capture the Perot voters by co-opting Perot’s issues.

        • Scott Lemieux says:

          The no new taxes betrayal is exactly my point — Bush I was a deficit hawk before Perot, while Bush II exploded the deficit intentionally after Perot. DLC types like Clinton were always deficit hawks. So I still don’t see what Perot changed.

          • LosGatosCA says:

            Consider the larger dynamic, not just the personalities involved.

            The Republican Party abandoned Bush I after he tried to address the deficit. He lost in 1992 partially because of that. Yet after 1992, in the very next election 1994, they made deficit reduction a priority and with control of Congress worked with Clinton to balance the budget over the next 4 years.

            What changed their mind? All those Perot voters in my estimation. 19% of the electorate.

            And Clinton was not a deficit hawk during the 1992 election.

            Here’s one summary of 1992 debates:

            “http://cgi.cnn.com/ALLPOLITICS/1996/debates/history/1992/

            First debate summary excerpt:

            “Perot highlighted his favorite themes: the government was being run by lobbyists and special interests; irresponsible officials were leaving a huge national debt to our children; tough measures were needed to put the country back on track. Bush and Clinton spent most of the debate attacking each other, neither focusing on Perot.”

            “A poll conducted by CNN/USA TODAY on Oct. 11 found that of those watching, 47 percent rated Perot the winner, 30 percent voted Clinton and 16 percent voted Bush.”

            Bush and Clinton got religion on Perot after that. Still Perot won the third debate After losing the second debate.

            Perot got 19% of the final vote running a pretty flaky in and out campaign that was simply anti lobbyist, anti-deficit, and supported his own term limit.

            If Perot had not demonstrated the popularity of deficit reduction in the 1992 campaign, there’s no way the Republicans move in that direction during the 1994-2000 period. As 2001-2009 amply proved when they had no third party threat.

            Clinton really emphasized health care and stimulus to get the recovery going. The deficit stuff from Clinton and Bush was all lip service and/or reactionary based on the traction Perot got during the during the campaign and the debates.

            In fact, I’d be interested to see any quote from any presidential candidate during any campaign that did not promise to balance the budget or reduce the national debt.

            Check the Gallup poll for the 1992 election in May.

            http://www.uselectionatlas.org/FORUM/index.php?topic=115543.0

            That’s Perot at 39%. To think that he had no impact with his salient issue is to think that the Republican and Democrats were comatose at the time.

            To propose that the Republicans and Clinton did not shape their subsequent message and proposals to attract those voters is not realistic.

            • LosGatosCA says:

              In fact, I’d be interested to see any quote ON THE BUDGET from any presidential candidate during any campaign that did not promise to balance the budget or reduce the national debt.

              Sorry, left that out.

              • LosGatosCA says:

                Here’s a link to Clinton’s convention acceptance speech.

                Debt mentioned twice both superficially. As in ‘Bush doubled the debt’ and ‘tired of exploding debt’ – deficit not at all. Balanced budget only in reference to his Arkansas experience.

                That doesn’t sound like a deficit hawk to me. That sounds like typical deficit lip service.

                Consider these specifics on other issues:

                “put 100,000 new police officers on the streets of American cities, but I will.”

                This sounds like a real commitment:

                “And George Bush- George Bush won’t guarantee a women’s right to choose; I will.

                Listen. Here me now. I am not pro-abortion; I am pro-choice, strongly. I believe this difficult and painful decision should be left to the women of America.

                I hope the right to privacy can be protected and we will never again have to discuss this issue on political platforms. But I am old enough to remember what it was like before Roe v. Wade, and I do not want to return to the time when we made criminals of women and their doctors.”

                Clinton did not run on any specific policy proposals to reduce the deficit.

                And how many 3rd party candidates have been mentioned in convention acceptance speeches:

                “Because we are committed in this Convention and in this Platform to making these changes, we are, as Democrats, in the words that Ross Perot himself spoke today, “a revitalized Democratic Party.”

                I am well aware that all those millions of people who rallied to Ross Perot’s cause wanted to be in an army of patriots for change. Tonight I say to them, join us, and together we will revitalize America.”

                • LosGatosCA says:

                  I do remember Clinton’s tagline:

                  “It’s the deficit, stupid.”

                  And his commitment to deficit reduction was without peer:

                  “Mr. Clinton has repeatedly said that he will submit his proposal to Congress within 100 days, or by April 30.”

                  But I may have been wrong on those.

                • LosGatosCA says:

                  Here’s Bush’s commitment to deficit reduction in his acceptance speech:

                  “Now let me say this: When it comes to taxes, I’ve learned the hard way. There’s an old saying, “Good judgment comes from experience, and experience comes from bad judgment.” Two years ago, I made a bad call on the Democrats tax increase. I underestimated Congress’ addiction to taxes. With my back against the wall, I agreed to a hard bargain: One tax increase one time in return for the toughest spending limits ever.”

                  And then? 5 paragraphs later, the punchline:

                  “When the new Congress convenes next January, I will propose to further reduce taxes across the board, provided we pay for these cuts with specific spending reductions that I consider appropriate, so that we do not increase the deficit. ”

                  And by ‘provided we pay for these cuts’ he meant exactly the same thing as every Republican means when ‘pay for these tax cuts’ is uttered. Whether he deluded himself otherwise I can’t say and we never will know, thank goodness.

                  http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/index.php?pid=21352

            • I don’t get it. All you’ve done is prove that Clinton talked up deficit reduction after passing the deficit reducing 1993 budget as his biggest act of domestic policy, and that Republicans talk a big game about balancing the budget when Democrats are in the White House isn’t exactly a “eureka!” moment by any means.

              • Scott Lemieux says:

                Morevoer, Bush running away from his deficit hawk beliefs with Perot in the race proves my point, not yours, an you still haven’t dealt with the fact that the next time Republicans had control of the government they made no effort to play for Perot deficit voters at all.

  2. Glenn Greenwald says:

    The minor point here is that there’s an obvious selection bias here; if you start with the issues on which the two parties are largely similar, you’re going to miss the countless important ways in which they diverge.

    I expressly acknowledged that there are some imporatant issues where there are real and significant differences between the two parties. That has no bearing on the fact that on a large number of crucial issues, there is little to no difference and therefore those issues are almost completely excluded from the election process: the one time every four years that millions of Americans pay any attention.

    Glenn seems to assume that a significant third party would have the same priorities that he does and advocate the same positions. But I’m not sure what the basis for the belief that an American third party would represent the tiny constituency of left-libertarians could possibly be.

    Leave aside the flawed premise of your claim: I don’t know what you mean by “tiny constituency of left-libertarians”, but polls show substantial support for many of the positions that are completely excluded from the election process. Moreover, someone named “Barack Obama” ran on a campaign in 2008 with civil liberties as a major feature and did pretty well.

    The real point is that there are third party candidates right now – including Jill Stein of the Green Party and a former, highly popular two-term Governor of New Mexico on the Libertarian Party ticket – who would introduce significant disagreement on critical issues that is now lacking because of agreement bewteen Dems and GOP on those issues.

    They would do so in every realm: foreign policy, domestic policy, economic policy, civil liberties, penal policy and pretty much everything else you can think of. On foreign policy, both candidates would be arguing against continuous American aggression. On domestic policy, they’d both be railing against corporate cronyism and subservience to Wall Street, while Stein would be advocating things like single-payer health care and vastly increased support for unions: something is otherwise unheard.

    They would expose Americans to all sorts of arguments that they otherwise don’t hear. They would force the two major party candidates to address issues they can now ignore. It would significantly broader the number of issues debated and the range of views that are heard. It would arguably force Obama to pay more attention to his left-wing flank.

    Who cares if there’s some magical candidate that supports all my views? That’s totally irrelevant. The problem I’m writing about is the incredibly narrow range of views heard and the number of vital, consequential issues that are ignored in the presidential debates.

    Including third-party candidates in at least some of the debates would go a long way to solving that problem. If there’s some better solution, I’d love to hear what it is.

    • Scott Lemieux says:

      That has no bearing on the fact that on a large number of crucial issues, there is little to no difference and therefore those issues are almost completely excluded from the election process: the one time every four years that millions of Americans pay any attention.

      As I said, we essentially agree on this point.

      On third parties being able to make different issues salient, I remain dubious for the reasons stated.

    • Cody says:

      Color me dubious that a third-party candidate would be allowed to express any real views in a debate. The questions will simply be based around where the Democratic and Republican candidate are similar, and the third-party candidate will be painted as a crazy.

      I guess my agreement here is on Scott’s bigger point: You need educated voters first.

      Without a huge outreach program, why would people suddenly support these issues? You’ll still be fighting the establishment’s desire to maintain a status quo of a two-party system for a long time.

  3. Glenn Greenwald says:

    One other things, about this:

    As Erik says, the problem with daydream believing about third parties is that it evades the real problem: there’s no substantial constituency for good policies on many crucial civil liberties issues

    This is both factually dubious and circular.

    It’s factually dubious because Obama apparently thought those issues had political resonance – they played a key role in the 2008 primary and then were continuously featured by him in the general election campaign (close GITMO, end torture, restore the rule of law and US values, etc. etc.).

    It’s also circular because the issues Americans care about is, in part, a function of what they hear the major parties debating. If certain issues are completely disappeared from political discourse by virtue of full bipartisan agreement, it’s hardly surprising that Americans ignore them, too.

    A key way to change public opinion is to find ways to have certain positions heard and amplified – including third-party candidates in the presidential debates is one way for making that happen.

    • JoyfulA says:

      We could encourage Jim Webb to run in the 2016 Democratic presidential primaries. His top two issues would be the criminal justice system (implicating the war on drugs) and treatment of damaged veterans (implicating less future war), neither of which we’ve heard much about in the primaries or campaigns this year

    • Scott Lemieux says:

      The problem here is that on the rare issues where Obama tried to advance more civil libertarian positions — closing Gitmo, trying to try KSM in New York — he had essentially no support from either the public or Congress. If Obama created a pro-civil libertarian constituency, it’s not obvious.

