Third Party Time?

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

A mainstream journalist is finally saying something that Objectivists (Peter Schwartz, for example) have been saying for years: that a third party will not save us from our two-big-government-party system. Here's the money quote from conservative Cal Thomas:

A third-party president, or a few members of Congress who eschewed the traditional party labels, would likely find themselves in the same rut if attitudes toward government and entitlement do not change. The problem lies less in Washington than in each American citizen.

Since Franklin Roosevelt's "New Deal," many Americans appear to have abandoned self-restraint, individual responsibility and accountability in favor of government as provider, protector and guarantor. The notion that people are "owed" what others have earned is primarily responsible for our enormous and growing debt. We once promoted individual initiative and people who overcame difficult circumstances. Now we seem to punish the successful and treat the unsuccessful as victims who have no hope of improving their lot without government. This is a fallacy of course, based on the results of the failed "war on poverty."
I'd go further: Without significant cultural change, those politicians would be substantially similar to the current lot of bums, anyway. (Consider Ross Perot, John "Unity '08" McCain, and Jesse Ventura.)

Based on the fact that the public of FDR's time was behind the New Deal, I'd date the start of our problems much earlier than Thomas does. Although Americans were more self-reliant then, they condoned the massive government theft of the New Deal on altruistic grounds. We do need to become more self-reliant again, but we will also need to call altruism into question.

Neverthless, Thomas is dead right about one thing: Our political problems are cultural in origin. To change Washington, we must first begin to change our culture.

-- CAV


Steve D said...

I did the math. If we added a party it would save us from the two-big-government-party system by creating a three-big-government-party system :)

'Our political problems are cultural in origin'

And climbing the pyramid of knowledge; our cultural problems are ideological in origin.

Gus Van Horn said...


I agree with everything you say but the first (and least-important) part. If I recall correctly, history and the dynamics of the American party system (as opposed to a parliamentary system) show that either one of the "old" parties would gradually disappear or the new party would be absorbed into one of the other preexisting ones. Our parties function more like coalitions in parliamentary democracies.

There is also a tactical consideration against forming a third party that I suspect is related to the above: Forming one allows politicians of BOTH "big" parties to more easily ignore the constituency of that party since its votes aren't there to be won.

Steve D said...

So you are of the opinion that the American two party system is structural and not cultural or other? What is the crucial feature?

Gus Van Horn said...

I'm not sure in what sense you mean "structural" (or it could even BE structural) unless you mean that, at least within our current cultural context and varieants stretching back nearly to the country's founding, it ends up self-organizing that way. In that case, I lean to "yes".

I think that history bears out a tendency, almost all the way back to our founding, towards a two=party/coalition system. The interesting question is: Why? I'll take a stab at it here.

I think that each election brings with it an opportunity to assess the success or failure of the policies enacted before, as well as the chance to consider new ones.

At any given time, by "policies", we could be talking about big questions, such as, "How much power does the federal government have over the states?" or "Should we abolish slavery?" There are typically two answers to such questions, making it natural for one to be the position o one faction and te other another faction. At other times, people may substantially agree on fundamentals, but disagree over smaller things, such as, "Does national self-interest call for us to take part in such-and-such a war?" or "Who gets first dibs on government loot?" or "How fast should the stae take over medicine?" I think there are smaller questions, like the fist, that also have two basic answers, but that there are others that are improper, and whose answers are all wrong, but will get answered, anyway (i.e., those that result in pressure goup warfare). In pressure group warfare, you will generally never have a majority forming a faction, so different factions will have to form alliances. Since in fights of that kind, there is safety in numbers, you'll get one big (winning) coalition and another big (defensive) coalition).

In practice, I think our system is a mixture of the two extreme cases, where one coalition might be (or appear to be) on one side or the other of a legitimate issue (e.g., The GOP was the "national defense" party during the Cold War.), and yet is also home to various pressure groups (e.g., creationists), So, in some elections, the big issue would trump pressure group warfare or vice versa.

I think our trend is towards the extreme case of the two parties being merely different coalitions of pressure groups.

So I think, at least for the forseeable future, either-or logic AND safety-in-numbers will cause the poliical landscape in America to favor some kind of two-party system.