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Third party laziness, 2012 edition

danps's picture

Cross posted from Pruning Shears.

Kevin Gosztola's post on safe voting strategies quotes historian Howard Zinn's claim that "we have all been brought up to believe that voting is crucial in determining our destiny, that the most important act a citizen can engage in is to go to the polls." But Zinn veers away from an important insight by concluding "and choose on of the two mediocrities who have already been chosen for us." I completely agree that voting isn't the most important thing citizens do (they still should do it, obviously; I'm not saying it's trivial).

What matters most is what they do between elections. Ongoing civic engagement is what matter most. That is true for political parties as well, and it is why recent third party runs for president have been vanity projects.

You can tell by looking at what those candidates have done besides running for president. Did Ralph Nader try to drum up support for third party candidates down ticket? Did he try to build up party infrastructure after the election? Creating a credible third party is an enormous project, one that will need to be measured in years if not decades. It requires an ongoing commitment from both citizens and those who would lead them. It also requires a lot of unglamorous grunt work - identifying candidates, compiling contact information, phone numbers, walk lists, and so on.

Ralph Nader wasn't much interested in that, was he? He didn't seem to have an appetite for anything that didn't involve a microphone and a spotlight. I have little patience for those who think the two major parties are corrupt, that anyone who votes for them is a credulous dupe helping to prop up a rotted system - and don't lift a finger between elections to plant the seeds for an alternative. There are plenty of opportunities for that kind of activity to happen, too. All you have to do is look for any issue where people feel passionately but the Big Two have avoided.

The best issues will be ones where local activists can participate. Financial reform, for instance, would not be suitable. While neither Democrats nor Republicans are in favor of cracking down on Wall Street1, there aren't any good ways for most citizens to act. But for as angry as people are about that, there isn't a good way for most citizens to push for action.

Here in Ohio an issue like fracking is much better suited for that kind of approach, and I've tried to document that on my site for months now. People can and have been pushing for ballot initiatives, demanding regulatory agencies do their job, urging elected officials to act, and so on. It's an issue without a political constituency, one that people can get involved in, and something many people care deeply about. That is exactly the kind of ferment that creates demand for a third party, and wouldn't it be lovely if the Greens were here lending a hand? But they aren't. And the people who are sounding off the loudest on the awful state of the legacy parties appear to be more interested in establishing the purity of their intentions than in highlighting what they presumably regard as small scale (non-national) problems, parochial concerns unworthy of their attention.

Yet it is precisely in these political spaces where a third party will have to emerge. The people engaged at that level are the real third party activists. Those who proclaim the need for alternatives might want to consider giving the occasional nod towards those efforts - even if it means being ignored or criticized for dwelling on minutia. Independent and local efforts need to be translated into seats on city councils and school boards, then into seats in statehouses, then seats in Congress. Democrats and Republicans need to become persuaded of the credibility of that party, and feel comfortable jumping to it without jeopardizing their careers. Only after all that has occurred does it make sense to go for the big enchilada.

The real measure of a third party isn't getting a presidential candidate on the ballot in all fifty states; it's in building up a base of elected officials from the ground up. If you want to know about the viability of a given third party, have a look at that ballot on election day. Is it represented at the bottom as well as the top, or is voting for its presidential candidate also a straight ticket vote? If the latter, chances are pretty good it's basically an exercise in narcissism. Those who vote for that candidate can congratulate themselves on their noble refusal to compromise their values, but they will be largely and deservedly ignored. Voting for a third party that has a strong regional presence and a toehold at the national level makes a lot of sense. Voting for one that only shows up with a moon shot presidential run every four years makes none.


1. Spare me talk of Dodd-Frank. William Black put the Great Swindle in perspective: "If you go back to the savings and loan debacle, we got more than a thousand felony convictions of the elite. These are not, you know, tellers or something. We today have zero convictions, zero indictments, zero arrests of any of the elite, non-prime lenders that, through their fraud, drove this crisis."

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Submitted by JuliaWilliams on

As a Green, and a co-founder of Ban Michigan Fracking last year, I have to say you've hit almost all of the D talking points. "Don't lift a finger between elections"-yet we have "Occupy Greens", Greens who are working on election integrity, fighting foreclosures (for a national example, Honkala, anyone?), working on environmental issues (Stein, anyone?), union support, poverty issues, the list goes on and on here in Michigan, all the time. "Purity", "vanity projects", "narcissists", "noble...values ...voters"-now there's words I've never heard from D partisans before. I won't even bother to address that. We've got Greens running at every level here, County Clerk, school boards, boards of University Governors, on up. But thanks for your advice on how to grow a Party. In addition, you are conveniently ignoring the effect a national, high-profile, campaign can help grow a stronger Party, both through exposure (I've had people say "I only heard about the Greens because they got arrested, and the Greens have my vote now"), and also through the 5% mechanism, which can get us 20+ million dollars. May I recommend that if you are looking to engage Greens in your efforts, the comments you've made here do not lend themselves to Greens wanting to jump in. Are you a member of your state's Green Party? And if not, why not?