      The converse would be his coming out for SSM and getting DADT repeal, which had neutral or positive political consequences because he had substantial and overwhelming public support (which helps to explain why he’s been better on this than on security issues.) But change on LBGT rights has not been driven by presidents or presidential candidates, because as Erik says this virtually never happens.

      • FlipYrWhig says:

        And when you say “Congress” you include, of course, _Democrats_ in Congress, which is part of the problem, and something that arguments for how Obama coulda/shoulda/oughta wrangled harder on these issues tend to wave away.

        • losgatosca says:

          The fundamental problem is that the main political parties pander to the interests of their most active constituents as measured by their money, first, their value/motivation in organizing, second, and their votes, third.

          I don’t see constitutional values, selfless devotion to principle, or morality on that list by itself. Meaning if major donors are motivated by values, devotion, morality then these issues get a hearing. If the moral majority, unions, etc are motivated similarly, these issues get a hearing.

          Change only happens at the grass roots level. Short cuts to the front of the line don’t work. Ask Meg Whitman or Carly Fiorina. Ask Rmoney for that matter. He couldn’t just excuse Ron Paul, he had to debate him and beat him.

          Third party candidates have to tap into a major source of fundamental dissatisfaction with both parties like TR, Perot, and Wallace did. That simply doesn’t happen every cycle, or even every generation.

          Much as I agree with civil liberties being back burnered is bad, the fact of the matter is that they don’t have a meaningful constituency. If they did, a third party candidate like Perot could tap into it, or a mainstream party candidate could tap into it. Poll driven politicians know where the red meat is, believe it.

          You go to the ballot box with the electorate you have.

      • rhino says:

        The most damning indictment of modern America is that given an opportunity to do the right thing (close gitmo, stop torturing, paying even lip service to your constitution) the rather overwhelming response from the American street has been either ‘meh’, or a call for worse.

        It why those of us who live next to you are starting to wonder what we should do about you. You have way too many nukes to just ignore.

        In fact you guys should be worried about that… The rest of the planet is unlikely to tolerate an expansionist bully for very long. You need to get your house in order to avoid the same lesson saddam got, writ larger.

        • Leeds man says:

          the rather overwhelming response from the American street has been either ‘meh’, or a call for worse.

          For the principled Canadian human rights stance, look to the welcome Omar Khadr got on his return. In the online CBC Power and Politics poll, 67% said he’s a security threat. This poll usually skews heavily liberal.

          • IM says:

            Most of the rest of west is not that much better on civil liberties then the US, that much is true.

            In the UK for example the unelected house of the lords tends to be the bulwark of civil rights. In Germany the constitutional court. A legislative concerned with civil rights is rare.

            • Most of the rest of the West is actively worse on civil liberties than the US.

              France has had indefinite military detention for terrorism suspects for years.

              Policies like head scarf bans or content-based law restricting political speech would never fly in the US.

      • Joe says:

        Coming out for SSM and heightened scrutiny for gays in the courts is “civil libertarian.”

    • chris says:

      It’s also circular because the issues Americans care about is, in part, a function of what they hear the major parties debating.

      ISTM that you are reversing the direction of causality here. Political parties blow with the wind, they don’t cause it.

  4. Incontinentia Buttocks says:

    Can we agree that the debates would benefit from being organized by a non-partisan group unconnected with the parties and their campaigns (e.g. the League of Women Voters, which used to run the debates), rather than the bipartisan Commission on Presidential Debates, which is a creature of the parties themselves?

    • Joey Maloney says:

      Sure. You have a strategy to get the parties to give up an arrangement which is so obviously in their interest?

      • G. Angeletti says:

        Sure. For one thing, find and execute ways of exposing and ridiculing the Commission on Presidential Debates, which for too many cycles has operated without transparency or scrutiny. Not sufficient to effect significant change for the better, of course, but a start.

        • Incontinentia Buttocks says:

          The Commission’s debates rely on the participation of members of the media as moderators. What if they simply refused? (Of course, next you’re going to ask me how to get the media to utterly change its attitude toward political reporting so that they might do this…ya got me there!)

        • Jameson Quinn says:

          This year, 3 of 10 corporate sponsors quit due to pressure. Did you know that? If CPD became Limbaugh-level toxic, it would die.

          • G. Angeletti says:

            Yes, a good start. Three down, seven to go. The organization Open Debates (opendebates.org) could use more publicity and support.

          • John says:

            Not that I think much of the commission, but shouldn’t you have to be actively odious, like Limbaugh himself, to become “Limbaugh-level toxic”?

    • Alan Tomlinson says:

      I suspect that we could agree that the debates would benefit from all Presidential candidates being waterboarded, tortured and anally-raped to the extent that those who are secretly imprisoned by the US government are so treated.

      Or is that too idealistic of me?

      Cheers,

      Alan Tomlinson

      • DrDick says:

        That might almost be enough to get me to watch them again after 40 years of abstaining. Totally pointless theatrics otherwise.

  5. Marc says:

    Debates are an opportunity to judge the people who might actually win the election, not an opportunity for posturing by fringe candidates. And the dynamic of spoilers piling on one candidate is also destructive. If you have a chance at winning your calculus is different from when you have none.

    • I like the system of having more candidates in early debates, and whittling it down to two for later debates, like in the primaries.

      There is a benefit to making the leading candidates perform and respond along more than one axis.

      • Marc says:

        If you’re in a primary and the people on the podium have a real chance at winning, fine. But you’ll always have to exclude people below some threshold – and I’m arguing for a high threshold in a general election.

    • Murc says:

      They’re also an opportunity to air issues when a lot of people who don’t normally pay attention are paying attention.

      And even if you don’t think that’s a legitimate function of debates… how can you judge accurately if they don’t talk about many important issues?

      I thought less of Barack Obama after the last debate because he showed an unwillingness to air economic issues that are important me, to take aggressive, necessary stances on the ones he did air, and declare his allegiance to things that are frankly, horrible ideas.

      It doesn’t mean I won’t vote for him, but I’d have liked someone to get in his face and challenge him on that shit, and for someone to point at Mitt Romney and say ‘YOU, sir, are a liar, and I can prove it with numbers. You’ve lied before and you just lied to me right now, and I’ll not insult the nation by pretending you have made errors of good faith.’

    • DocAmazing says:

      If you have a chance at winning your calculus is different from when you have none.

      Very true. You’ll work hard to keep the big donors happy.

      • Looking at the operations of the eternal third parties, it’s not terribly different.

        You think the Koch Brothers don’t bankroll the LP? You think the Green Party doesn’t depend on a few left-wing whales?

        • DocAmazing says:

          Can’t speak for the Libertarians (eeww–wouldn’t want to), but the stances of the Green candidates are not noticeably deformed by the “left-wing whales” who donate. Compare with the devolution of the “Si, Se Puede” campaign to Rahmination in a few short months.

          • How do you know that?

            Your claim here seems to be that there is this one oasis in the world of politics where funders never expect anything for their money, and recipients don’t ever do anything to get that money that they wouldn’t otherwise do – and, oh, this oasis just happens to consist of the group of people whose policy preferences most closely align with your own.

            Have you considered the possibility that positions can be “deformed” to be more in line with what you, personally, want to see, in addition to further away?

          • Oh, and “Si, Se Puede” is a not a stance. It’s a slogan.

            It’s good to know the difference.

            The stances of the administration are entirely consistent with those he put forward during the campaign, though it is true, they were implemented with a minimum of chanting.

            • DocAmazing says:

              He ran to the left. That’s what sloganeering is.

              But it’s good to know that both sides do it after all, right?

              • So this is, in fact, all about slogans to you.

                I already knew that, but it’s good to see you state it so forthrightly.

              • He ran to the left. That’s what sloganeering is.

                One could run to the left by actually running on leftist stances.

                And not merely using slogans people on the left find appealing.

                You seem to now be arguing that the effect that donors have had on Obama politics is a change in sloganeering.

                • DocAmazing says:

                  No, Joe, I’m observng that the candidate’s advertising was further to the left than his governance, and suggesting that the preferences of his big donors may have had something to do with that.

                  Not exactly wild surmise.

                • Murc says:

                  No offence, Doc, but what campaign were YOU watching in ’08?

                  I saw a lot of sloganeering wrapping itself around weak-ass centrist positions. I don’t think you can say that sloganeering counts as running to the left. ‘Hope and Change’ is functionally indistinguishable from ‘It’s Morning in America.’

                  Slogans are slogans. They’re not policy positions. They can have substance, but in this case they didn’t. If Obama had run on ‘Workers of the World, Unit!’ you might have a better case, but arguing that Obama ran to the left in ’08 is rather weak. He ran as a centrist. If you saw leftism, that’s on you.

                  This isn’t to validate his centrism, or his positions that are outright right-wing, of course. But he didn’t pretend to be Che. Slag on him for things he actually did, there’s a long-ass list.

                • DocAmazing says:

                  Slogans are slogans. They’re not policy positions. They can have substance, but in this case they didn’t.

                  This is akin to Pauline Kael pointing out that no one she knew voted Nixon. The population at large listens to slogans and advertising; policy positions are the bailiwick of the politically engaged, a minority of the population. Obama’s slogans and advertising were to the left of his eventual governance. This suggests two things: first, that the donors were served (or that Obama was quite comfortable serving up a bill of goods), and that the argument that “the US is a center-right nation” is losing its credibility as an excuse for centrist trimming.

                • Hogan says:

                  The population at large listens to slogans and advertising

                  Does the population at large know that “Si Se Puede” is actually a thing? Does the population at large have any reason to identify “hope and change” as a sepcifically progressive slogan?

                • DocAmazing says:

                  I’m pretty sure they could comprehend the offer to walk picket lines.

                • Murc says:

                  The population at large listens to slogans and advertising

                  Well, to be crystal clear, I’m not arguing that slogans and advertising CAN’T have substance. I’m saying that the slogans and advertising surrounding Obama ’08 didn’t.

