About That Third Party…

There’s a new party on the scene. According to The Week,

Dozens of former Republicans and Democrats have joined forces to launch Forward, a new centrist political party. Its founders include Andrew Yang, the onetime Democratic presidential candidate; Christine Todd Whitman, the former Republican governor of New Jersey; and David Jolly, a former GOP congressman from Florida.

“Political extremism is ripping our nation apart, and the two major parties have failed to remedy the crisis,” Yang, Whitman, and Jolly wrote in an op-ed for The Washington Post. In the last two years, there has been a “spike in political intimidation,” they said, and “if nothing is done, the United States will not reach its 300th birthday this century in recognizable form.” The op-ed cited a 2021 Gallup poll that found half of U.S. adults identify as independent and 62 percent believe the Democratic and Republican parties “do such a poor job representing the American people that a third party is needed.”

It’s hard to argue with the criticism–but not at all difficult to criticize the remedy. Third parties in the U.S. face formidable challenges, and–if history is any guide–virtually all efforts to provide a third-party option have managed only to be “spoilers.” (No matter what  Ralph Nader says, his third-party run gave us George W. Bush.)

I agree with Stuart Stevens, who was Mitt Romney’s chief strategist in 2012. Stevens was quoted as saying that it is “extraordinarily difficult to get on the ballot. It is extraordinarily difficult to create a party structure from nowhere. My greatest fear about this is that it is going to detract and distract people from what is really the greatest crisis we have, which is stopping an autocratic movement. I hate to say, it sounds harsh, [but] it’s sort of a vanity project.”

There’s a reason that the two third-party Senators currently serving–Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Angus King of Maine —caucus and vote with the Democrats.

A political historian, writing in the Guardian, came to the same conclusion.  The author found the Forward party to be ” ill conceived, based on a faulty idea of how to fix America’s descent into political madness, and likely to collapse under the weight of its own contradictions.”

At the core of the party’s justification for its own existence is the suggestion that both of America’s two major parties are to blame for the country’s dysfunction, and that the only way to move forward is to replace them with something new. This is a misleading and self-serving diagnosis. Whatever gripes one might have with its policies, the Democratic party is the only one of the two major parties committed to basic democratic and liberal norms. The problem that ails America is that Republicans are not.

The absurdity of this attempt to create a false equivalence becomes even clearer when the new party’s founders talk details. They argue that “most Americans” agree neither with “the far right’s insistence on eliminating gun laws” nor with “calls from the far left to confiscate all guns and repeal the Second Amendment”. But these two things are not the same: the first is what is actually happening in America right now, whereas the second is a view that was attributed to Kamala Harris as part of a fabricated smear on Facebook and enjoys approximately zero support in the Democratic party.

On abortion, the party’s founders similarly contrast “the far right’s quest to make a woman’s choice a criminal offence” with “the far left’s extreme views on late-term abortions”. Once again, the false equivalence is startling. It’s thanks to the mainstream Republican party, not the “far right”, that abortion is now illegal in eight states, with many more expected to follow. “Late-term abortion”, meanwhile, is a medically meaningless term used by conservatives to imply that women who have life-saving surgery late in their pregnancy are in fact having elective abortions, cheered on all the way by baby-killing liberals.

America’s problem is that the current GOP isn’t a reasonable alternative for sane people who disagree with Democratic policies. They have nowhere to go.

Since Yang seems to be the only identifiable Democrat involved, Forward could be that alternative–especially since there are a number of Republicans in addition to Whitman and Jolly. If we’re lucky, Forward may end up just being a refuge for unhappy Republicans, pulling disproportionately from the GOP. (Fingers crossed…)

Meanwhile, The Nation’s justice correspondent wants to know what the new Party stands for.  As he tweeted: “Do these people have an actual *platform* with, like, POLICIES and stuff … or is it just an amalgam of people too conservative to win a Dem primary but not racist enough to win a GOP one?” 

Good question.



Dayenu is a song sung during the Passover Seder–the Jewish celebration of the ancient exodus from Egypt. The lyrics acknowledge the miracles God is said to have performed on behalf of those escaping servitude, and each miracle is followed by “Dayenu”–meaning, it would have been enough.

So “If He had brought us out from Egypt, and had not carried out judgments against them— Dayenu, it would have been enough!

“If He had carried out judgments against them, and not against their idols”— Dayenu, it would have been enough!

The song goes on in that fashion for numerous stanzas. What brought it to mind was an especially annoying element of the current infighting among Democrats. (Bear with me.)

I frequently see angry posts from liberals, decrying what they see as a lack of a compelling  Democratic Party message going into the midterm elections. Comments posted to this blog and elsewhere are harshly critical of both major political parties; there are frequent assertions that there is little difference between them or between the oligarchs that control both. Some of the criticism is misplaced, but some of it is fair.

Here in Indiana,  where Democratic Senator Joe Donnelly is up for re-election, his less-than-liberal positions also come in for considerable criticism, and–at least from my perspective– much of that criticism is deserved.

Here’s the problem: These negative analyses of Donnelly and the Democrats are frequently accompanied by pledges to refrain from voting for either. The authors of these pledges are simply too pure to cast their votes for flawed, imperfect candidates of a flawed, imperfect political party. They  argue that “it isn’t enough just to be against Trump and his GOP enablers.”

