Third Party Politics in America- What You May Not Know- Part Three

by John Berger,
ITL Staff Writer

Third parties have been battling for recognition in the US for ages, yet seem to have gained little ground. Those who vote for third parties often feel that their chosen candidate is more genuinely dedicated to principles; a refreshingly sincere adherence to their stated principles and aims.

Money grants media exposure, and exposure garners votes. Yet along this path toward popular approval, it seems inevitable that the message get watered down to the point of being ineffectual and superficial. This is why, arguably, all presidents seem to drift toward the political “center” regardless of their lofty liberal or conservative campaign promises. How can a third party accept the fact of this catch 22? Can a candidate seek mass appeal while maintaining ideological consistency?

Like the other three minor parties profiled in this series, the Green Party holds no congressional seats or governorships. While easily outstripping her rivals in the Justice and Constitution Parties, the Green Party won only 456,169 votes for 0.36% in the 2012 election, far short of their Libertarian rivals. Yet the Green Party has, for several decades now, played a notable role in presidential politics. Since the famed campaigns of Ralph Nader, the party has performed dismally at the national level. Yet in 2012, Dr. Jill Stein led the party to quadruple its votes from the ‘08 election, perhaps igniting a comeback.

The Green Party platform is clearly stated in its “Ten Key Values” which are typically liberal in nature and focus on equality, environmental protection, and nonviolence. Yet it is the first of these values, grassroots democracy, which is most pertinent to the catch-22 mentioned above. The Green Party addresses the corrupting influence of campaign financing by taking the principled (and some would say crippling) position of refusing corporate and super-PAC donations. The Greens rely mostly on small contributions from individuals and companies to fund their campaigns, and by doing so, show their disdain for the now ubiquitous billion dollar media blitzes of the Republicans and Democrats.

For some Greens, campaign finance was only the tip of the ideological iceberg. Some believed that the American Electoral system was itself corrupt and unjust, and that to participate in it at all would be hypocritical. This debate led to a schism and the formation of a second, more radical Green Party, which eventually lost its official status as an American political party.

The Green Party

Other factions and personal disputes have injured the Green Party in the recent past. Many Greens expressed disappointment when Ralph Nader gave an unofficial endorsement to Rocky Anderson of the Justice Party in the last election

In 2012, Dr. Jill Stein secured the Green nomination for President of the United States, and launched a campaign to raise awareness of the two-party duopoly in American politics, and the massive power of corporate influence on elections. A graduate of Harvard Medical School, Stein is a physician specializing in internal medicine, and a lifelong liberal activist. She has run for Congress and the governorship of Massachusetts, but did not win. Like all four minor party candidates, Dr. Stein has been a vocal critic of the Obama administration:

The developers and financiers made trillions of dollars through the housing bubble and the imposition of crushing debt on homeowners. And when homeowners could no longer pay them what they demanded, they went to government and got trillions of dollars of bailouts. Every effort of the Obama Administration has been to prop this system up and keep it going at taxpayer expense. It’s time for this game to end. It’s time for the laws to be written to protect the victims and not the perpetrators

Notably, during the last election, Stein was arrested trying to enter the premises of one of the major televised presidential debates between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, while protesting the lack of third party inclusion. The high-profile arrest was intended to make the point that American voters deserve to hear more than two political platforms.

Stein’s economic plan, which she calls the “Green New Deal” echoes Franklin Roosevelt’s successful plan to put Americans back to work by creating jobs. For Greens, these jobs should be focused on renewable energy technology and would be funded by slashing the U.S. military budget and bringing home tens of thousands of oversees troops. With this policy and others, Stein earned the endorsement of acclaimed liberal activist and intellectual Noam Chomsky.

The historic election of 2000 is worth discussing here because of the notable, and complex, influence of third party politics on the result. It is often said that Ralph Nader’s surprisingly successful Green Party campaign that year ended up handing the presidency to George W. Bush, which amounts to a great scandal for liberal voters. Had he dropped out, it is said, most of his 2.8 million votes would have gone to the Democratic contender, Vice President Al Gore, and likely the contested state of Florida as well. Presumably, even those on the far left should prefer a Democrat to a Bush presidency. This is one of the most oft-repeated arguments in favor of the two party system: voting for a fringe candidate merely steals votes from the more centrist contender and gives the ‘enemy’ a better chance at victory.

In fact, the truth may be that in 2000, Bush might have won far more easily had there been no third parties at all, since Pat Buchanan’s Reform Party took crucial votes from Bush in several closely contested states; states that then would have gone to Bush and tipped the scales clearly in his favor, even despite losing Florida to Gore. If American voters disposed of the cynical notion that third party votes are wasted votes, the two-party system might be seriously challenged.