                  Hope and Change isn’t specifically leftist. It’s not even generally leftist. It’s barely an argument, in fact.

                  The thrust of your point seems to be that Obama adopted leftist slogans and advertising. How does that work? I don’t recall any slogans or advertising from him that was leftist, and while it’s possible that in isolation I could just be a crazy man, I’m far from alone in this. I was never enthusiastic about Obama precisely BECAUSE he wasn’t running to the left!

                  His campaign WAS pretty populist, but that’s different.

                • DocAmazing says:

                  We are the people we’ve been waiting for; Yes We Can!; walking picket lines…yeah, he never said anything vaguely leftist.

                • Hogan says:

                  I’m pretty sure they could comprehend the offer to walk picket lines.

                  Were there a lot of ads about that?

                • Hogan says:

                  We are the people we’ve been waiting for; Yes We Can!; walking picket lines…yeah, he never said anything vaguely leftist.

                  It isn’t just the right that uses dog whistles.

                • No, Joe, I’m observng that the candidate’s advertising was further to the left than his governance

                  You haven’t been, actually. You haven’t cited any actual positions from his campaign advertising that are to the left of how he governed. That would be apples-to-apples.

                  You’ve just noted that his advertising had more of a leftist tone, in its sound and imagery, than the substance of his actual governance.

                  Which is a bit apples-and-oranges.

                • And even if you somehow manage to conclude that Obama’s governing record is not as liberal (well, liberal-seeming, anyway) as his campaign imagery and rhetoric, there’s still a problem: the rest of the argument is that donors are the obvious explanation for why a candidate governs in a less ideologically-stimulating manner than his campaign rhetoric.

                  As opposed to merely “We campaign in poetry, but govern in prose.”

                  Or, “Office holders are more constrained in their actions by competing forces than candidates are in their rhetoric.”

                • DocAmazing says:

                  As opposed to merely “We campaign in poetry, but govern in prose.”

                  Or “money talks, bullshit walks”.

                • Murc says:

                  We are the people we’ve been waiting for; Yes We Can!;

                  Explain to me how that’s leftist.

                  That wasn’t sarcasm. I’d genuinely like to know, because all I see when I look at that is empty populist sloganeering, no more leftist then the pablum that comes out of all politicians mouths. Do those statements have some sort of history I’m not aware of, like when Republicans talk about states rights?

                  The picket line thing I’ll grant you.

                • FlipYrWhig says:

                  Those slogans are populist, outsider-y, and grassroots-derived, but only “leftist” insofar as prior generations of leftists have used populist, outsider, grassroots rhetoric. But it’s tricky: “let America be America again” is leftist because Langston Hughes is leftist, but that doesn’t stop the vacuous rightward-leaning Scott Brown from using it.

                • DocAmazing says:

                  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Si_se_puede

                  Only leftist if you consider the United Farm Workers to be left of, say, the DLC.

                • UserGoogol says:

                  The “population at large” which focuses on slogans has no idea who the United Farm Workers are. Offering to walk picket lines is vaguely leftish, but it’s also one fucking comment he made.

                  Obama’s slogans were what he was. Moderately progressive. The slogans were saying that we can implement change of some sort, and that is what he did. The 111th Congress passed a great deal of important legislation, so we got the change that I believed in. It’s no different from John Kerry’s “we can do better” slogan.

                • Murc says:

                  Actually, Doc, that does kinda help.

                  I’m not saying I’ve come around to your way of thinking, because I basically ignore sloganeering and think relying upon it rather than policy statements is silly, but you’ve made a stronger case than I thought Obama invoked leftist tropes without actually meaning them.

                • I don’t have much to add, beyond merely noting how delightfully amusing it is to see Doc make a parody of himself. Even more so than usual this time.

                • stick to baseball says:

                  You rarely have anything to add.

                • Another Halocene Human says:

                  Stop crying about that picket lines comment. You’re confusing the goal with tactics.

                  Unless all you care about is tactics and have lost sight of the goal.

                  Obama has been quietly replacing GOP operatives with competent professionals at NLRB, OMBS, etc. I know b/c I’ve worked with them first-hand. One of my union’s trainers for many years was hired by Obama. There is a profound change of heart on the shop floor about the prospects for ULPs and other labor actions. The UAW is actually making a run for organizing auto plants in the deep south. They gave up a year into the GWB admin.

                  If you want a broken promise, the AFL-CIO told the rank and file to vote for Obama b/c we’re getting EFCA. AFL-CIO never bothered to explain to rank and file or anyone else what EFCA is or why it was needed. Guess what, with Bush’s veto gone, the Chamber fired from all barrels, put the Senate’s balls in a vise and killed it. There was no pushback from the public b/c they had no idea what the fight was about.

                  Blame the moribund crappy union leadership, not Obama. Also your fucking Democratic Congress. But I guess people did because they voted team red in 2010 or at least they stayed home in big numbers. BIG FUCK UP BIG LABOR. YOU SUCK.

                  Obama’s a bigger friend of labor than the fucking national AFL-CIO. Maybe because he has more than two brain cells to rub together, just speculating here. Sit back and watch what they do.

                  AFL-CIO even endorsed SOPA PIPA. Just think about that for a minute.

                • Or “money talks, bullshit walks”.

                  Indeed, Doc. Try to keep your eyes off the shiny objects, and actually pay attention to substantive positions and policies.

                • DocAmazing says:

                  Yes, the ones driven by the donors.

                • I guess the donors made him change his slogans? Wait, those are the people who donated to him when he was using those slogans.

                  You are making even less sense than usual.

          • DrDick says:

            I would agree that there is not much of a constituency of left wing whales donating to third parties (and precious few on the right, other than the Libertarians). I think that this is one of the reasons that they do so poorly in national election as they have inadequate money fund and organize such a campaign at a competitive level.

            • Cody says:

              I would say this is mostly a circular problem. Why donate to a candidate who is going to lose?

              It’s a better bet to donate to Obama or Romney. You have a 50/50 chance of your money being able to bring you some influence.

              Not that huge campaign donations sway policy at all… that’d be bribery.

  6. PQuincy says:

    Discussing the potential policy as well as political impacts of American third parties can be done, and need not be futile. But any discussion of the electoral prospects of a third party that don’t take into account the enormous structural pressure for two (and only two) coalition/parties that results from single-seat districts with winner-take all rules won’t get us very far. When that structural pressure is amplified by a divided central government each consisting of people elected in single-seat winner-take all elections, it’s hard to see how to get past it (in contrast to Great Britain, where single-seat winner-take-all elections create an unfettered Parliament.)

    In our current system, it seems to me:

    1) each party has enormous incentives to block third-party action at all levels; they’ve succeeded over the generations, most importantly with various primary systems and election rules that block primary losers from running as independents, as recently noted in the NY Times. The convergence of D and FL in Minnesota and Conservative/Republican in New York are demonstrative, largely.

    2) individual voters are thus faced with the reality that a vote for a third-party candidate in a close race is a half-vote against their 2nd choice (who might have a chance of winning) in order to give a full vote to a candidate with no chance. The result is that third parties do reasonably well only in situations where elections are non-competitive (the Conservative Party in New York can garner votes in safe Democratic districts, for example).

    Call me obsessed with process, but I can’t see a way to any viable national third parties unless voting systems change. Moreover, an additional homoestatic force in the current situation is that any single state contemplating changes in its voting system will be sacrificing its impact on the national scale (because it might elect a third-party candidate to House or Senate, where that legislator’s vote would be swamped). Effectively, in the nearly zero-sum game created by two-party dominance, reforming one’s state-level voting system (and voting law is mostly state-level) is simply handing more power to states that encourage two-party dominance.

    • Incontinentia Buttocks says:

      But any discussion of the electoral prospects of a third party that don’t take into account the enormous structural pressure for two (and only two) coalition/parties that results from single-seat districts with winner-take all rules won’t get us very far.

      Without in any way denying the extent to which single-member, first-past-the-post districts favor two parties, it’s worth pointing out that other countries with such districts — e.g. Canada and the UK–while dominated by two parties feature far more viable minor parties, which win election to their Parliaments.

      Now one might point out these are Parliamentary systems and ours isn’t. Fair enough. But given the rarity, especially in the UK of coalition governments, as well as the political power of Parliamentary majorities, it’s not at all clear to me why it’s a necessary fact of our system that minor party Congressmen and Senators (who might, of course, caucus with a major party) are so unusual in the US. After all, we do elect a handful of independents to the Senate.

      In short, something else is going on here beyond first-past-the-post, single-member districts, however much they discourages minor parties.

      • Hogan says:

        There’s also the structure of the parties and how that relates to elections. Individual candidates in the UK are not entrepreneurs funding and running their own operatiions; they’re selected by the party (which is a membership organization, not a box you check off on a voter registration form), and when you elect a parliament you vote for a party list, not an individual. And when you vote for a party you know more or less what you’re getting; they’re more like political bodies and less like networks of kinship and patronage with loose shared allegiance to vague principles.

        • Hogan says:

          I’m not making it clear how this responds to IB’s question. In areas where progressives can win, a Democrat will run as a progressive; s/he doesn’t have to run as “the party of Joe Lieberman and Ben Nelson.” That cuts down dramatically the number of places where progressive third parties can find an opening.

          • Incontinentia Buttocks says:

            Absolutely. But this fact about parties is quite separate from the issue of first-past-the-post, single-member districts. And today’s GOP is, especially by US standards, very ideologically unified and disciplined, so this difference between US and others’ parties, is less stark than it once was.

            Oddly, while UK candidates are less entrepreneurial, ballot access is more individual and easier. Third parties in this country have to waste huge amounts of time and money just qualifying for the ballot. In the UK, any candidate can get on the ballot simply by posting a deposit, which s/he loses if s/he fails to get a minimum percentage of the vote.

            • I think this says something about Democratic voters themselves, really. Consider that, if Scott Bronwn were a Democrat who had won a special election in, say, Wyoming, back in 2009, he’d be getting slaughtered right now. But he’s a Republican in Massachusetts, and his progressive Democrat challenger can’t do more than open a fairly narrow lead over him, and likely figures to get a lower share of the votes there than the President will at the top of the ballot. See also, New England Democrats’ obsession with state level Republicans.

