Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Raising  the topic of more viable parties in American politics is an awful lot like speculating about a cure for the common cold. It would seem inevitable, and do so much good. It’s also something of a head-shaking lost cause. But if New York Mayor Michael “Nancy Nanny” Bloomberg thinks he can pry gulpish-sized sodas from the fleshy hands of millions of overweight people in his city, envisioning an American political system with more than organized Democrats and well-heeled Republicans isn’t entirely ridiculous.

Yes, money and the influence of the Citizens United decision is devastating to our democracy. But having watched campaigns for two decades the primary problem I see is this: it’s a zero-sum game. If Mitt Romney’s campaign stumbles because he said something silly about Hispanics or someone only loosely in his ideological camp pumps out comments on women more appropriate for the boozy office of “Mad Men’s” Don Draper, we see President Barack Obama’s fortunes climb slightly.

Should job numbers emerge weaker than expected at the end of a quarter, or if Jeremiah Wright delivers a provocative sermon, then throw the dynamic in reverse. The daily cascade of emails and blog posts and talk radio spouting reflects this. Build up, knock down, build up, knock down. It’s like match play in golf.

In this two-party circus of big tents, New York’s Al Sharpton and West Virginia’s Joe Manchin, are both Democrats, and progressive Carroll lawyer Art Neu and Bob Vander Plaats, with his pre-Iowa statehood era perspective, call themselves Republicans. This contributes to a politics turning more on cult of personality than platforms of ideas. Obama is either the secular Black Jesus or a foreign interloper. Imagine the fate of the Democratic Party for two election cycles had John Edwards been its standard-bearer as he carried on with a paramour. Let’s not forget, he was the vice presidential candidate in 2004.

The way to curtail this destructive politics and to jettison the hero worshipping and the devil casting is not just the addition of a third party, the pipe dream of good folks in the middle coming together around someone with an accountant’s eye for number’s and a special-education teacher’s patience. Americans Elect’s ill-fated attempt proves what a joke this is.

No we need at least six viable political parties: Social Conservative, Libertarian, Liberal, Democratic Moderates, Republican Moderates and something akin to The Green Party, one operating with the noble philosophy we are but temporary stewards of the planet. Maybe even a Rural Party — since we are 20 percent of the population and could build a political organization to fight in a world where the demographics are trending against us on central issues.

Iowa State University’s Steffen Schmidt has talked about the multi-party concept as well. He suggests four parties.

Too often, taking the Americans Elect approach, attempts at the third party are made with an eye on White House politics, Which makes sense. It’s national. The whole country is watching.

But what if a collection of the ideological elite selected one state — say Iowa, since we are something of a political Garden of Eden — and established multiple parties, recruited candidates for county and legislative offices, established platforms and headquarters. All at once. The year 2000 saw the temporary relevance of the Green Party in the form of Ralph Nader as a spoiler. That’s destructive and plays into the zero-summing of politics.

With more parties, Americans could build loyalties to ideas, to platforms, that would have at the top of them leaders who are easily exchanged, more disposable servants of the agenda than indispensable personalities. Edwards cheats on The Liberals? Get someone else. Some candidate for The Social Conservatives gets caught in a state park restroom with a boy? Cut him loose.

Think how the news cycles and the flow of political dialogue would change. If the Democratic Moderates took a PR hit it wouldn’t necessarily — by default — boost the standing of the Moderate Republicans. Our elected officials would have to develop coalitions to govern. Its takes the skills of builders to do this.

The experiments of the Greens and the failure of Americans Elect aren’t bold enough. You can’t build just a third party. The change will come when several advocates of new parties pick a common spot and develop the infrastructure with an eye on a state legislature.

Spend the billions now on advertisements and PACs and tilt one election or change the system for the long haul. Of course, columnists are great at spending other people’s money.