Monday, October 14, 2013

The DiploMad 2.0: Is it 1854, yet?

The DiploMad 2.0: Is it 1854, yet?:

The standard meme in a typical American history class or book, and in the media, holds that so-called third parties have no realistic prospect for success in the USA. The leadership of both major parties, naturally, agree with this interpretation and are eager to stifle any moves to create a party outside of the long established two party system--the Democratic party, by the way, has a legitimate claim to be the world's oldest political party. A quick glance through American political history would seem to support the conventional wisdom's argument against a "third" party. We have several examples typically served up to us as part of the cautionary tale.  One of the most famous efforts was Teddy Roosevelt's Progressive Party, aka Bull Moose Party, which he launched in 1912, after becoming upset with Republican President Taft's failure to pursue TR's "progressive" agenda. TR's party succeeded in knocking the Republicans out of the White House for one of the few times since 1861, and putting in place the calamitous Woodrow Wilson. While the Bull Moose Party crumbled away within a few years, many of its platform planks eventually became accepted, e.g., women's suffrage, eight hour day, a form of social security. Another notable "third" party effort came in 1948, with the States's Rights Democratic Party, better known as the "Dixiecrats." Headed by Senator Strom Thurmond, this party argued, inter alia, for the right of Southern states to maintain racial segregation. Former two-time FDR Vice President Henry Wallace's hard left, pro-USSR Progressive Party--another "third" party effort in that same election-- also syphoned off Democratic votes in some key constituencies. Between these two "third" parties eating away at Democratic votes, Truman almost lost the 1948 election to Dewey, but managed to eke out a win. Both of the 1948 "third" parties quickly disappeared. There are other examples, of course, such as George Wallace's American Independent Party, John Anderson's Independents, Patrick Buchanan Reform Party, H. Ross Perot's Independent Party which also failed to win the White House but, nevertheless, had considerable impact on their respective elections and on post-election political developments. There are, of course, other examples of "third" parties.

Oops! Missing, of course, from this history of "third" parties is none other than the Republican Party, itself. Without going into a detailed history, widely available (see for example, Eric Foner's, Free Soil Free Labor, Free Men), the Republican Party began in 1854 with a mix of anti-slavery Whigs and Democrats appalled by the perceived collusion of the Whigs and the Democrats in allowing slavery not only to remain but to expand westward. The Republicans ran their own candidate, explorer and war hero John Fremont in 1856. Although the campaign lost to Democrat Buchanan, it succeeded in destroying the ossified Whig party and lining up the Republicans for victory in 1860 with Lincoln. 

I am not saying--necessarily--that we are at the point of seeking the destruction of the GOP a la the Whigs. I think, however, that the GOP establishment needs reminding of their own party's origins. My gut feeling is that the Tea "Party" cum movement has been growing, despite the media's repeated announcement of its death and attempts to throw it in a grave. This movement still, as noted, is somewhat inchoate; that some might argue is a source of strength in that there is no single Tea leader who can be disgraced by the media, and, hence, bring down the movement. At various times the media seek to name a politician or another as leader of the Tea party, and go gunning for him or her. They fail to understand that unlike the Bull Moose, the Dixiecrat, or most other "third" parties, this is a movement driven not by a dominant personality but by everyday working and tax-paying Americans fed up with the state of the country and the quality of leadership and thought dominating our political discourse. I would like to see the Tea movement take over the GOP and turn it into a genuinely conservative alternative to the progressive Democratic party, rather than have to go through setting itself up as a "third" party. That option, nevertheless, should not be discarded all too quickly.