              • John says:

                In the west and the farm states, there’s actually plenty of Democrats who win statewide elections in places that would never vote for a Democrat for president. Wyoming itself recently had a two term Democratic governor in Dave Freudenthal. States as Republican as Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Nebraska have recently elected Democratic senators, and even more Republica, n states – the aforementioned Wyoming, Oklahoma, Kansas, Arizona – have recently elected Democratic governors.

                Just looking at this year’s Senate races, there’s a bunch of safe Republican states where Democratic candidates are going to run well ahead of Obama (although probably still lose).

                • Cody says:

                  I always felt that every state level politician basically ran against the party they’re on.

                  Democrats in Indiana generally run campaigns as anti-Washing Democrats. I know Indiana is Republican-strong, but I don’t think that is the only reason. Quite simply, voters are not willing to accept how imperfect the party they support is.

                  Well, Republicans seem to accept how the terrible things their party does. But I suspect those are features, not bugs.

    • Jameson Quinn says:

      I think that:

      1. Better voting systems would go a long way towards making these problems (the ones where the two parties agree) fixable.

      2. Nothing else would have that impact. As long as you’re fighting against the forces that maintain the two-party system, you are building skyscrapers with pla-doh. You might make temporary progress, but you’ll never get there.

      From that perspective, it’s really infuriating to see people arguing back and forth while barely acknowledging the issue of voting systems. I mean, even when scott gestures towards the issue, he only links to a post that points out how hopeless the current situation is, not one that spends any effort exploring or building the possibilities for changing that.

      • Another Halocene Human says:

        Why does no-one acknowledge that while the parties themselves may be corrupt, cronied-up entities whose only interest is self-perpetuation, the party’s members and voters in any particular election are COALITIONS? Therefore, the platforms and actions of the parties are going to represent the coalition they stitched together to put them in power.

        Therefore, the two coalitions and the swing faction are going to reflect the face of the nation as it is today–not as you wish it to be.

        A coalition is going to require compromise between the different factions that obtain within. It seems that some people don’t want to compromise to get the piece that they want, or they’ve found their issue is the first compromised away, but can’t fathom doing to work to make their issue non-negotiable.

        Just an example, gays and lesbians have been part of the Democratic coalition for a while, but their issues were repeatedly bargained away. They worked tirelessly for decades and now they are part of the headline national platform. That took hard work and perseverance.

        Some of the circus going on within the Republican party right now is that one faction has become impatient and is trying to purge other factions, which of course is pushing them into minority status, and the circle of clowndom continues.

        Splitting off into a separate faction in the US would only work if that faction could be courted by either party. A “safe” faction who only throws the hammer in the other direction as part of a tantrum does not, in fact, garner respect. It don’t work like that. “Independents” who vote D or R b/c their hearth and home isn’t on the line in these national elections get catered to. Tantrum-throwers become useful idiots for the other side, larded with provocateurs and trolls. Note the difference: what we call indies vote D or R. Tantrum-throwers vote for minor third parties.

        The other issue here is money. Money now grabs more of the attention than votes. Sometimes a really good campaigner, like Obama, or a real door-knocker in a local election, overturns the money thing for a while, but it’s so pervasive, so overwhelming, that money comes to feel that it brings more to the table than those pesky voters do. A recent survey showed that the interests of the top 2% and corporations were served very, very well by Congress.

        • Jameson Quinn says:

          Let’s say that the US replaced all plurality votes by approval votes. That’s pretty much the smallest possible reform to plurality; it doesn’t go nearly as far as proportional representation, or majority judgment, or SODA voting, or…..

          First, that would immediately open up the debates. The “polling at 15%” threshold is essentially unattainable under plurality, but under approval where polling totals can add up to 200% or more, it’s pretty easy. In fact, I’d even support raising the threshold to around twice that for the final debate.

          Opening up the debates couldn’t help but improve things. Much of the Village syndrome is a matter of a neurotic search for the center of a one-dimensional Overton window; open up that window to two or more dimensions and there would be no way to continue to avoid actual moral reasoning the way they do today.

          Second, it would NOT change the factional makeup of the existing parties. The Democrats and Republicans are and would remain broad coalitions seeking 50% support. What it WOULD do is give the factions better ability to organize and more power independent of the parties; and thus relatively reduce the power of money. This would be healthy.

          So: Third parties, without voting reform, don’t solve the underlying problem, and perhaps even make it worse. But solving the underlying problem means voting reform, and that does involve third parties.

  7. Murc says:

    Given that presidents with their unusual visibility and extensive communication apparatus have no demonstrated ability to shift public opinion in their favor, the idea that a third party candidate speaking for a few minutes about the appalling nature of the drig war will transform public opinion is (to put it mildly) unlikely.

    Yeah, but what if you had that happen every election, not just one?

    What if our political leaders were forced to take very public views, which they’d then own, every four years, because the spotlight was shown on people who aggressively challenged them on a whole host of issues they’d rather elide?

    I don’t think much of Ron Paul or Gary Johnson, or their antecedents or inevitable heirs. But I wouldn’t mind seeing those heirs (as well as Jill Stein and her heirs) given a spotlight at future debates, because it would bring issues into the spotlight, which is always important (people don’t think about things they’re not paying attention to) and they would force people who would be our political masters to own them.

    (At least, assuming that we haven’t yet reached the point where candidates will simply offer up bald-faced lies when challenged and then move on. We’re pretty close to that, but we’re not quite there yet, and once we ARE there the only sensible options is to completely disengage, so…)

    And I think that couldn’t help but move the needle on things. Maybe not always in ways I’d like, but if the country genuinely has a hankering for awful policies then we have bigger problems.

    Having said that, in the long term, third parties aren’t a viable solution for what ails us. (I’m going to charitably assume that Glenn has a goal of improving the body politic in general and not just get his own personal views advanced.) We need a reformed voting system, or at the very least reformed internal party structures, to bring us closer to something vaguely proportional.

    That wouldn’t be all milk and cookies; it would put people in Congress who make James Inhofe look reasonable and centrist. But still.

  8. Let’s take foreign policy.

    To take Greenwald’s argument that Most of what matters in American political life is nowhere to be found in its national election debates is ignored in disputes between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, you have have to conclude that drone strikes are more significant than the Iraq War (both whether to fight it and whether to withdraw), military strikes against Iran, withdrawing from Afghanistan on a timetable, the New START accords with Russia, the missile defense bases in Eastern Europe, and the refusal to intervene to save Mubarak’s bacon combined.

    • DocAmazing says:

      Ah, but there are foreign-policy issues other than drone strikes not being addressed, like: US support for coups in Latin America, the undead Plan Colombia, the effect of the drug war on Mexico, Guatemala, and Honduras, and ongoing fighting in Georgia.

      Combined.

      • There has been no support from this administration for any coups in Latin America. This is, in fact, one of the more dramatic differences between the parties.

        The utter absence of any meaningful action in support of Georgia in its spat with Russia, as opposed to “We are all Georgians now,” is another dramatic difference.

        Which leaves us with Plan Columbia and the Drug War in general. Yes, this issue is one on which there is very little difference between the parties. But even if we were to throw the two fanciful positions you attributed to the Obama administration into the mix, that still doesn’t add up to the difference on Iraq, much less “most” of the important issues in foreign policy.

        • DocAmazing says:

          Yeah, we sure pulled our support from the Honduran military after they toppled Zelaya.

          • You keep moving those goalposts.

            Remember during the Cold War, when we supporting coups throughout Latin America by not changing basing arrangements?

            Remember when the Bush administration tried to take down Chavez by not changing basing arrangements (while also shutting down almost all aid except a medical program until a legitimately-elected leader was chosen in free, regularly-scheduled elections?)

          • Does Mitt Romney cut off all aid to Honduras (except an AIDS program)?

            Does Mitt Romney’s State Department call the removal of Zelaya an illegal coup?

            The topic (before it became “Yeah, but NOT GOOD ENOUGH”) was whether there were large differences between the parties.

            The Bush administration covertly worked to topple the Chavez regime. The Obama administration has done nothing remotely similar in Latin America.* During the Honduran coup, figures from the Bush administration (like Otto Reich) were providing material and political support for the coup plotters. But there’s no real difference between Obama and Romney on this, because the sanctions and denunciations the Obama administration aimed at the Honduran coup regime didn’t include ending the AIDS program, and they called it an “illegal coup” instead of a “military coup,” which is just the same as supporting it, really.

            • *of course, the Obama administration does seem to have been helping out the people who toppled Mubarak. But that’s rather a different situation than backing coup plotters.

              • DocAmazing says:

                Yes, Obama’s not quite as bad as Romney.

                I believe that point has been made before.

                Meanwhile, in Honduras…

                • The difference between supporting a coup and opposing a coup is now “not as bad as.”

                  While the difference between opposing a coup and slightly more strongly opposing the coup is so vast as to make the difference between support and opposition vanish in the distance.

                  OK.

                • Mittens on the Honduran coup:

                  [Obama] has allowed the march of authoritarianism to go unchecked. In some cases, he has actually encouraged it, as when he publicly backed former Honduran president Manuel Zelaya — a Hugo Chavez ally — despite Zelaya’s unconstitutional attempt to extend his term as president in defiance of the Honduran supreme court and legislature.

                  This is the worst possible example you could have come up with to argue there isn’t meaningful space between Obama and Romney on foreign policy.

                • DocAmazing says:

                  Since the opinions of the non-Dem, non-Rep candidates are the issue here, let’s ask them how much distance there is between Romney and Obama, shall we?

                • Since the opinions of the non-Dem, non-Rep candidates are the issue here…

                  No, they’re not. The actual truth of the distance between the candidates is the issue here. Has you ever considered the idea that people who have an interest in denying the distance between the major party candidates might minimize that distance?

