Throwing a party

National | A successful third party is possible in the United States, but it must work from the ground up

Issue: "Kerry picks Edwards as VP," July 17, 2004

A constant refrain among "Third Party" members is their frustration at the idea of picking what they consider the lesser of two evils among the major parties. Greens on the left and Constitutionalists on the right insist on voting for what-and who-they believe in, even if that person doesn't have a chance in the world to win, and even though their vote will help the side that they most oppose. "Vote your hopes and not your fears." So said Carol Miller, a candidate for the Green Party's presidential nomination. They would probably agree on little else, but Chuck Baldwin, the running mate of Michael Peroutka in the Constitution Party, said virtually the same thing. They have a point. Why shouldn't many parties exist to reflect the range of positions that exist in this country? Other countries have multiple parties. Most democracies have a "parliamentary system," in which voters cast ballots not so much for an individual but for a party -- and there are lots to choose from. Representation in parliament is allotted according to the percentage of votes each party receives. If a party receives 10 percent of the votes, then 10 percent of the representatives will be from that party. The prime minister, the country's chief executive, is the leader of the party that can assemble enough votes in parliament to "form a government." A party with 30 percent of the vote might form a coalition with two parties that won 10 percent each, plus courting that one tiny party that only could seat one member. That is usually done by promising policy concessions to those parties and by giving their members positions in the cabinet. In Canada's recent election, the ruling Liberal Party fell short of a majority in parliament, thanks to a resurgent Conservative Party. To keep the current prime minister in power, the Liberals are forming a coalition with the even more liberal New Democrat Party, pulling the government even further to the left. European countries typically offer multiple parties reflecting an astonishing range of political beliefs. You can vote Monarchist. Or you can vote Communist. Fascists, Greens, Christian Democrats, free-market liberals, labor unionists, Christian conservatives, pro- and anti-immigrationists, agrarians -- they all have their parties and, as long as they can meet a threshold of votes (sometimes as small as 2 percent), they have their representatives in parliament and are political players. Some people say that the United States should move toward something like this to avoid the ideological watering-down that goes along with the two-party system and to represent more accurately the views of the citizens. A parliamentary system is impossible, though, under our Constitution, which mandates the separation of the legislative and executive powers. Still, multiple parties could function under the Constitution. Given the increasing ideological polarization and political fracturing in this country, maybe getting away from the two-party system would be a good idea. The problem is, we do not have such a system. As it is, a purist vote for a third-party candidate does not advance one's cause, but rather advances the polar opposite of that cause. A vote for the Green candidate really will help keep George W. Bush in office, and a vote for the Constitution Party candidate really will help elect John Kerry and potentially enshrine pro-abortionists in the courts for decades to come. Third parties can be built, though, not by nominating presidential candidates who are sure to lose but by starting from the ground up, by electing candidates to local and state offices, who might eventually develop the expertise and the reputation to win election to higher office. The most sensible thing said at the Green Party convention was the recommendation that the party not nominate or endorse any presidential candidate. A delegate told of a friend who had lost a city council election by 20 votes. If all of the money and energy were not wasted on pushing a presidential candidate, that money and that energy could be devoted to winning local elections. In time, those are the elections that could eventually build a party into a major force. Constitutionalists and Libertarians can now be found on school boards, city councils, and state legislatures. That is the way to build a multiple-party system. After all, a grassroots movement must grow from the grassroots.

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Gene Edward Veith
Gene Edward Veith


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