Do We Need a Third Party System?

With the increased polarization in modern politics, perhaps it is time to revisit the solution of bringing in a strong third party to represent the balanced perspective of most Americans. Despite the media’s proclivity towards reporting the extreme, the majority of Americans and global citizens are looking to build consensus and maintain moderation in solving issues. It is the reason why Independents are the largest group of voters — 37% of registered voters, compared with 34% Democrats and 29% Republicans, according to the most recent Pew Research Center poll (August 26th-September 5th, 2010). In fact, a growing frustration with government seemed to have fueled the increased Independent engagement this election, with the party in power — the Democrats — falling out of favor.

Though this moderate voting bloc is a welcome sign of a stable and thriving democracy, portrayals of the Right or Left by the opposition indicate the perennial irresponsibility and selfishness of the media as well as an increasingly ignorant public. Growing fundamentalism usually stems from one of two ways: an ignorance of the public or a distrust of society’s leaders. Decline in American intellectualism, coupled with a growing wariness of the American government are reasons why fringe groups as the Tea Party have become more politically robust. (Any yes, they are a fringe group, not a third party.)

Both sides have valid arguments, but both parties fail to remember history. Democrats, for example, realize the importance of government’s role to help all citizens, but neglect to remember America’s “Protestant work ethic” foundation that made the 20th century the American Century. This rugged individualism has allowed it to become the global economic, political, and cultural titan, and the only thing that gives U.S. the innovative edge. As a result, welfare and other government spending programs that consistently drain taxpayers have only increased with little to show for, and continue to rankle hard working Americans. Republicans, similarly afflicted with historical amnesia, currently rush to denounce government intervention in the health care and financial industry, yet refuse to allow federally-funded Medicare to be touched. If you remember, its inception was similarly denounced 45 years ago (as was Social Security 30 years prior in 1935) as inevitably leading to socialism. Sound familiar? Both programs are considered inalienable rights for all Americans now. (As a side note, it was interesting to see all the controversy regarding New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg enacting a similarly “socialist” smoking ban policy in all bars — and a current one for public parks — but now receiving wide praise for such foresight.)

A centrist third party used to represent the moderate views of most Americans would seem to hold more appeal, as long as it does not devolve into an obstructionist party bent on “refusing to help the other party.” In theory, a third party would also force cooperation among parties in order to appeal to the majority of voters, as opposed to the sharp division currently seen. Think of it in economic terms: a robust middle class stabilizes a nation and minimizes the fringe. A thriving centrist party would do the same. So, how have other nations fared with such multiparty systems? Though countries as Germany and France have more than two, it is difficult to recommend or model after, as some of these smaller parties tend to be dominated by major parties. The question is, can a moderate and dominant third party be formed successfully?

Addendum: Thomas Friedman wrote a similar article recently advocating for an independent, radical center third party called “American Elect” to cut through the trenchant politics: “[The] goal is to open up what has been an anticompetitive process to people in the middle who are unsatisfied with the choices of the two parties,” said Kahlil Byrd, the C.E.O. of Americans Elect. Read the rest here

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