                • DocAmazing says:

                  Wow, we get the whole spectrum–from the center to the right!

              • Here’s the US military opposing the coup:

                Who ever said anything about the US military opposing the coup?

                You want to use the US military to undo coups in third countries?

                Do you actually have anything you genuinely believe in, or do you just throw out anything that seems like it might be momentarily convenient in a debate?

                Anyway, the actual history of the administration’s opposition to the coup includes the cessation of all military aid, and all humanitarian aid except for a single AIDS reduction program, until the restoration of electoral legitimacy; the denunciation of Zelaya’s removal as an illegal coup, and endorsement of an OAS declaration that the coup, and the short-lived cup regime, were illegal.

                But, you know, there’s a military base. Like in Guantanamo.

                • DocAmazing says:

                  Yes, a military base that could easliy be closed and walked away from ( http://www.beanerbanner.org/bb/soto_cano.htm ), but training Honduran military personnel–while we were “ceasing all military aid”; you could, as they say, look it up–was deemed too important.

                  And that is how we respond to a coup: by continuing to support the military in question.

  9. What is the difference between including Jill Stein and Gary Johnson in the presidential debates, vs. including Dennis Kucinich and Ron Paul in the primary debates?

    • DocAmazing says:

      Proximity to the election. Party affiliation.

      • The former makes some sense – they are likely to get more eyeballs.

        The latter, not so much. Mitt Romney getting into a generic left vs. right dispute with Jill Stein vs. getting into that same dispute with Barack Obama means what?

        As opposed to the much-more-illustrative differences one sees in a dispute between Obama and Kucinich, or Romney and Paul.

        • DocAmazing says:

          You asked what the difference was. Kucinich and Obama belong to the same party. Obama and Stein belong to different parties. Maybe there’s a great chasm between Kucinich and Obama (well, yeah, there is),, but you’re still talking about intra-party debate rather than debate between parties.

          • I was hoping for some answer the related to the subject of the post – the coverage of ideas and meaningful policy disagreements.

            I guess I’m not going to get that.

            • DocAmazing says:

              You’re more likely to see meaningful policy differences between members of different parties than between members of the same party. Limiting the debate to the various wing s of the two major parties, while more manageable, isn’t the best recipe for the broadest range of opinions.

              • You’re more likely to see meaningful policy differences between members of different parties than between members of the same party.

                Ron Paul went after John McCain something fierce.

                Mike Gravel asked “Who are you going to nuke, Hillary?”

                I just don’t see it.

    • Murc says:

      Well, off the top of my head, literally millions more people are watching, and you’re forcing people to take stances (or to duck and run, which is a stance in and of itself) on important issues they’d rather not talk about while they have all those eyeballs on them, including people who never pay attention to primaries but DO pay attention to the general.

      It cuts both ways, too. Mitt Romney would squirm while Ron Paul railed against imperialism, but then he’d have to equally squirm when he started talking about his loony domestic policy.

    • Marc says:

      Because the goal is to harm Obama as much as possible, and those two candidates would tag-team him with Romney to achieve that goal.

      Next question?

      • chris says:

        Interesting point… even if you assume that some anti-Obama sentiment is sui generis, there’s still a possibility for multilateral debates to align into a pro- and anti-incumbent axis. And there’s only going to be one person on the pro-incumbent side, pretty much by definition.

        Even people who agree with the incumbent on the issue under discussion are probably going to downplay the agreement and accentuate whatever differences they can find or trump up.

  10. shah8 says:

    Why do we indulge Greenwald, again? Isn’t the meaning of his existence about flattering people into spiting their noses?

    Honey, your nose is too long! Let’s see a plastic surgeon about fixing it! It’s a gas, with you at the center of the party!

    • Greenwald’s main problem–in my view–is that he believes that he is always right. He believes that he is the last honest man standing and that everyone else is either dead wrong or an Obama shill, standing up for a corrupt administration and in turn, a corrupt system.

      He constantly delves into the alleged similarities between the two parties and shrugs off the differences–real, concrete differences that matter. Yes, drone strikes should be looked into. Yes, the drug war has been a millstone around our necks for far too long….

      …but are those the only issues that matter to him? Because, guess what–they are only two of the multitude of issues we will have to contend with during this election cycle. As Jay Adler wrote over at The Sad Red Earth http://sadredearth.com/threats-to-democracy/:

      “Google Glenn Greenwald and “drones” or “terror” and its variations and you will get pages of hits. Try, instead, Googling Greenwald and “reproductive rights” or “war on women.” Google Greenwald and “labor.” Google Greenwald and “Wisconsin” or “Scott Walker. Google him on Michigan and its emergency manager law – the single most tyrannical act in American governance. Google him on the Michigan GOP’s abuse of the “immediate effect” practice in passing legislation.

      Google Greenwald and “voter suppression,” in Florida or anywhere else.”

      I’m sure the results will be interesting.

      I do not follow the “both parties are the same” belief, but if others do, consider this: (also from the same article by Adler)

      “While Greenwald and his minions have relentlessly attacked the Obama administration as a threat to liberty and, literally, American life, as they drone on monomaniacally about how there is no difference between the Democrats and Republicans, the Republicans have been already, for two years, without yet having won the Presidency and potentially both Houses of Congress, depriving Americans of their rights in ways that have real effects ever day, on workers and women, gays, and whole towns and cities.

      The eye, for these people, is forever on the drone. They need to put it back on the ball.”

  11. J. Otto Pohl says:

    In Ghana the presidential candidate has to get 51% of the vote or there is a runoff. This allows third parties to act as spoilers in the first run and then negotiate in the second round as to which of the two parties remaining they will support. The two main parties here are the ruling NDC and the NPP, but the PPP is running a candidate. Ironically, some people are predicting that the more left leaning PPP may cut a deal in any second round with the more right wing NPP and therefore remove the NDC from power. Ideologically the PPP claims to be Nkrumahist while the NDC traces its development to Rawlings who rehabilitated Nkrumah. The NPP traces its origins to the opposition to Nkrumah under Busia and Danquah.

    • How does that work out in practice? Does a President who wins in the first round govern any differently from a President who wins in a runoff?

      • J. Otto Pohl says:

        Yes, what can happen is that having won in the second round the president appoints a few members of the third party who swung victory over to him in the second round. The speculation is that if the NPP candidate Nana Akuffo-Addo wins in a runoff he might appoint Nduom from the PPP to a position in his government in exchange for the extra votes. So it would be like if Bush II appointed Nader to Health and Human Services or some other cabinet position in exchange for throwing his voters over to the Republicans in the second round.

      • Murc says:

        He’d almost have to if he wants to be re-elected, wouldn’t he, joe?

        I mean, if you getting elected depended on your party + other party, you presumably have to keep other party happy, yes?

        Actual runoffs are different from Instant Runoffs, because there’s an actual second campaign involved.

        • Davis X. Machina says:

          He’d almost have to if he wants to be re-elected, wouldn’t he, joe?

          Not if he was term-limited, one-six-and-done, which is another panacea floating around out there.

          None of this stuff happens in a vacuum, and all of it, if it comes to pass, is subject to step-on-the-clutch-and-the-trunk-opens interactions not all easy to foresee.

          • DocAmazing says:

            Once again, let California show you what does not work: term limits here are merely mechanisms for odd games of musical chairs.

            • John says:

              Term limits for the legislature, like they have in California, seem like they are pretty universally a bad idea. Term limits for the executive are much more common, and don’t seem generally to result in this.

              How many states have term limits for governors? Many more than California, and I can’t think of any other states that have similar issues with musical chairs office holding.

              • Another Halocene Human says:

                Executive term limits are a way to remove powerful popular leaders.

                If you believe popular leaders are bad (Chavez, Roosevelt), you’ll be all over term limits.

                I have yet to see proof of how they limit corruption. Seems like plenty of one-term governors have done perp walks.

  12. FlipYrWhig says:

    As usual, this turns into one of these things where something that sounds helpful and has limited downside immediately raises the question of how it could actually happen. If the objective is to get Johnson, Stein, whatever loon is running for the Constitution Party, et al onto the debate stage, whom do you/we pressure, and how? We can’t just say “if it happened, it would have the following beneficial results” without dealing with the enormous technical problem of making it happen. Shaming by the blogosphere seems insufficient to the task.

    • DocAmazing says:

      What’s the technical problem? Establishing who has a sufficiently large base of support is just a question of looking over old election returns. Fitting them all on stage is not that difficult. Deciding who makes the cut might be the issue, but it’s pretty clear that Johnson and Stein have a big enough following. Roseanne Barr, probably less so.

      • FlipYrWhig says:

        The technical problem is getting the gatekeeper organizations to change their minds. What’s in it for them to put more people on stage, and how can they be hurt if they balk?

        And they will almost certainly say that they need to set benchmarks for candidate support fairly high so as not to make the whole thing an utter circus. If you set the bar above Stein and Johnson, you defeat the purpose of the proposal. If you set the bar below Stein and Johnson, what do you do with, say, Virgil Goode? Aren’t all of the conceptual benefits that derive from airing heterodox views still true of candidates with even less support than the left and/or libertarian underdogs?

        • John says:

          Is Virgil Goode really a level below Stein? Unlike Stein (and most pre-2008 Libertarian Party candidates), he’s a former national elected official, and the Constitution Party got more votes than the Greens in both 2004 and 2008.

      • Hogan says:

        I think by “technical” FYW meant “political/logistical.” How do we get our hands on the levers of power that control who parrticipates in presidential debates?

        • FlipYrWhig says:

          Yes, this is essential too. I don’t see how it happens. Those levers are in other hands and will continue to be so unless something happens to knock them off. What is that something? If conscientious blogging could do it, drone strikes would be anathema and Bradley Manning would be a free man.

        • DocAmazing says:

          Once upon a time, in the land of the Fairness Doctrine…

          • FlipYrWhig says:

            OK, but that just establishes another hurdle: reinstating the Fairness Doctrine, starting by grassroots outsiders clamoring for it, and then, something…

          • Hogan says:

            . . . we still had two major parties, and their candidates were the only ones who got to be in presidential debates.

