In 2000 and 2004, many passionately committed liberals split away from the Democratic Party to support Ralph Nader. Their departure did much to ensure the victory of the Republicans in those elections. Now, for the first time in more than a decade, there is a real possibility that Democrats might regain a majority in Congress. At the same time, it is still possible to find commentators discussing the possibility of a new third party movement: “Gee, wouldn’t it be great if John McCain and ___________ (supply your favorite centrist Democrat’s name) would form a new party in the center, blah, blah, blah . . .”
Fantasizing about a mythical “Third Way” will only result in a repeat of 2000: the split of the Left tossing the election to big government, big deficit, intrusive right-wing Republicans. Let’s be very clear about this: while most of the responsibility for the current state of our country rests with George W. Bush and his cronies, there is no way they could have taken office and entrenched themselves without the help of Ralph Nader. From a certain point of view the war in Iraq, the destruction of our personal privacy, the erosion of our civil rights, the attack on the independence of the judiciary, the rising poverty rate, and so much more, can all be traced to Ralph Nader’s narcissistic entry into the 2000 race. As James Hall notes, the emergence of a third party in an election has almost always resulted in the failure of the major party closest to it ideologically.
Yes, third parties can influence the election of one or the other of the major parties, but they generally put in power the party most at odds with their own platform. Ex-Republican Teddy Roosevelt helped elect Democrat Woodrow Wilson over Republican President Taft, the largely conservative Reform Party helped elect Bill Clinton twice, and we now know that the Green Party put Arsenic George Bush in power over Al "Earth in the Balance" Gore. Punishing the major party closest to your own ideology is hardly a good argument either for creating or supporting a third party, as many voters have belatedly realized. Hall, James, “James, Third Parties Don’t Work Here.”The United States already has a reform party: it’s called the Democratic Party. One of the two major parties in this country, the Democratic Party, has been distinctly more liberal than the other. The other major party, the Republican Party, uses the word “Liberal” as an epithet. Why then, do far left liberals feel the need to split off from the Democratic Party? G. William Domhoff notes that the drive to separate may come from an overabundance of zeal:
This moral zeal creates a strong inclination to separate from the everyday world and create an alternative set of standards and institutions. It generates a desire for a distinctive social identity and a space to call one's own, such as a third party. In addition, strong moral outrage creates a sense of immediacy that reinforces the preference for a third party as a way to express exasperation with compromise. As a result, egalitarians often become very annoyed with the liberal politicians who share most of their values and programs. As egalitarians say again and again, they want to be able to vote their "conscience," not the "lesser of two evils." The tensions that therefore arise between egalitarians and liberals within the electoral arena then become a hindrance to a general movement for egalitarian social change. Domhoff, G. William, “Who Rules America?”The Democratic Party needs to work to really be the inclusive big tent we all talk about, but we also need to educate voters about the two party system and the disastrous consequences that result when voters with a left-leaning philosophy bolt the party and throw away their votes.
The American people are desperate for principled leadership that can restore our national honor and prosperity. But that opportunity can easily be squandered if we allow fantasies of third parties to fracture the progressive majority in the United States. And in the end, that is what we are talking about: the clear majority of Americans are progressive.
As Thom Hartman explains, the third parties are seductive because voters don’t fully understand the “winner-takes-all” nature of American election laws. Hartman noted that Nader enticed followers by suggesting that if they voted for a third party the results would be similar to the results obtaining in countries in which proportionate representation is the rule; in fact nothing could be further than from the truth. Hartman notes, Ralph Nader, narcissist deluxe, went looking for acolytes in a place where liberal feeling is often at its most passionate, but least informed: college campuses.
Amazingly, many people are taken in by this argument, as they don't understand the difference between our system and those of most European nations, and don't realize that our election system was developed before there were any political parties whatsoever. Tragically, Nader's argument is most readily believed on college campuses, where study of American history and political science in both high school and college is at an all-time low. Hartman, Thom, “Ralph Nader: Let the Voter Beware.”“Progressive” is the word stenciled over the entry to our big tent. If you are a liberal, or a democrat, or a lefty, or a reformer, or you’re just pissed off at what Bush and company have done to our country, you belong in our tent, now. But don’t show up the day before the election expecting to find a candidate that perfectly reflects your own particular brand of left-of-center politics. You need to volunteer early to get your voice heard. Work on a primary, run for the local school board, support local candidates: not just the big, obvious marquee races. If you’re tired of feeling like an outsider, all you have to do is walk through the door: it’s a big tent and we welcome pretty much everybody.