portland independent media center  
images audio video
newswire article commentary united states


A New Political Party Is Needed

Time to replace existing third parties with a new, bold national political party with the goal of becoming a major party.
A New Political Party Is Needed

Joel S. Hirschhorn

Set aside any Obama euphoria you feel. The other important news is that third-party presidential candidates had a miserable showing this year, totaling just over one percent of the grand total with 1.5 million votes nationwide, compared to some 123 million votes for Barack Obama and John McCain.

It couldn't be clearer that Americans are not willing to voice their political discontent by voting for third-party presidential candidates. The two-party duopoly and plutocracy is completely dominant. The US lacks the political competition that exists in other western democracies. Without real political competition there is insufficient political choice.

A key problem is that for many years, third parties have not offered presidential candidates that capture the attention and commitment of even a modest fraction of Americans, unlike Ross Perot (8.4 percent in 1996 and 18.9 percent in 1992), and John Anderson (6.6 percent in 1980).

This year, among the four most significant third-party presidential candidates, Ralph Nader without a national party did the best with 685,426 votes or 0.54 percent of the grand total (a little better than in 2004 with 0.4 percent but much worse than in 2000 running as a Green Party candidate with 2.7 percent). He was followed by Bob Barr the Libertarian Party candidate with 503,981 votes or 0.4 percent of the total (typical of all Libertarian candidates in recent elections, including Ron Paul in 1988), followed by Chuck Baldwin of the Constitution Party with just 181,266 votes or 0.1 percent, and then Cynthia McKinney of the Green Party with only 148,546 votes or 0.1 percent.

In the primaries Ron Paul had earned enormous public support and before the general election he urged his supporters to vote for one of the four main third-party presidential candidates. However, it does not appear that they did so in significant numbers. Recently, Paul commented about the Obama victory: "the candidate demanding 'change' won the election. It mattered not that the change offered was no change at all, only a change in the engineer of a runaway train."

Showing the problem of ballot access, engineered by the two major parties, is that there were only 15 states where all four were on the ballot. In all but one, Nader received more votes than the other three third-party candidates. In four states only one of the four candidates was on the ballot; in one state none of them were (Oklahoma).

Nader's best state was California with 81,434 votes, as it was for McKinney's with 28,624 votes. Baldwin was not on the ballot there. Alan Keyes received 30,787 votes in California. Barr's best state was Texas with 56,398 votes. None of the other three were on the ballot there. In his home state of Georgia where he had been a Representative Barr received 28,420 votes (and none of the other three were on the ballot). Baldwin's best state was Michigan with 14, 973 votes. Nader was not on the ballot there.

In round numbers, Barack Obama raised $639 million or about $10 per vote, and John McCain raised $360 million or $6 per vote, compared to Ralph Nader with $4 million and $6 per vote, Bob Barr with about $1 million or $2 per vote, and Cynthia McKinney with only about $118,000 or less than $1 per vote. Money matters, but the ability of the two-party duopoly to keep third-party presidential candidates out of nationally televised debates matters more for media attention, money and votes.

It must also be noted that there were countless congressional races with third-party and independent candidates, but none were able to win office, with only a very few reaching the 20 percent level. That third-party candidates can win local government offices means little because political party affiliation at that level is overshadowed by personal qualifications.

I say that current third-party activists should admit defeat, shut down their unsuccessful parties, and move on. Unlike so much of American history, current third-parties no longer play a significant role in American politics or even in affecting public policies. They have shown their inability to matter.

We need a new, vibrant political party that could bring many millions of American dissidents, progressives and conservatives, and especially chronic non-voters, together behind a relatively simple party platform focused on structural, government system reforms (not merely political change). Examples include: replacing the Electoral College with the popular vote for president, restoring the balance between Congress and the presidency, eliminating the corrupting influence of special interest money from politics, preventing the president to use signing statements to nullify laws passed by Congress.

What would unite people is a shared priority for revitalizing American democracy. It should position itself as a populist alternative and opponent to the two-party plutocracy. It should define itself as against the corporate and other special interests on the left and right that use money to corrupt our political system. Possible names: Patriotic Party, United Party or National Party. With Thomas Jefferson as its spiritual founder it should seek the political revolution he said was needed periodically.

