Third party: into the wilderness

TEA Party to GOP establishment: enough already.
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Several TEA Party activists, and others who call themselves Patriots, do not accept the status quo and want a third party to replace the Republicans and the Democrats. The likely outcome will be sixteen years in the wilderness. So those who call for a third party must prepare themselves to enter that wilderness and lead others through it. And the journey will not be pleasant.

The frustrating status quo

Without question, the status quo (which Ronald Reagan called “Latin for ‘the mess we are now in’”) frustrates everyone. This includes those who love liberty and those who just want “an economy that works.” Whatever is important to any particular person, all must admit that the economy does not work and that Americans are less free today than they were three years ago (or, as some say, eleven).

Now the “bipartisan deficit supercommittee” has failed to agree on a plan to cut the deficit. (Never mind the total debt.) And so, under the terms of the bill that raised the debt ceiling, that law will cut all budgets across the board. That includes $600 billion in defense cuts. Senators John McCain (R-AZ) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) together said what that would mean:

The immediate impact of a sequester, according to Secretary Panetta — who previously served as Chairman of the House Budget Committee and Chief of Staff to President Bill Clinton — could be a 23 percent across-the-board cut to our nation’s defense programs. Shipbuilding and construction contracts would have to be curtailed, and civilian personnel and contractors would have to be furloughed. The result of these cuts after ten years would be “the smallest ground force since 1940, the smallest number of ships since 1915, and the smallest Air Force in its history.” The United States would face “substantial risk of not being able to meet our defense needs.”

(Maybe. Or maybe Congress will cancel everything after the next election. The man now holding office as President says that he will not allow that. But how often has he been as good as his word?)

TEA Party activists, like my fellow editor, are starting to sing the same refrain that your editor has seen in certain on-line Patriot lists. Namely, that the Democrats and the Republicans are putting on a “dog-and-pony show.” They seek to freeze government in place. Above all, that includes the careers of the senior members of Congress, of both parties. The super-committee spectacle convinces many that neither party really wants to do anything. Democrats pretend to press for “social justice”; Republicans pretend to strike for liberty. Yet both parties set up a super-committee with equal numbers of members of both Parties and both houses of Congress. They then stack that committee with the most ardent, even strident ideologues. That super-committee was going to deadlock, everyone knew it would deadlock, and — so say the Patriots — they wanted it to deadlock. With deadlock, each side could blame the other, and turn out its base. Then each base will re-elect each party’s most senior members, and the dog-and-pony show will go on as before.

A few Patriots seem to press for armed rebellion. That is beyond scope here. What is within scope is the other call: for a new or “third party,” whose leaders will work to clean House (and Senate, and White House) and restore our liberties.

The assumption behind a third party movement

Ross Perot, classic third party "spoiler"

H. Ross Perot. Photo: US Department of Veterans' Affairs.

Those who call for a third party generally assume that the Republicans are flat-out lying to them. Republicans say that they want to shrink government and restore liberty. But all they really want is to keep electing a few senior members, plus enough junior members to keep up the charade. They further assume that anyone who tries to reform the Republican Party will lose. The senior establishment will cut off funds, refuse to recognize county committee members, and do everything possible to trot out the same old names for election after election.

The only way to test the first assumption is to see what happens if the Republicans not only capture the White House and both Houses of Congress, but capture the Congress with two-thirds majorities in both chambers. With two-thirds, they could expel some of the more troublesome and brazenly anti-liberty Members, impeach and remove from the bench several equally anti-Constitutional judges and Justices, and amend the Constitution to abolish the income tax, restore State legislative choice of Senators, force the government to balance its budget, strictly limit the government to, perhaps, the Three Randite Functions (police, military, and judiciary), and so on. Of course the last time that Republicans controlled both Houses, they passed Medicare Part D (Doughnut Holes and all), No Child Left Behind, and other boondoggles that presaged the Obama health care reform bill.

That leaves taking over the Republican Party from within. Martin Gillespie of American Majority Action told your editor that ACORN and the labor unions took over the Democratic Party. The methods they used, conservatives and libertarians could use as well. The third party argument runs like this: the Republican establishment would never allow it. But they could not stop it. Or could they?