Submitted by hipparchia on

a national, high-profile, campaign can help grow a stronger Party

this has been my thought, that and the 5% vote for public financing, and it's one of the reasons why i'm voting for jill stein, in spite of the fact that i haven't been very impressed with the greens i've met in person (i've pretty much felt the same way as dan, in fact). i'm really, really glad to hear that greens are doing some serious local organizing in some places too. thanks for the inspiration!

Submitted by JuliaWilliams on

organization. We are decentralized,and support autonomy, even down to more local levels. This may be problematic with a less vigorous state organization, and a few states haven't got enough participation to get ballot access even now. On the other hand, we encourage everyone to join, we have a strong history of inclusiveness and we can generate very strong local ties because of our independence and ability to prioritize for our own communities. The Party is what we make it, rather than what we're told to do. I hope that anyone who has an interest in the Greens, and supports their platform will join us, and help create a better Party. We are all citizen-politicians, even our Presidential and Vice Presidential candidates, and as a result our success depends on the participation of many people, not just a few rich ones.

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Submitted by danps on

On this:

"Don't lift a finger between elections"-yet we have "Occupy Greens", Greens who are working on election integrity, fighting foreclosures (for a national example, Honkala, anyone?), working on environmental issues (Stein, anyone?), union support, poverty issues, the list goes on and on here in Michigan, all the time.

None of those are party building activities; they are activism. They are all praiseworthy, but that's not what I'm calling for in the post. I'm calling for building up party infrastructure: identifying candidates to run for local offices, prepping them if they are new to the process, assembling phone lists and walk lists, etc. For all of Stein's admirable activism, has she done any campaign events with down ticket Greens? Worked to staff up the party to be able to thrive after election day? Hell, she's spending her time now - at the absolute fever pitch of election season, the moment when the maximum focus is put on party politics and the moment when the Greens will have the most receptive audience - getting arrested at a Keystone XL protest. That shows you where her heart is - with activism, not party building. And good for her - again, her efforts in that regard have been admirable. But it also makes her spectacularly unsuited to be the head of a political party.

As for the halo effect of a national campaign, winning matters. As I put it in a comment at one of my cross posts: A Green Party dogcatcher candidate who wins is better than a Green Party presidential candidate who loses. Without some wins behind it - and those wins are most likely to start at the local level, not the national one - a party becomes an object of ridicule. And not the "...then they make fun of you..." good kind of ridicule, either.

I'll believe the 5% mechanism the first time it succeeds. I first heard about the strategy in 2000 (Nader Trader!) and nothing came of it. Nothing ever seems to, either. Given the current state of affairs, 20 million dollars would most likely buy a lot more self-glorification than election night victories.

Submitted by JuliaWilliams on

this point (and even that wasn't a lot). You want Party building? How about getting ballot access in more states than Nader? Does that fit your criteria? I just don't get a supposedly left guy whinging about Greens while not answering my question-are you a member? And what have you done to help our party building? And BTW we do have some Greens in elected positions across the US, you just don't hear about them. So how many are enough to garner your approval? And what are you doing to make it better besides criticizing us? As I said, we are citizen-politicians, we need all the help we can get, and the more money and recognition we get, the better the turnout for participants and volunteers and IT guys, etc. But your post seems to try to kill that, along with your accusations of narcissism, other name-calling and your Nader fixation. BTW tomorrow night the GPUS is livestreaming the election with (gasp) interviews from other candidates. Check it out:

Submitted by lambert on

... and it needs to do party stuff, and that includes party building stuff.

Now, if they get 5%, which we ought to know in a day or so, then good. For all I know, getting arrested at Keystone is going to get to that 5%. That said, the whole thing reminds me powerfully of how Occupy successfully avoided celebrities. Looks to me like a play for the Bill McKibben vote, which Obama already has sewed up. Getting arrested for foreclosures? Yes! Getting arrested at a rigged debate? Yes!!!!!! Getting arrested for a brand sponsored by a faction that won't call out Obama 'til after he's elected? Not so much, because not party-building stuff.

Especially when there's a ton of local fracking activities that she could have shown a light on. I mean, I know, because I draw attention to them every day.