            • John says:

              Didn’t Reagan have a debate with John Anderson in 1980?

              There were no debates of any kind in 1964, 1968, and 1972, and no third party candidates of any importance in 1960, 1976, and 1984. So there’s not much of a sample size here.

              • Hogan says:

                In 1960 Southern Democrats ran slates of “unpledged electors” and sent 15 to the Electoral College, where they voted for Harry Byrd. Maybe he should have been in the debates.

                In any case I’m going to go out on a limb and say there are no third party candidates of any importance in 2012, so I don’t see how the Fairness Doctrine changes anything.

            • Scott Lemieux says:

              Yes, as for the idea that we should violate the First Amendment to institute a “solution” there’s no reason to believe would actually address the problem, I’m going to vote “no.”

              • DocAmazing says:

                You’re not seriously suggesting that the Fairness Doctrine violates the First Amendment, are you?

                That’s squarely in Michigan Militia territory.

                • L2P says:

                  Doesn’t it appear to violate the First Amendment after Citizens United?

                • Scott Lemieux says:

                  You’re not seriously suggesting that the Fairness Doctrine violates the First Amendment, are you?

                  Yes.

                • Hogan says:

                  The original warrant for the Fairness Doctrine was that the public airwaves were a scarce and publicly held resource, and therefore it was reasonable for the FCC to apply some reasonable (and in practice very loose) content regulation on broadcasters’ use of that resource. If you reinstate the Fairness Doctrine, do you apply it only to broadcast? That would be useless. Do you also apply it to cable, satellite and internet? On what constitutional basis?

                • Scott Lemieux says:

                  Plus, the idea that broadcast licenses should be treated differently has (logically enough) led to the abominably vague FCC “indecency” regulations that chill speech for no obvious benefit. It’s an anachronism.

                • DocAmazing says:

                  Gotta call bullshit, Professor Lemieux. The broadcast spectrum is a public resource; the Fairness Doctrine does not apply, nor has it ever appllied to satellite radio, cable TV, or anything other than broadcasts on the electromagnetic spectrum, which spectrum is a public resource. (If broadcasters don’t like the idea, they can quit going after pirate radio, to name but one example.) The indecency regulations exist with or without the Fairness Doctrine; it’s not as though they disappeared once the Reagan Administration eviscerated the Fairness Doctrine.

                  Complaints about the Fairness Doctrine are, as I said, lunatic wingnut material. Sad to see you subscribing to them.

  13. FlipYrWhig says:

    To add to that last: there is also a large group of flaming reactionaries, racists, and survivalist types whose views are not currently addressed by the major parties (except for a handful of the screwier Republicans). If they had a candidate, he’d have to be on the stage too, no? How many candidates can the stage hold and still have time and space to dissect the unaddressed issues? If it becomes a spectacle, all the presumed benefits most likely end up getting negated.

    • Holden Pattern says:

      Well, the “presidential debate” is just a highly stylized bullshit ritual anyway. with the main effect of regurgitating a cud for the commentariat to chew as they pretend to earn their ridiculous salaries.

      So I don’t see where we’d be losing much. And I for one would like to see the Republicans be forced to repudiate the most vicious retrograde racists. Because right now, they’re nudgenudgewinkwinking to get their vote and in many cases are actively pursuing the retrograde racist policy agenda.

      I think it would be harder for the Dems to actually repudiate a Green candidate’s views — the Dems pretend to care about the same stuff, but as a coalition, they don’t get very far in that direction once elected.

      • FlipYrWhig says:

        Right, I agree that “we” wouldn’t be losing much. But there are other stakeholders than us. And, more to the point, here’s where my political spidey-sense starts to prickle:

        One way to solve this problem would be to allow credible third-party candidates into the presidential debates and to give them more media coverage.

        There’s a lot behind the scenes of a formulation like “to allow” and “to give.” There are entrenched entities that do not currently allow or give these things. Given their own interests, what would make them budge? More to the point, how do people like us, or even someone as high profile as Glenn Greenwald, accomplish that?

        This is the kernel of my gripe against a lot of the implicit Greenwaldian idea of politics. I can see the power of a well-wrought cri de coeur on its own terms. And I can see the rewards of a cri de coeur that does manage to galvanize the populace. But I have problems seeing how that galvanic moment actually comes to pass, and how the complaint becomes too massive for entrenched power to continue to ignore. I want to know how moral witnessing converts into tangible organization that enacts the objective. The answers, it seems, are boring and technical, but we can’t do without them.

        • “I want to know how moral witnessing converts into tangible organization that enacts the objective. The answers, it seems, are boring and technical, but we can’t do without them.”

          Exactly. It will require people to organize, to set goals, to work their butts off, and to deal with setbacks and gains while keeping their “eyes on the prize”.

          And right there, I described the biggest problem–there is a lot of noise made online and on social media, but there is a refusal organize and get your hands dirty in the real world. The only way to really achieve change is to change the system from the inside out.

          The sad fact is that the Right has been doing just that for around forty years.

          • Holden Pattern says:

            Find the money. The full-time players on the right made a lot of money doing this. The part-time volunteers have mostly been fundies.

            The left is impoverished, and there’s only so many people you can ask to make so many sacrifices for so long.

            I love the scolding tone that people take about organizing when it’s used to bash lefties, and pointing at the right to show how it’s done. They never actually think about how it was really done on the right, and what it took — decades and decades of lots and lots of money, not just volunteer time.

  14. Joe says:

    I find “little choice American voters actually have on many of the most consequential policies” a bit much given the actual differences on “many of the most” (e.g., health care, reproductive freedom, gay rights, social policies, etc.) but bringing third party voices to the debates seems interesting.

    I don’t know how much good it is but bringing Stein and Johnson to the table for one debate seems something to try. Choosing who to pick is an issue. If the top third option was backward (the Wallace idea), it might not advance social libertarian ends, but it would move past the two parties, which is GG’s point apparently, not just a certain specific policy goal.

    It could add some interest and freshness to the affair & might just offer a chance for some good on promoting different views. As to it not changing anything, I’m open to being pessimistic, but then that would downgrade the value of debates at all. True or not, it might still be a limited value to the degree any one specific platform is a limited way to promote ideas.

    As to convincing the debate contributors to change the format, having one debate with alternate voices would seem to at least bring the novelty factor that might bring in more viewers, particularly a block of supporters of the additional contributors that like a primary might significantly affect ratings. There can also be some possible use of public financing with strings.

    • Njorl says:

      I think gay rights is an illuminating topic for this discussion. The two parties were identical on this issue, until they weren’t. It is possible to affect the political parties with sustained activism. Democrats in safe seats, and Democrats in heavily gay districts came out in favor first. They weren’t led by any presidential candidate. They showed the public that the world didn’t come to an end. Other politicians saw that it was possible to do the right thing and still win an election.

      Third parties won’t have any effect on the drug war at all. A congressman pulling out a pot-laced brownie while speaking on the floor of the house and eating it will.

      • DocAmazing says:

        A white, male, Republican congressman pulling out a pot-laced brownie while speaking on the floor of the house and eating it will.

        Fixixeded.

      • Joe says:

        When were the Republicans “identical” to Democrats on gay rights? I guess the 1970s or so? Activism on the ground did a lot there though changing the rules did bring more people to the table in conventions and so forth. Such activism can affect the drug war too, including medicinal marijuana, mothers against heinous drug wars etc.

        Carefully done, third parties can help here, especially in selective local races that bring people to the table. There are many local races where new voices can get in. The religious right showed the power there with school elections etc.

        • Another Halocene Human says:

          Religious right didn’t start a third party. They got organized internally and created voter score cards on candidates. They created a RR farm team who ran for local office. In the early days many ran as Ds depending on local conditions. But actually most of these races were nonpartisan. They did back national Rs because again, scorecard. Hence the disconnect. However, the lines have shifted so you don’t see that any more.

          The lesson of the religious right was organizing, organizing, organizing. Yeah, they flouted the IRS and did a lot of other shady shit but they built their muscle the old-fashioned way.

          And when they emitted cris de coeur, they were directed at their base. Totally different face to the public at large. Because they had a goal and a plan and they carried it through.

          • Joe says:

            This is all interesting though the sort of mixture you cite there (many running D, supporting Rs, nonpartisan races) is actually how third parties can start and/or changing of existing parties — see how the Republican Party itself came about. As to the final paragraph, they also moved the nation as a whole.

        • “Carefully done, third parties can help here, especially in selective local races that bring people to the table. There are many local races where new voices can get in. The religious right showed the power there with school elections etc.”

          Exactly. While I loathe the RR, you have to give them some grudging credit for doing what they did. They decided to use the tools of democracy, not sit back and complain about those same tools that they refused to use.

  15. Glenn says:

    I think many of the difficulties in the arguments here stem from the assumption that “introducing other views into the debates” necessarily means “introducing other candidates into the debates.” But a panel of debate “moderators” — and I’m using quotes because I see them as being much more active than typical moderators — who had a range of views and the intellectual chops/substantive knowledge to back them up, and who were allowed to really engage with the candidates, could accomplish a lot.

    I admit, I have no idea how to ever get the major parties to agree to subject their candidates to such a panel, i.e., one that might actually challenge the candidates to show they know what the hell they’re talking about.

    • FlipYrWhig says:

      I like this idea quite a bit. An adversarial panel of questioners, rather than going through yet another iteration of Beltway pundits getting the candidates to recite scripts about how best to cut “entitlements.”

      (IIRC the original format of Meet the Press was like this.)

      But of course, as you say, it runs smack into the idea that the current gatekeepers have no incentive to do it.

    • Njorl says:

      I agree. I’d love to hear a question phrased as a very brief summary of the prison population, followed by “… is it time to stop fighting the drug war and start accepting our citizens’ demand to use drugs as we use alcohol?”

  16. I still don’t see the “Dems and Repubs are the same” argument. I see one as theocratic authoritarians, and the other as a somewhat progressive alternative to that.