Here is what helps. Despite considerable enthusiasm for Barack Obama, there is widespread unhappiness with both the Democratic and Republican Parties. One indication is that so voters register as independents. Plus there has always been a chorus of negative views about the two-party system. In one pragmatic sense this is the ideal time to create a new party. Why? Because of the incredible loss of stature of the Republican Party. Why not envision a new party that could replace the Republican Party on the national stage and provide a sharp alternative to the Democratic Party? In other words, we don't need a new third party as much as we need a new major party.

[Joel S. Hirschhorn can be reached through www.delusionaldemocracy.com.]


Lew Church, PSU Progressive Student Union lewchurch@gmail.com

In Oregon, Working Families Party (PSU Poli Sci teacher and former nat'l director of Greenpeace, and lawyer, Barbara Dudley, is one of the organizers) netted 11% of the vote, with no advertising or budget, just the Voter's Pamphlet statement, in running a woman attorney for the post of state Attorney General, won by Democrat John Kroger (no Republican ran--or Kroger won the GOP nod by write-ins, and, Green Party perennial candidate Walt Brown came in last, evidently).

It may be that a practical, new third party on the Left (not necessarily in the tradition of the slaveowning president Thomas Jefferson) might focus on poverty, the economy, single payer, public education funding, public transportation funding, social justice and international human rights -- along with living wage jobs.

While Obama got the support of the African-American community in numbers comparable to those of Nelson Mandela with the ANC (African National Congress), post-apartheid, there is no similar U.S. version of the ANC as a mass-based movement or third party, per se.

Working Families Party might be such an entity.


PO Box 40011, Portland, Oregon 97240

American leftites hate women 14.Nov.2008 16:38

la llorona

Cynthia McKinney came in last.
She has brilliant ideas, had a great spokesperson for the poor and people of color with her VP, has an outstanding
grasp of US imperialism, is a courageous whistle blower, has spent 2 terms in Congress.
Yes, the Green Party was terribly unorganized and under-funded.
I think there are still a lot of men, even fringe/leftist/anarchist men who would never vote for a woman.
We've seen enormous misogyny this year in the election, and I think it shows the state of things in this country in general.

If you are reading this I challenge you to ask yourself how you feel about voting for a woman, following a woman, taking orders from a woman.

None of us are free until all of us are free. Women have been oppressed for 7 thousand years. We need a new feminist movement and we need it badly.

Hmmm 15.Nov.2008 14:34

Den Mark, Vancouver

Well, here's one blue-eyed leftist male who voted for Cynthia McKinney. But as to whether i would follow a woman & obey her orders, my answer is that i follow nobody & take orders from nobody, regardless of gender. I accept men & women as partners, even if we have different jobs to do. Jim Croce sang: "If you're going my way, i'll go with you." My attitude exactly.

"Time to replace existing third parties with a new national political party" 17.Nov.2008 16:01

"with the goal of becoming a major party"

One, existing third parties are not going anywhere. If they were interested in anybody coming along and replacing them they would have been gone long ago. Two, every single one of them has always had the goal of becoming a major party.

"I say that current third-party activists should admit defeat, shut down their unsuccessful parties, and move on."

Except for Hirschhorn, apparently, and except for the particular item of third-party activism encapsulated in this article.

"Unlike so much of American history, current third-parties no longer play a significant role in American politics or even in affecting public policies. They have shown their inability to matter."

They matter occasionally. They mattered as recently as 1992 and 2000. They don't SUCCEED, which is a different thing entirely. Generally they EITHER lack any significance, OR they throw their polar opposites into power.

"We need a new, vibrant political party that could bring many millions of American dissidents, progressives and conservatives, and especially chronic non-voters, together."

What, AGAIN? That's where all the OTHER third parties came from. They were all "NEW!" once, and "VIBRANT!" and had advocates who could spell "MANY MILLIONS!" on a screen or a piece of paper.

This author needs to examine, specifically, in detail, the histories of specific third parties in the late 20th century and how and why each of them failed. The particular disaster that I witnessed most closely was the "Labor Party" that was started in the '90s by the U.S. labor movement and then immediately abandoned by the unions that had created it. As another example, everybody saw the rise and fall of Perot's Reform Party, its usurpation and destruction by Pat Buchanan, and the relative success of its splinter group the Independence Party in Minnesota. All these groups still exist. THEY EACH HAVE AS MUCH POTENTIAL NOW AS THEY EVER HAD. Which is to say, very little.