The Idea of the Third Way (Part 1)
I am generally a very pragmatic person, and while I am prone to idealistic fantasizing, I would be the first one to say that trying to build up a strong party is a waste of time, and protest votes outside the two main parties are throwaway. Well now I am not so sure so here is how I see it.
Problems with the Republican Party:
The base of the Republican Party is split between mostly rational economic conservatives, and the somewhat more irrational social conservatives. Social Conservative leaning republicans dominate the process and are much more invested in the movement. Breaking that alliance would not be simple and would probable destroy the Party. At the same time both parts of the base are willing to tolerate incredibly corrupt and anti-Conservative behavior from their representatives in Congress. The base itself is the problem but the base attracts plenty of fellow travellers from the more middle Economic Conservative / Socially Moderate middle class who love strong America, don't mind business, and have decent jobs. They ignore the dynamics of the intra-party struggle and vote Republican for a variety of reasons including a strong distaste for the Democrats. The distaste includes intense dislike of the Liberal Dem base, emphasis on class warfare, and the various Dem constituencies.
- Social/Religious Conservatives - 20% US Population
- Economic/Small Govt Conservatives - 10% US Population
- GOP Fellow Travellers / Moderates / Centrists / Anti-Democrats - 20% US Population
Problems with the Democratic Party:
The base of the Democratic Party is split between the anti-business populist lower-to-middle class, and anti-business (but tolerating) highly educated middle-to-upper class liberals. The liberals seem to be herding the other half, while at the same time paying them lip service. There are also smaller constituencies sprinkled through the base who vote Democrat for a variety of reasons: enviros, animal rights, labor unions, pacifists, pro-choice activists, etc. The Party however, like the GOP, attracts plenty of fellow travellers from the more middle Economic Moderate / Socially Liberal middle class who love strong America, don't mind business and have decent jobs. They ignore the more left wing base and vote Democratic for a variety of reasons including a strong distaste for the Republicans. The distaste includes intense dislike of the Socially Conservative and Religious GOP base, and GOP base's tolerance for corruption.
- Lower/Middle Class disaffected Left / Economic Liberals - 10% US population
- Middle/Upper Class Liberals - 15% US Population
- Strange Left Wing One-Issue Constituencies - 5% US Population
- Dem Fellow Travellers / Moderates / Centrists / Anti-GOP - 20% US Population
This is a very superficial and limited analysis of the two sides, but what I believe is true is that a vast majority of people on both sides do not know and do not care about the issues in-depth and vote based on their perceptions of the other side's positions as well as the current situation in America. In other words the majority does not have a well articulated and understood ideology but instead a very strong stereotype of the two main parties and what they represent. Republicans are for Big Business and Christian Right. Democrats are for the poor and against the rich, and also for abortion and lenient on Criminals and Enemies of US. Try probing deeper and the reality is that there is not that much outside of rehashed talking points heard through TV or friends that stuck with them for good. Most Americans do not try to rationalize or justify their political views - they simply pick what sounds closest to their state of mind based on superficial observations and passive data collection. That means there really is just one game in town with two teams playing and the only current way to break in on that monopoly is through a Lot of Money that goes towards marketing.
Or maybe not. There is something to be said for appealing to people through the internet and building a following. Look at DailyKos for example. It has a very large readership and could potentially attract millions given time and proper marketing. Unfortunately it is very limited by its connection to the Democratic Party and its prevailing ideology. Yes, it has the potential to attract those I labeled Dem Fellow Travellers who despise the current administration but they are not a sustainable resource. Plus very few of them are really deeply interested in ideological politics - they are more interested in results. They have a short attention span. After Bush is out of Office and US is out of Iraq their interest in Democratic politics will fade and they will happily move on to the more mundane and close-to-home issues.
The question for me becomes: is there a way to usurp the large number of people who are currently fellow travellers for the two main parties? There are plenty of people out there who are not heavily invested in the "red-meat" issues that stoke the fires of the Party bases. Firing up those people to strike it apart from the two-party juggernaut would make a very noticeable difference in future elections and have a serious impact on the political landscape. Is it possible and how would you do it?
I want to avoid falling into the stereotypes of all the previous third party movements as that is the automatic killer of the effort. It seems to me that all the other previous serious third party movements can be separated into two categories:
1. A wealthy self-interested leader creates his own campaign and the movement forms around it. It is very temporary yet has a chance of temporary success due to the money available for marketing, or the leader's reputation as a competent person. There is no mechanism to perpetuate the movement after the leader fails (or succeeds).
2. A very ideological group creates a party and slowly attracts like-minded people. Grass-roots in nature but limited in terms of appeal along with the usual stereotypes of either being outside the mainstream (Libertarians, Constitution Party, Greens, etc) or a waste of time throw-away vote (other Independent parties).
What about creating a grassroots Internet-based non-traditional Right or Left, results-oriented organization specifically designed with the goal of avoiding previous pitfalls and accumulating people dissatisfied with their current options but not yet interested in dumping the main parties. Accumulation of interested people has to happen first, and the only way they would join up is if there are incentives to organizing, no particular need to abandon their preconceptions, and a feeling of accomplishment and individual involvement. That means it cannot be a revolutionary mob-oriented movement.
The next installment in the series will focus on the kind of issues this movement could focus on, ways of attracting and interesting people, and avoiding the stereotypes of the previous third-party movements.