They’re wrong.

Dayenu.  Right now, it is enough.

As Robert Reich recently reminded us,

Not so fast. Remember what happened in 2016, when Libertarian Gary Johnson got 3.2 percent of the popular vote and Green Party candidate Jill Stein got 1.06 percent. Enough votes that, had they gone to Hillary Clinton, she’d have won the Electoral College, and Donald Trump wouldn’t be in the White House.

 Oh, and anyone remember what happened in 2000, when the votes that went to Ralph Nader all but sealed the fate of Al Gore, and gave us George W. Bush.

You see the problem? In a winner-take-all system like ours, votes for third party candidates siphon away votes from the major party candidate whose views are closest to that third-party candidate. So by not voting for the lesser of two evils, if that’s what you want to call them, you end up with the worse of two evils.

Voters who are unhappy with their choices do have options: we can work through our chosen parties to effect change; we can support better candidates in the primaries. We can work for better campaign finance laws, an end to gerrymandering, and other systemic changes that will make it harder for special interests to buy/bribe lawmakers.

Of course, doing those things requires considerable time and effort. It also requires working within a system that is far from perfect or even admirable.( Politics is, after all, the art of the possible.) Purists prefer making the perfect the enemy of the good.

I will vote a straight Democratic ticket in November. That includes voting for Joe Donnelly. Is he my ideal Senator? No. Is he a far better choice that any of the Republicans running in the May primary for the right to oppose him? Absolutely. Is his re-election essential to a Democratic takeover of the Senate? Yes. Is a Democratic takeover of the Senate necessary to stop the refashioning of the federal judiciary and the steady confirmation of extremist, rightwing judges? Yes.

Will a “blue wave” in November bring us a perfect government? Hell no. But it will give us some desperately-needed breathing room–the time we need to fight for a better, fairer, more inclusive America. A wave will allow us to overturn the most egregious and harmful measures imposed by the Trump Kakistocracy. It will allow us to begin what will be a long and arduous process of restoring American civility, sanity and the rule of law.

DAYENU–that will be enough.


Voting My Conscience

Okay–I have to get this off my chest.

Dana Milbank said it best, in a recent column in the Washington Post:

Moderates and reasonable Republicans who are considering voting for Trump portray it as a choice between two unpalatable options. But it isn’t. It’s a choice between one unpalatable option and one demagogue who operates outside of our democratic traditions, promoting racism, condoning violence and moving paranoia into the mainstream. This presidential election, unlike the six others I have covered, is not about party or ideology. It’s about Trump’s threat to our tradition of self-government.

More recently, Thomas Friedman made a similar point in a column for the New York Times.

Anyone who says it doesn’t matter whether Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton wins this election needs their head examined. The damage that Trump could do to our nation with his blend of intellectual laziness, towering policy ignorance and reckless impulsiveness is in a league of its own. Hillary has some real personal ethics issues she needs to confront, but she’s got the chops to be president.

These and a number of similar opinion pieces are efforts to get through to people who dislike both major-party candidates and insist that they intend to “vote their consciences” and avoid “dirtying” themselves, by opting for a third-party candidate.

Let’s “get real,” as the kids might say. No third-party candidate has even the remotest chance of winning. (And if, by some unimaginable chance, one did, they couldn’t govern from outside America’s a two-party system; like it or not, that’s the reality within which we operate.) Either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump will be the next President of the United States.

Here’s my message to those who are planning to “vote their consciences.”

You may think that casting a “wasted” vote makes you virtuous, but the reality is that every non-Clinton vote cast in November helps Donald Trump.

I realize that many people detest Hillary Clinton. I am not one of the Clinton haters, and I have my own opinions about the source of the intense animus people feel for her, but I am not going to waste blog space arguing about “Hillary hate.” I am going to argue that those who hate her should hold their noses and vote for her anyway.

Even if most of the accusations thrown at Hillary Clinton were true, that would mean she’s not much different from other, similarly flawed politicians–several of whom have occupied the Oval Office. As libertarian P.J. O’Rourke put it when he declared he’d be voting for Clinton, “she’s wrong, but she’s wrong within normal parameters.”

Donald Trump, on the other hand, really does represent an existential threat, not just to American values, the Constitution and the rule of law, but to the world. The thought of someone as ignorant, venal, thin-skinned and volatile having his finger on the nuclear button should be enough to make sane people shudder. (It has certainly had that effect on virtually every living high-ranking member of the defense community, both Republican and Democratic.)

The identity of Trump’s core supporters–the racists, misogynysts, anti-Semites and xenophobes who have crawled out from under their rocks to cheer him on–should give pause to anyone willing to narrow the margin by which America rejects him.

In 1991, Trump supporter and Klansman David Duke ran for Governor of Louisiana against Edwin Edwards, who had faced two racketeering trials before being acquitted in 1986. Edwards won, after a campaign featuring a popular and memorable bumper sticker reading “Vote for the Crook. It’s important.”

I don’t believe that Hillary Clinton is a crook, or anything close to it. But even if you do believe that, you should vote for her.

It’s important.