See below for a reaction of one blogger who certainly supports emergent parties as much as anyone.

jest's picture
Submitted by jest on

You and other commenters in this thread are woefully uninformed on the subject. And I say this as someone who used to share your viewpoint. In fact, I joined the party because I thought they were insipid, I could just storm in and save them from themselves with my brilliance and my condescending “Even I can do better than this” mentality.

I hate to break it to you but the world is not as cartoonishly simple as some are making it out to be. Stein has been the nominee for less than 4 months, and was virtually unknown prior to that. And to expect her to do all of what some are asking, being chairwoman of the party in addition to running for president, in 4 months is silly.

Ballot access laws, which are specifically designed to hinder ballot access, is what takes up the vast majority of the resources of any independent party.

By far.

Again, I say this as someone who used to talk smack from the peanut gallery, but have since changed my opinion upon seeing it from the inside.

It is my guess, that unlike myself, you have not spent your summer in the heat begging thousands of people to sign ballot access petitions (somehow misconstrued as “laziness,” wow), only to submit them to a TBogg-like Democrat ballot official who wants you off the ballot ASAP, for various obvious reasons.

Even going so far as to reject the submission because people’s middle initials were illegible.

Which leads to inevitable lawsuits, court costs, and wasted time, rather than “party building.” There is no “party building” without ballot access, which was the #1 priority of the Stein campaign, which is being dismissed here as “laziness.”

Again, commenters in this thread are woefully ignorant of ballot access laws, and the practical reality of it. Without this, there is no party, and nothing to build. And that’s just for starters. This is far more complicated than pitching a tent in a public park.

Adequately describing the Kafkaesque electoral process in this country is an act that is impossible to do in a blog comment. It has to be seen to be believed.

Julia is right to question whether one has been involved or not, because these statements could only be made by those who only understand broad generalizations of the system. The level of stupidity in our electoral system should be self-evident (look at the early voting mess in FL) yet people seem intent on blaming the victim of this mess.

Finally, behind the scenes, they are doing “party building.” I know this because I have had attended meetings with the campaign manager who stated that this is the main goal of the campaign, not getting 50% of the electoral college vote. In fact, they are using the same strategies that Howard Dean (50 state strategy) and later OFA used effectively with the Democrats.

But again, it is a slow process, and she has only had the national backing of the party since July.

twig's picture
Submitted by twig on

you say she's only had the national backing since July? Did they not realize there was going to be an election in November 2012???? Why would the party wait so long to choose someone, who then had what? -- 90 whole days to get the word out? Why not start the day after the 2008 election and use that time to get people on board? You'd have four years to fund raise, meet people, plan, etc., instead of three months.

Obviously, I'm looking at this as an outsider, with no idea of what the challenges may have been. And you bring up interesting, important points. But honestly, giving someone a few months for a presidential campaign sounds way disorganized. Magical thinking is not a promising start or something most people look for in a candidate.

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Submitted by danps on

Yes, it certainly did.

I am not a member of the Green party. As I documented in the post, I've been working with local activists on fracking, which is basically a political orphan. We are looking into runs for office in response, and we have been in loose contact with other activists around the state as well.

As the political space gets created we will need to do lots of work trying to fill it, and all of us are new to the process. If the Greens were truly a national party I'd expect to see some activity from them in this area on this issue. If they don't have the resources to take advantage of a situation like this - passionate citizens, no political leadership supporting them - then so be it.

But that is not a national party, even if it runs a candidate for national office. It's a Potemkin party and I'm not going to have much patience for browbeating from its adherents about how I as a liberal ought to be voting for the one true liberal. We're busting our humps on the fracking issue right now and the Greens are nowhere to be seen. So we'll have to figure it out ourselves. Fine, fair enough. We'll do the best we can with what we've got. But you can't then expect us to feel like the Green party represents a legitimate alternative for us.

Submitted by JuliaWilliams on

fracking) is not enough, you want them to engage and support your actions, yet at the same time you decry an activist Green candidate? No Green candidates in your area are against it? Or you don't have candidates because the Party is sparse, and sparsely funded? I'm having a hard time understanding the deep resentment and anger I'm getting from your posts. I get that we have drawbacks, and we are underfunded, and have some states that are not as vibrant as others. But I am saying we are trying, and working to the best of our abilities and time/money constraints to be the Party that represents sustainability and grassroots action. If we aren't your cup of tea. so be it. I would fervently support another "legitimate alternative" that was better, if one presented itself, because it's not about teams for me, it's about what represents my positions best. So far, the only candidate for president that has come out against fracking publicly is Stein:

"SH: Would you support a national ban on fracking?
JS: Absolutely. We should not be opening up new lines of carbon right now, like shale gas and shale oil, as well as tar sands oil, and we just cannot go there right now if we do not want to go over the climate cliff."