The third party result

Let us assume, arguendo, that the Republican establishment would and could “stop it.” Enter the third party. No establishment, no senior members, no special favors. Third party advocates commonly argue something like this:

If everybody who now votes, sheep-like, for “the lesser of two evils,” votes instead for the good, we could gain control in one election.

But they won’t. And even some third party advocates know they won’t. The Republican Party, no less than the Democratic, has regular voters who want the status quo. Aside from that, fear of vote-splitting is still real. Perhaps that becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

So any third party will take several election cycles to build a large-enough base to win with. During that time, the other major party, the Democrats, will gain the total control that they (ostensibly) have long sought. And any third party member, from its chairman down to the lowliest knocker-on-doors, must prepare for all the possible consequences.

The Democrats could gain control for one election cycle and make such a mess that voters shudder at the result and throw them out. (Precedent: the Elections of 1974 and 1976, and the term of James Earl “Jimmy” Carter, Jr.) What then? Possibly the voters run to the Republicans, who are “the devil(s) they know.” Now the third party must fight their hardest battle against those who pretend to love liberty, but don’t. (Again, we assume arguendo that the Republicans are insincere in their platform.)

Or the Democrats could gain control and keep it. Frankly, your editor has never understood why the Democrats, when they held both Houses of Congress, did not instruct their friendly Commissioners of Federal Communications to reinstate the Fairness Doctrine. They still might. As a result, CNAV would not be allowed to exist, the Big Three Networks would be the only stations on television, and the only option for conservatives would be to “reply to Channel Two Editorials.” Then again, the Democrats had the Fairness Doctrine in 1976-80 and that still did not protect them from Ronald W. Reagan. They know this. So, if we take some Democratic and liberal activists at their word, they might deploy the Chavez Solution: suspend elections and freeze the government in place. Governor Beverly Perdue (D-NC) proposed precisely that two months ago.

Aside from the risk that the next election that the Democrats would win, would be the last election in which any American would be allowed to vote, is the risk of the damage that Democratic policies would do. Cutting the navy to pre-World War One strength is only one such risk. (Though by actually saying that such a drastic cut might occur, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta might have made one part of the scenario in Atlas Shrugged, Part One more likely: the career of the modern-day buccaneer, or privateer, named Ragnar Danneskjøld. But I digress.) Another is a return of the income tax to status quo ante Jack Kennedy. The government might ration health care, ration food, ration motor fuel, put a “sterilant” in our drinking water, forbid all but the “authorized” to have powered vehicles, and confiscate weapons. Diligent researchers will find proposals for all these things in the writings of Barack H. Obama and his many czars. And if the Democrats suspend elections, then those who value their liberty will have only two choices:

  1. Make armed rebellion against the government, or
  2. Go on strike, as the characters in Atlas Shrugged do. (And even then, Ragnar Danneskjøld is an armed rebel, for he is a privateer in the service of a rebel, or at least a secessionist, society.)

Why a third party might still pull the country back

Even with these risks, one question remains. Why didn’t the Democrats do that when they had the chance? If they were serious about half their programs, and about “never letting a good crisis go to waste,” then Obama should have reinstated the Fairness Doctrine by Executive Order on his first day. Senator Harry Reid (D-NV) had sixty votes in the Senate; he could have gotten through any enabling legislation he needed. The health care reform bill could have taken effect immediately, instead of waiting until 2014. With that would have come the Ready Reserve Corps that would have been the “civilian security force” that Obama said he wanted. (The Democrats did introduce HR 875, the Food Safety Modernization Act, that would have forbidden any householder to grow his own fruits or vegetables. What has become of that bill? It never got out of committee.)

But the Democrats did not do these things. That one failure of nerve supports the idea that the journey through the wilderness on which a third party movement would lead those who love their liberty and country, would be far less hazardous than one might suppose. If the Democrats did not crack down when they had the chance (before ACORN had to fold and change its name, for example), are they likely to crack down after conservatives “split their votes” and abandon the Republican half of the “dog and pony show”? Maybe not. And if one election takes place after the Democrats gain full control and “do their worst,” the electorate might have enough outrage to listen to the third party and its message.

A risky venture? Certainly. Any third party advocate must know the risks before he begins, and plan for all of them.