    In the past 4 years I saw some health insurance reform, repeal of DADT, some attempts at “green energy” development, some anti-sexism measures… From the other party all I saw was anti-abortion and plutocracy propaganda.

    How are these two considered parties so “similar”?

    I consider myself a fire-breathing liberal, but I vote Dem because I want to get an agenda codified, even if that agenda doesn’t quite add up to the Social Justice Utopia I envision.

    • Murc says:

      Well, the “both parties are the same” argument is one that comes out of the 90s, a decade that many Democrats (including myself) are still smarting over because it involved the Democratic party buying wholesale into what were, then, Republican economic frames.

      It’s hard to remember, because the Republicans took the opportunity of the Democrats moving rightward to move WAY, WAY, WAY rightward. But at the time… Bill Clinton was a free-trader who thought our social safety net, already one of the stingiest in the developed world, was TOO generous, for example. He was a drug warrior. He signed hate legislation happily and was all buddy-buddy with people like, say, Orrin Hatch. The DLC sucked Wall Street’s cock so hard it had a permanent pucker. You had all that “Third Way” bullshit going on. There really just wasn’t a lot of daylight between the parties on a lot of issues. Not all of them; Clinton pushed for a health care bill that was better than Obamacare ended up being. And he raised taxes. It’s not like there were NO differences. But the Democrats jerked rather violently rightward.

      If you were a genuine leftist, the willingness of the Democratic Party at the time to jettison leftism overboard was pretty disheartening. It’s why a lot of them didn’t want to vote for Gore in 2000. Right now, we think that 2000-2008 being another eight years of Clintonesque policies would have been great. Fewer wars, stronger economy. Back then, people were all “oh boy, another eight years of technocrats chipping away at the New Deal and Great Society.”

      • FlipYrWhig says:

        But something still needs to be said in partial defense of the Clintonesque/DLC approach, to wit, that by adopting it Democrats worked to reclaim some of the ground they were starting to lose as the old-line Southern Democrats began to die off or vote Republican instead. There never really was A Democratic Party that was true to the principles of the left; even in the glory days there were genuine liberals and then there were more-or-less reconstructed (pun intended) populists, some of whom were racists. The DLC wasn’t setting out to spite liberals for no reason, they were trying to figure out a way to keep a toehold for the party in the Sun Belt after the Southern Strategy started the last big shift of the political map. IMHO the lessons they learned from their successes were overzealously applied. But it was a creative response to a dicey situation.

        • DocAmazing says:

          Appealing to Latino voters would have been a very effective Sun Belt strategy, and a lot less destructive in the long run.

          All that Mudcat Saunders/”confederate flag on the pickup truck” crap was counterproductive, as was pointed out at the time. Donor money flowed in, all right, but the cost was staggering.

          • FlipYrWhig says:

            Well, of course, Latino voters were a much smaller bloc then…

            DLC-ism had very bad effects on liberalism, which liberals including myself lamented loudly throughout that decade. But looking at it much more coldly, I don’t know if it had very bad effects on the won-lost record of the party. It certainly helped the Clinton decade look like one of prosperity, no matter how hollow and bubble-icious it truly was, which has been good for Democrats by providing a kind of counter-myth to that of Reagan.

            And without the DLC formula, would we be stuck with a Democratic Party committed to liberalism (yay!) that had a very hard time winning anything outside its base (boo!)?

            I guess it depends on how you choose to measure counterproductiveness.

          • “All that Mudcat Saunders/”confederate flag on the pickup truck” crap was counterproductive, as was pointed out at the time. Donor money flowed in, all right, but the cost was staggering.”

            Well that “cost” is small potatoes compared to the cost of the Bush II Presidency, which we are still trying to deal with. Were the years 2001-2009 worth embracing the “both parties are the same” meme?

      • “Right now, we think that 2000-2008 being another eight years of Clintonesque policies would have been great. Fewer wars, stronger economy. Back then, people were all “oh boy, another eight years of technocrats chipping away at the New Deal and Great Society.””

        Well, we sure got one hell of a wake-up call, didn’t we? Couldn’t stand the “both sides are the same” argument back then, because honestly, just doing a bit of research would have shown that Bush Jr. would have been a disaster.

        But while you are right in that you first heard the meme back in the 1990s, I’d argue that it goes back even further–at least back to 1968. It’s been around for quite a while.

      • You’ve put the idea into historical context, and I appreciate that, but for the author of this post to write the claim without qualifying it with something like “The parties are the same, insofar as the Dems are just like the Repubs from decades ago, before they really threw any semblance of a shared reality out the window” was what I took issue with.

  17. WhatDragon says:

    I am not sure the War on Drugs and the Prison Industrial Complex are “crucial” issues.

    Having spent time when I was younger (the mid 90s) working in the local republican grass roots, and working currently in the local democratic grass roots, I don’t think anyone in either grass roots cares about those issues to any significant degree.

    It is probably idiosyncratic to my area, but the Republican grass roots seemed to care about lower taxes and god (Women, Homosexuals, and not christians) issues. While the Democratic grass roots seems to care more about good jobs, broad based prosperity, the environment, and an inclusive society (scoped really as a reaction to the god issues of the republican grass roots).

    Republican grass roots pay lip service to gun issues, but otherwise really don’t care about civil liberties. Democratic grass roots seem to care about civil liberties, but it isn’t a first order concern for most folks.

    • FlipYrWhig says:

      This is very important and goes to the heart of the civil-libertarian critique of Obama. There’s a sense in the writings of Greenwald et al that masses of people either already do care passionately about these things, or would, if not for The Man making sure that they never hear about them. But, you know, what if not that many people, for reasons either lousy or good, don’t especially care? Do people watching political debates _want_ to hear more about prisons or drug laws, and would what they hear sway their votes?

      Sure, civil libertarians have their views get frozen out from political discourse as it now stands. But there are even more Dominionists and theocrats in that position. Is there much reason to think that it’s left-libertarians who are being most wronged or silenced?

      I can’t tell if the goal is to widen the parameters of political discussion in general, or to make politics and political media more receptive to discussing the constellation of civil libertarian issues.

      • Njorl says:

        I’m sure that there are a lot of people who would like to see marijuana legalized, but don’t speak out because it is not socially acceptable. Even if you just consider the people who smoke it, that is a large group.

        • FlipYrWhig says:

          Well, sure, there are large constituencies for all kinds of things that have no set-aside space in our current political discussion. Legalizing pot would probably follow the path of same-sex marriage, where it suddenly goes from “presumably too fringe or even comical” to “totally not a big deal.”

          But as I understand it, the way same-sex marriage got there was by organizing and organizing and organizing some more, along lines of both money and conscience, until it became something enough Democrats agreed with that there was little point in resisting anymore. And then when it was talked about at the presidential level, that was just one more push over the top.

          I can see pot legalization happening that way. But I don’t think that it will happen through a circuitous route whereby the candidates of alternative parties, who believe in pot legalization, appear in presidential debates, where they proceed to get asked about pot legalization and are so compelling that pot legalization becomes an unstoppable force. Including alternative candidates in the presidential debates, like the OP said, doesn’t seem like a great tactical match with the objective sought.

          • LosGatosCA says:

            Exactly. The path to legitimacy for ever issue is the same. Grass roots organizing. Passion, hard work, and not necessarily expecting complete victory within your own lifetime, or some final set piece victory that destroys the opposition forever.

            Right to life/right to choose battle is a good example of a minority position (anti-abortion) being bolstered decade after decade by the relentless (though misguided IMHO) efforts of the anti-abortion supporters in spite of very long odds. That issue always gets a hearing because the people who care about it work relentlessly to make it happen.

            Civil liberties supporters just don’t have the numbers or the aggregate passion. They need to work at the grass roots level to build those numbers and that aggregate passion, not ask for short cuts to a debate once every 4 years.

            • rea says:

              Exactly. This idea of introducing these issues into public discourse by putting 3rd party candidates in the presidential debates is an elitist, top-down approach.

              It’s right out of Atlas Shrugged–”If only I could commandeer the radio waves and make the country listen to my 70-page speach, the government would collapse!”

              It has to work the other way around–when, through your work and organizing, enough people care about your issue, the presidential candidates will start talking about it.

          • Njorl says:

            I agree with that. I took your post out of context, and didn’t see that you were responding to someone.

        • L2P says:

          There are plenty of people who don’t mind if pot is legalized. Heck, they’d vote for it if it came up. Ask them about it and they’ll say they think pot should be like whiskey – as long as you’re not driving, and keep it away from kids, and etc.

          There ARE NOT plenty of people willing to spend hours marching to legalize marijuana, or give a dime for an initiative to legalize it, or a dollar to a Congressman making it their pet issue.

          That’s the problem with civil liberties. Everybody’s vaguely “in favor” of them. Nobody’s willing to give up anything for them.

          • bradp says:

            That’s the problem with civil liberties. Everybody’s vaguely “in favor” of them. Nobody’s willing to give up anything for them.

            With many issues, especially the Drug War, its not that nobody is willing to give up anything, its that its far easier for one side to muster resources.

    • Damned fine point you made. The majority of people care about jobs, making sure their kids get a good education, and that they can make ends meet. In other words, what Samuel Gompers called “bread and butter” issues.

      The drug war, the prison industrial complex, and drones are not the first things on their minds. Not because they are stupid, but because they have other major concerns on their minds. Ending drone strikes pales in comparison to having access to a job that pays fairly, affordable healthcare, and making sure your kids can go to a good school and are able to eat a good, healthy meal.

      One party is addressing those “bread and butter” issues and it ain’t the GOP.

  18. SatanicPanic says:

    Debates are just a chance for people to enjoy the awkwardness of two people who hate each other being on the same stage. And to hope someone will say something really stupid. Learning about “the issues” isn’t really on the list of reasons people watch.

  19. ed_finnerty says:

    as some one who does this for a living I can advise that the reason we don’t want credible third parties is that it makes it hard to deliver wins (when you are ahead in a two party vote). for reference, see the 1980 election, vis-a-vis John Anderson.

