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Josh Fredman

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I Support a Third Party [Feb. 8th, 2017|04:04 am]
Josh Fredman
I’ve been thinking about this for a couple of weeks, and made a couple of abortive efforts to write one of my typical light essays, but in lieu of that I’m just going to say it plain:

This is the right time to leave the Democratic Party and create a third party. (Not one of the nutty ones we already have; a real one.)

Never before have I said that. Never before have I held that view. In fact I’ve been quite tenacious about supporting Democrats in spite of their many failings, and shaming people who abandon the Democrats to vote for some dead-end progressive third party. That’s for one simple reason: We couldn’t afford to divide our numbers, lose elections, and let the Republicans gain complete federal power.

Well, it happened anyway. @$#&ing losers didn’t turn out to vote, and now we are living in what was once upon a time the worst-case scenario that could be plausibly envisioned. All the good stuff we’d protected and all the bad stuff we’d managed to avoid letting happen in the past twenty years of steadily worsening conservative lunacy…is toast.

The Democrats aren’t ~bad~, per se. They’re just too addled. They’re more interested in doing things the way things are done than in actually making life better. The conventions, customs, and power centers of the Democratic leadership are what I would hope to displace by creating a third party. Not Democrats themselves. Hell, even many members of the Democratic leadership are solid liberals with good intentions, like Patty Murray and Nancy Pelosi. They’re just not doing politics the way it needs to be done nowadays.

Ideally, we’d poach all the best elected Democrats into our new party, and in the space of one or two elections essentially switch places with the Democratic Party, relegating them to fringe status while absorbing much of their base and rank and file, yet imposing a new power structure on that body and thereby effecting a new era of effective strategy and visionary leadership: a complete transformation of political rhetoric and conduct, something that’s effective in energizing the country against the lunacy of the now-zombified conservative movement.

I’d want our new party to offer not populism—which everyone is agitating for right now, despite it being both dangerous and not what we actually need—but unionism. “We’re all in this together.” Welfare needs to be reintroduced; people need to understand that these giant programs are for everybody. People also need to understand that they need to do their part. Right now on the left we’re wasting so much energy on identity politics. What we need to be doing is saying “Here’s our vision for America, and we’re all going to do everything within our power to make it happen.”

By the way, one of the few saving graces left when it comes to our current national political climate is the fact that, because conservatism has zombified, conservatives have no vision. We throw the ol’ “Nazi” word around a lot these days, but the Nazis had vision and discipline. That’s what made them so powerful. They didn’t want to destroy civilization. They wanted to bend it into something else, and they knew what that “something else” was. Today’s conservatives don’t. They’re too cowardly to have a vision of their own, and they’re alive at a time when the whole world spits on vision; it’s so much easier to tear somebody else’s vision down than to lay out your own and face the same risk.

Our new party, to replace the Democrats, would succeed by having a vision. Not a vision of identity politics, and environmental fear-mongering, and other such caustic viewpoints, but a positive, constructive vision that spans the full breadth of society and the wider world we live in. When it comes to the issues—sexism, racism, pollution, crime, healthcare, incomes, and so on—Democrats and Republicans alike have long presented a pessimistic, cynical view of the world. They keep saying “Look at all these horrible things that are going wrong. Elect us and we’ll fix them.” But our new party would take that same reality and present it from the other end: “Here’s all these good things we’re going to do, that we all agree need to be done.”

Ironically, given my unionist bent, I think we stand a good chance of building such a party by couching it in the form of an independence party. An independence movement can become the aesthetic framework for us to rally around in the conceptualization of what society could and should look like, which is something we have lost sight of in the endless defeats and slow, unsatisfying grinds of the past twenty years.

I’d also like our new party to be more engaged in governing (itself if not society as a whole) through the conventions that our world has only newly stepped into. Everyone’s on the Internet these days, so our party ought to conduct as much of its business there as possible, in an interactive way that goes beyond pushing press releases and asking people to like pictures of clear skies and clean rivers. We could stream policy debates, hold advisory votes, do online workshops in the style of let’s-plays. We could communicate intensively with people, explaining to them why our policies end up looking the way they do if popular opinion points in another direction. And there would be local subdivisions, so that the party would actually be plugged in to its people.

All of this stuff nominally exists now, but nobody cares because it doesn’t matter: It’s opaque and labyrinthine, and you have to be a wonk or an activist to really engage in it, and leadership makes up its own policies anyway. Ordinary people have plenty of political steam, as we see on social media every day. They just don’t have political stamina. But we could make incremental gains in their stamina by showing them that their participation matters, and investing them in the process. We have all these decades of data on marketing and human behavior. Starbucks has figured out how to make us pay five dollars for something we could make for ten cents at home. If that can be a real thing, so can manipulating people into caring more about political engagement.

I’ll close by saying this: It’s not gonna happen. I think eventually one of our two major parties will split, but I don’t think it’s going to be the Democrats here in 2017.

Nevertheless, we’re in the acid pit. We’re at rock-bottom. There’s never going to be a better time to experiment with our political system than right now. So if you want to support third parties in competitive races later this year, and in the 2018 Congressional elections, I say go for it. Build a movement. I hold those who voted third-party in 2016 in the highest of contempt, because they did so knowing how far we could fall. But now, well, here we are. For as desperately as we need to win back the Congress, and then the White House, winning elections isn't enough to avert the coming political collapse anymore. Even more than short-term victory, we need to have a vision for society again.