September 27, 2012

Path to a third-party

Conor Friedersdorf will not vote for Obama or Romney.  He instead argues that voting for a third-party candidate is what a moral, conscientious, and informed American should do.  I do not agree.

For the sake of argument, let's assume that the implausible happens November 6th and someone like Gary Johnson or Jill Stein gets elected.  They must immediately form a transition team and start selecting viable Cabinet nominees.  Who would they pick?  Would there be any potential picks who have experience at a national level, the competency to run entire departments, and the credibility both home and abroad?  Before they even get there, are there even staffers prepared to man a transition team?

Again, let's assume there are credible, competent people who align with this independent candidate, they are selected and now must go before Congress to be approved.  Obama, with a near super-majority, had immense difficulty getting his nominations approved and for much of his first term was lacking a fully-staffed Cabinet.  Now, facing two opposition parties, how will the approval process proceed?  Any of Stein's appointees are nearly guaranteed to be far too liberal for Republicans and even a third of Congressional Democrats.  Johnson would have to either sacrifice his social (to appease Republicans) or economic (to appease Democrats) stances to get anyone appointed.  Or they would have to select from the majority party's Cabinet candidates and have an entire Cabinet that does not line up behind the President.

Once more, let's assume the third-party President (TPP) somehow gets a full Cabinet that is aligned with their beliefs and campaign promises.  The Inauguration is now over and it's time to get to work.  TPP sends his first proposed bill to Congress and... Congress (no Independents in the House; one Independent in the Senate [two if King wins in Maine, which he is projected to]) flatly rejects it and writes their own legislation.  The normal gridlock occurs between Democrats and Republicans and FINALLY one bill out of 100 make it to the Independent President who... vetoes it.  Lacking the two-thirds vote to overturn, no bills are passed for four years...  Or the TPP signs the bill he does not agree with, and his Independent status means nothing, legislatively.

Obviously, it depends on who the TPP is and what stances they hold, but with the current gridlock between two parties, the gridlock would only be worse with a third party introduced.

A viable third party must start with local/state elections.  To borrow a concept from video games, a third party has to "level up" enough and recruit a big enough party to take on the final boss of the Presidency.  As third-party Senators and Representatives are elected, their staffers and advisers get more experience, and potential Cabinet appointees are created and incubated.  A coalition of like-minded Congresspeople are in place to create and pass the TPP's bills.  This also eases the two current parties into slowly relinquishing power and opening them up to compromises to get anything done.

This post is more conjecture than I typically like to do, but I really can't be optimistic about a third-party candidate when the two-party system is already so dysfunctional.  Even if they were to start winning seats in Congress this year, a third-party is very far away from creating a competent Presidential administration.


  1. I agree with thoughts. I like the video game analogy!

    I wonder, though, what you think of this interpretation of Friedersdorf remarks: it's true that pragmatically voting for a 3rd party won't accomplish much. However, votes also have symbolic value (arguably that's the only value one's vote has in elections with millions of voters). By voting for neither Obama nor Romney, Friedersdorf is signalling that he doesn't share their values. He's wondering how others, in this case liberals could, as the actions Obama has taken seem morally unjustified from their perspective (if they are being principled). So from that perspective, do you think it makes sense to vote 3rd party?

    P.S. I think Gary Johnson would do many morally abhorrent things were he to get his way very often, so let's suppose the 3rd party candidate in question is likely to be better than him.

  2. Maybe I'm being too alarmist, but I think that the Republicans are far too destructive to concern oneself with symbolism or sending a message. If the disparity between Obama and Romney and, more importantly, Democrats and Republicans were smaller, then I would probably vote third-party myself. But I refuse to let Romney (and his Republican appointees) any closer to office by not voting for Obama. I can't see how it's better to trade in someone who is doing immoral foreign policy, but seemingly-moral domestic policy for someone who will probably do immoral foreign and domestic policy, no matter what message gets sent.

  3. If anything, like other topics in this country, money will keep a third party from ever being viable. A third party candidate would need a lot of dough to compete in advertising. That third party candidate would have to make -some- financial allegiances. If ever a threat, then the established parties would use their money in attack ads. The major networks are also driven by money, so i'm sure there'd be significant financial pressure for them not to allow a third party candidate to the debates. It would probably take an actual 2nd great depression for the country to be desperate enough to try a third party. ... For now, as Zane said, not voting for Obama is a vote for romney. That just can't be done.