Submitted by lambert on

And not "your" actions?

* * *

Given that OH is the epicenter of the election, and that media coverage will be literally everywhere, it seems a little bit odd to make the focus TX, where the arrest will get coverage only in the vertical enviro press. Especially when the TX efforts are getting all the vertical coverage they need, and the OH efforts are unknown outside OH.

Same deal in CO, another local fracking effort that could use a leg up. Or WI, which is close, and has fracking sand issues.

Heck, even PA which if you believe Romney is in play.

* * *

Again, if avoiding swing states like OH and CO (and PA) is all part of the get to 5% stategy fine, but I'm not hearing that.

But as for Dans' central thesis, this looks like activism and not party building... I'm not getting the strategy here, from the Barcalounger though my comments may be.

Submitted by JuliaWilliams on

poster's complaint of lack of support for his activism. And as for avoiding "swing states"? Perhaps the huge meme of not voting Green in swing states, but it's OK in solid states being propagated by the "elite" left may have something to do with that? (I'm not an insider to the campaign, but that would make sense, no?) And that push to increase Green votes would help get us to 5%. As far as local activism? I'm currently involved in a petition drive, but I know this-3rd party politics is a major threat and getting ballot lines makes it more effective for local politics. Presidential candidates can get ballot lines for local candidates. It can even build local opposition fundraising sources.

danps's picture
Submitted by danps on

So our platform, and our candidates (all of whom are against fracking) is not enough, you want them to engage and support your actions

Yes, that is correct. And if they do not have the resources to engage and support something that is part of their platform, they should say as much. And the engagement and support I would like to see from a political party is political engagement and support.

My frustration - which I didn't mean to come off as anger or resentment - is in seeing "vote third party for president" polemics at this point in the cycle when the third parties in question do not have a legitimate national scope.

You write, "we are trying, and working to the best of our abilities and time/money constraints to be the Party that represents sustainability and grassroots action." To me, the key to sustainability and grassroots action is building from the ground up, and when I see a national campaign disconnected from that kind of effort I think it discredits the party running it.

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Submitted by mtngun on

The advice to focus on 3rd party movements at the local level, not at the presidential level, only works if you live in a liberal state.

In a red state, there is zero chance that a green will be elected. Z*E*R*O

So that strategy doesn't do anything for me.

twig's picture
Submitted by twig on

given our supposedly liberal bent, they should be a real force. There are only 40 Green candidates running right now in the entire state, with hundreds -- if not thousands -- of seats available! The ballot I have for LA has no Green party candidates, other than Stein/Honkala.

As for party building, not much happening there, either. Where is Laura Wells, the Green candidate for governor two years ago? Who knows? Oh, wait -- she has a blog, wow. She sure isn't doing much to generate interest in the party.

It's really a shame, because there's massive discontent in this state, like most others probably. I'm not sure why the Green or Justice parties aren't taking advantage of that. I'm registered with the Justice Party and don't even get emails from them -- zip, nada, nothing.

Anyway, excellent point, Dan. After the election, I'm going to follow up with the Justice people and see if they're for real or not.

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Submitted by Alexa on

and I say that because it was on that website that I saw Rocky Anderson's bio in which he self-described as a "fiscal/budgetary conservative." He boasted of his balanced budgets, etc., while he was mayor of Salt Lake City, UT.

His words on his stance on Social Security also had the weasel words "to strengthen and protect for future generations." Translation: cut the heck out of Social Security for the Boomers! :D

So, I would vote for Anderson over Obama, due to his stance on some of the other issues, but I could never actually work to get him elected.

If he would just change those two stances (as stated at the time on that website), I could probably enthusiastically support him.

Bottom line, it sort of makes sense that he must be "somewhat conservative." Otherwise, how the heck could he get elected in "Utah," of all places.

twig's picture
Submitted by twig on

I'm voting for Stein, not him.

The idea of a Justice Party was appealing at first. I'd had a couple disappointing experiences with the Greens, and, after all, we could certainly use some justice in this country. But after it launched, it more or less disappeared. There have been no fund-raising attempts, notices of local meetings, Anderson rallies, nothing. Not even in the spam folder!

Submitted by lambert on

... we've had Green candidates for governor who did well, and a very independent population, and in fact a non-two party candidate did very well in the last governor's race.

We've Asher Platts (sp?) down in Portland, and that's it. Whatever party apparatus there was seems to have disintegrated between the gubernatorial race and now. (And the people I try to talk to about this really clam up.)

And again, "Why don't you?" is no answer. I am doing what I am good at doing, and not something I would not be good at doing, but which the Greens seem unable to display adaptability and take advantage of, which I do not find an encouraging sign.