Third Parties: 2012 Election’s Critical Missing Piece

In the wake of the Iowa straw poll – a particularly charming incarnation of the poll tax– and the late entry of Texas Governor Rick Perry, the news media is telling us that that the 2012 presidential field is starting to congeal.

Except that it’s not. Not even close. Because we don’t yet know what will happen with third parties. In the end, third parties might very well impact the selection of the next President more than the outcome of the GOP primaries and caucuses that are dominating the news.

At a time when the American electrate is about evenly divided between the two major political parties, and huge numbers are turned off by both parties, this 2012 presidential election could hinge on which third party, or parties, emerges to relative prominence. If it’s a liberal-friendly third party ticket that dominates the third party space in 2012, Obama will almost certainly lose. If it’s a conservative-friendly third party dominating, Obama could still pull it out, despite the environmental mega-trends – lack of peace or prosperity — working against his reelection.

A third party ticket led by Ron Paul, Sarah Palin, Donald Trump or their ilk looms on the right, and a ticket led by Ralph Nader, Dennis Kucinich, Bernie Sanders or their ilk looms on the left. I’m as interested in those melodramas as I am about the more high profile Perry, Bachmann, Romney scrum.

And beyond the third party machinations on the left and right fringes, keep your eyes on a new third party wild card this year – Americans Elect. Americans Elect looks like it will be a centrist party, and is being promoted by center-left voices like syndicated columnist Thomas Friedman. Here is how they explain themselves.
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Can Independents Keep FECES Out of the Guber Debate?

I enjoy discussing public affairs issues, but I increasingly avoid the subject with many of my friends. Too often, conversations dead-end when conflict averse friends make assertions of false equivalence, or what has been termed “Fake Equivalence Conflict Ending Strategies (FECES).”

For instance, on the subject of Republicans abusing the U.S. Senate fillibuster rules, conservative and centrist friends will shut down the conversation by saying that “both parties have done that through history.” On the subject of Democrats loading the budget with uncontrolled entitlement programs, liberal and centrist friends will stop the exhange by saying “the Medicare prescription drug benefit shows Republicans are just as guilty.”

Complete and utter FECES.

Yes, both Republicans and Democrats have filibustered. But the record shows that Republicans have recently taken the practice to dramatic depths.

Yes, Republicans also have passed entitlements financed by deficit spending, such as the Medicare prescription drug benefit. But that pales in comparison to the body of entitlement work parented by Democrats over the years.

These kinds of differences are very relevant if we are to have an accountable political system. How we debate and how we think through issues matters. Before accepting A=B and B=C therefore A=C, we MUST apply facts and logic to prove or disprove those equal signs! Because when research or logic uncovers a “≠,” the logic of the assertion collapses.

In Minnesota, the Independence Party particularly seems to be built on a foundation of FECES. Their core rationale essentially is that “both major parties are equally dumb/immoral/unethical/corrupt/inept” and therefore the only choice for non- dumb/immoral/unethical/corrupt/inept people is to vote for us.”

That’s a copout. The differences between the parties are real and easily discernible. The major parties are similar in some ways, such as a shared addiction to power retention. But there are big policy and performance differences, and it is our job as voters to dig deep to understand those differences, rather than buying into the myth of sameness.

I confess that I’ve voted for Independent Party candidates for Governor, and may do it again this year. But sooner or later the Indendence Party has to have a foundation that is more substantive than their stale “we’re not them!” cheer.

Maybe this year will be different. A leading candidate for the Independence Party nomination for Governor in 2010 is a fellow named Tom Horner. Despite being a PR guy, Horner is a bright, decent and thoughtful Republican refugee. He is the kind of guy who has the potential to lead the Independents to being something more than a None-of-the-Above Party launching yet another tiresome FECES fight. It will be interesting to see if he does.

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