  20. We definitely need to load up the debate with every party that can get a nominee on the ballot, no matter how long their odds of winning are. It can be just like the parties’ primary debates, which are the height of informative television and clearly change lots of viewpoints within the party itself!

  21. chris says:

    crucial issues like the War (On Some Classes Of People Who Use Some) Drugs and the prison-industrial complex are almost entirely ignored in mainstream political discourse, and voters are not presented with a real alternative.

    But if neither of the parties has that view because neither of their bases has that view, i.e. hardly anyone in the electorate has that view, in what sense can the issue be said to be “crucial”? It isn’t going anywhere until the people change their mind, and it’s not clear that having a third party presence in the debates would do that. Probably the only one a significant number of people even remember is the Rent Is Too Damn High Party, and that didn’t exactly create a landscape-transforming groundswell of support for rent control, higher housing density, or any other policy that would tend to reduce the cost of housing in urban areas.

    • DocAmazing says:

      But if neither of the parties has that view because neither of their bases has that view, i.e. hardly anyone in the electorate has that view, in what sense can the issue be said to be “crucial”?

      This assumes that the major parties and the major media are responding to the grass roots. I’d say that the major media and major party response to the state-by-state decriminalization of marijuana indicates that this is simply not true. The media are corporate-owned, and they behave as such. The major parties, well…

      • FlipYrWhig says:

        It’s possible that many people care intensely about these issues, but they’re not prominent in political discussion because powerful interests have arranged to silence them. But it’s also possible that the issues aren’t prominent in political discussion because too few people care intensely about them. There’s a difference between silencing a political view because it’s so potent and dismissing a political view because it’s so niche.

        We mock how Village editorialists like David Brooks and Tom Friedman tend to presume that their personal axes to grind are what really matters in politics, and thus What America Really Needs is a third party dedicated to entitlement reform and globalization. I suspect that civil libertarians fall prey to the same tendency, presuming that a brand of politics that caters to their particular interests is generally appealing.

        • DocAmazing says:

          That’s a bit theoretical. DEA raids in California are pretty concrete. The people spoke; the feds said “fuck you”. It’s pretty cut-and-dried.

          • The people of California spoke on Proposition 8, too.

            Marijuana legalization is an outlier. On most traditional civil liberties issues – rights of the accuses, the use of force by police, admissibility of evidence resulting from police wrongdoing – both parties are well to the left of the public.

  22. Semanticleo says:

    There’s a good-sized anti-drug-war share of public opinion; there just aren’t many voters for whom it’s highly salient. That could conceivably be changed– and that’s not the same kind of problem as “shifting public opinion in their direction” in the sense of actually switching people from one side of an issue to the other.

    Of course, people understand what serves their interests, yet often vote contrary to that. Although the demos are glacial in their pace of change, those of the Christian bent, see the candidate who putatively subscribes to the values therein (per interpretation) as the right choice. Pandering, though expeditious, is counter-productive, as the current demo is in flux, and gearing up for the transition, as the population changes color and stripe, is left wanting. We keep talking about how the Republican Party (eg Tparty) is falling behind in numbers, and is failing to capture the emerging voter majority(Latiinos, et al).

    The Drug War is an example. Obama is harassing Medical Marijuana Regions, because of that pandering to the vast majority who see the medical uses as cover for indiscriminate use, (or that is the smokescreen for their objection) The core of it is a moral issue, as it is with Gay marriage, but that is murkier.

    We need a Democratic Party and Leaders who have Vision for the future. Big change must occur slowly. That’s why our wise betters made a hot-blooded House, and a cooling-saucer Senate. Pandering could be rationalized as Every Good Boy Deserves Favour, or as a policy of eventual failure because any policies they propound when the environment has changed will be met with incredulity. Building for the future requires individuals to sacrifice themselves on the Body Politic by preparing us all for the eventuality to come.

    Didn’t the Founding Fathers risk being hanged?

  23. ericincleveland says:

    These issues not being addressed do not need a third party to address them. They could just as easily be brought up by a moderator/questioner. Further, a questioner/mod could always follow up and challenge a false answer or a dodge. But both the parties and media don’t want that.

    Taibbi’s last piece makes the point that since the nixon-kennedy debate style is what matters over substance. This beenfits both the parties and media perfectly. Its why we get crappy debates and a whole host of issues never addresed.

    Adding third parties wont help a lie not being challenged or an issue not being questioned. Only the 2 big parties can change that by changing debate formats from the “pop media” format used today , and of course they won’t.

  24. Semanticleo says:

    March 2008

    http://www.nytimes.com/2008/03/01/opinion/01rosen.html

    IF Barack Obama wins in November, we could have not only our first president who is an African-American, but also our first president who is a civil libertarian. Throughout his career, Mr. Obama has been more consistent than Hillary Clinton on issues from the Patriot Act to bans on flag burning. At the same time, he has reached out to Republicans and independents to build support for his views. Mrs. Clinton, by contrast, has embraced some of the instrumental tacking of Bill Clinton, whose presidency disappointed liberal and conservative civil libertarians on issue after issue.

    Governing is hard. Obama is a pragmatic moderate. He tried, and rather handily was dismissed by Republicans, and many in his own party, when he reached out for consensus. But he was pandering to the Civil Rights crowd in the 2008 campaign. He distinguished himself from Hillary on this point.
    Where are his core values on this subject? It’s hard to tell. I think if he could get some help from Congress, he would close Gitmo. Maybe after the November Election we will see a different POTUS, if we let him. But I think what you see, is what you get.

    • “I think if he could get some help from Congress, he would close Gitmo.”

      Uh….not to continue flogging a dead horse, but he tried–repeatedly. After signing an Executive Order on his first day in office, he and his administration made various presentations to the Senate and argued for the closing of Gitmo. And you know what happened?

      The Senate told him to fuck off. Despite the moral and legal arguments supporting the closure of Gitmo, all the GOP Senators, the majority of Democrats, and even Independent Senator Bernie Sanders voted to keep Gitmo open.

      Don’t blame Obama for Gitmo not being closed (like Medea Benjamin does). Blame the Senate.

  25. Another Halocene Human says:

    1) The notion that a debate forum for 3rd parties will replace the actual work of single-issue advocacy just speaks to the utter political naivite, even laziness (or impatience), of the voices who demand it. Single-issue advocacy requires: research, fundraising, outreach, and months or years of effective persuasion of both the public and sitting politicians. For example, Equality Florida managed to win a major victory in the Tallahassee with a Republican majority. They spent 15 years on that damned issue. Some people seem to think if you cry and whine and throw a tantrum that you win. Maybe like when their overindulgent parents broke down and bought them ice cream or their naive first-year high school teachers were intimidated into upping their grades.

    2) And here’s the ugly part–the attempt to hold a gun to the head of the Democratic Party. The calculation that they can amplify their tiny numbers by taking away the Democrat’s vote margin. Having a lefty candidate on stage might draw away less committed, less sophisticated, or just emotional and disgusted Democratic voters and cause the Republican to win, “forcing” the Democrats to address them next time. That this form of political extortion has yet to generate positive results for any party, including the Greens themselves, never mind the damn country, is lost on them.

    • Ed says:

      And here’s the ugly part–the attempt to hold a gun to the head of the Democratic Party.

      Savages, indeed. Some people just have no moral compass, I guess.

    • Semanticleo says:

      That this form of political extortion has yet to generate positive results for any party

      I guess it depends on what you mean by positive

      2010 was extortion by the Tea Party which yielded fruit for them.

      Squeaky wheels are the first to be greased.

      • Hogan says:

        2010 was extortion by the Tea Party which yielded fruit for them.

        A third-party run is not an intra-party insurgency.

        • Semanticleo says:

          I would be quite interested in your process for separating the two.

          • Another Halocene Human says:

            For one thing, the Tea Party was born out of some already powerful grassroots factions. Not a group that had no real voice and was frustrated that no-one heard them.

            These folks were and are powerful because they were before… but before they did as their leaders bid them to do. Now the inmates have taken over the asylum.

            Okay, so you have star-bellied sneeds and they are now a minority but still hold all the power. The unstarred sneeds suddenly look around and say, “Hey, we’re doing all the work and we outnumber them. Why are we taking orders from them again?”

            That’s the TP insurgency, once it broke loose and got going from the initial very organized Dick Armey anti ACA astroturf campaign. The genie wouldn’t be put back in the bottle and the country-club Republicans are running for the hills.

            It’s not comparable to a minority within a political coalition flaming out in frustration because they’re failing to persuade their other coalition members to take their issues more seriously or see it from their POV.

        • Another Halocene Human says:

          Not only that, but it was a corporate-funded insurgency (there’s that 2% getting their way as usual) and the results have been mixed.

          The intra-party insurgency has come at the expense of part of their coalition, which is hurting them on the national scale. And their massive win in 2010 happened in part because of a massive sit-out on the other side. Big Labor, for example, followed an utterly idiotic strategy and when it failed they sat home and sucked their thumbs.

          The Kochs and Dick Armey knew what they were doing. Nader, not so much. Unless his goal was a temporary fund-raising bump, which was indeed his stated goal early in the campaign. Funny how people forget this.

    • “That this form of political extortion has yet to generate positive results for any party, including the Greens themselves, never mind the damn country, is lost on them.”

      You would think that looking back at the aftermath of ’68, ’80, 2000, and 2010, that they would at least learn.

      They haven’t.

  26. Semanticleo says:

    Then there was the Bull Moose Party of TR fame. He lost to Wilson (some say he would have lost anyway) but it was an attempt to be more progressive than WW, not a race to the bottom.

  27. Hank says:

    I’m tempted to see the GOP split into two parties along sanity lines, and provide a credible alternative to dems.

    • Semanticleo says:

      What we need is a candidate who doesn’t wear suspenders and belts to keep the drawers in the up position. Our present system attracts mostly unsavory types, who like, the crap in metal refining, rises to the top.

      Publicly Funded Elections...

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