Sunday, 6 November 2016

Why Third Parties Aren't an Awesome Idea

The 2016 election cycle is mercifully arriving at its climax, which is good, because for the first time ever I'm pretty much sick of it all - politics, horse-trading, handicapping, etc. It occurred to me a few days ago that obsessively checking Nate Silver's 538 and worrying about what those numbers mean is bad for my sanity - I've voted, and my ability to affect the result ends there.

So what have I been thinking about? Well, for one thing, that it would have been nice to have a Democratic candidate untainted by the cozy relationship the party's had with big business since her husband was president. And that, even though I'm not particularly a follower of Bernie Sanders, it would have been nice to have a president who pays lip service to my brand of left-wingery.

(Also, please no comments on how far left Hillary Clinton's voting record is - that's as may be, but she did still vote for the Iraq War, so...)

I've thought long and hard about the Green Party, too, but I've just been really unimpressed with them. I'm satisfied that Jill Stein isn't an anti-vaxxer, but I'm not satisfied that she hasn't addressed that more forcefully - y'know, being a fucking medical doctor and all - and I'm furious that her first reaction to Brexit was to say what a good thing it was that it happened that way.

Add to that the fact that the Greens resolutely haven't made any inroads into state or local politics (apart from the odd mayor or council member here or there), and I can legitimately ask why I should waste my vote on them.

But there's another problem with the Greens, that I don't know if anybody's really thought of: if they were to become a major national party, perhaps winning a state here or there, that would essentially hand the field to the Republicans. All of the left-wing Democrats would move there, leaving the centrists to either shift right to the Republican party, or become a regional irrelevancy.

This is essentially my problem with the oft-quoted idea among some Americans that we need more than two parties. I look at the situation in Europe, where multiple parties are quite common, and am not convinced it's the right answer for America.

Take Britain, for example. Labour and the Conservatives are the two main parties, and the Liberal Democrats are generally on the outside, looking in. In the years since the Liberal Party and the Social Democrats merged, the Lib Dems have been close to power only once, when they joined David Cameron's Tories in a coalition, after the results between Labour and the Tories were too close for either to form a government. The Lib Dems effectively made themselves irrelevant, failing to honor any of their promises or enact any of their key policies, and were punished for it at the last general election, leaving only two credible parties to contest power in Westminster.

(Now, that said, they seem to be the only voice of reason in the midst of Brexit, so there may be hope for a resurgence, but for the time being they've done themselves in)

Italy is another example of the multi-party system not working - there are so many parties, that each general election requires them to form coalitions, which become more and more precarious as the number of parties involved increases. You end up either with a group of unruly junior partners who can leave at a moment's notice and cause your government to fall, or you find yourself having to join a coalition with unsavory or ideologically incompatible parties (such as the xenophobic Lega Nord).

There have been two results for Italian politics: one is that this constant jostling means that the government is relatively unstable, and since World War II there's been an average of a new government each year. The other is that the parties effectively coalesce into unions of left and right - leaving us back where we started. And this trend is present all over Europe, not just Italy and the UK.

So to liberals or progressives (I prefer to term myself a liberal, because I find "progressive" to be wishy-washy) who are thinking of joining the Green Party after this election, my suggestion is to stay within the Democratic Party, and actually work to turn it into a sensible, non-ideological but clearly left-wing party. When I say non-ideological, I mean tuned to the concerns of its base without imposing ideas on them that they clearly don't want - in practice, this means reducing the power of corporations and simply leveling the playing field for everybody, regardless of color, social class or other factors.

I'm not saying working within the Democratic Party is the only way to build a credible left-wing party in the US - but I think that strengthening the Green Party (or other left-wing parties) will mean years of being in the wilderness for the left-wing, liberal agenda. And America can't afford that right now.