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Red or Blue. Left or Right. Democrat or Republican. 21st century American politics are dominated by just two options. Having such a limited pool of political stances to choose from has fostered a kind of team sports mindset in the US. Republican and Democratic voters often despise each other, and will vote for their team no matter what, and it would seem that elected officials feel the same way about their across-the-aisle-counterparts. But how different are the two major parties, really? In this episode, we’re going to take a brief look at the Republican and Democratic platforms, and consider whether creating a third major party would make a difference.
Before we get into the differences and similarities between the two major camps, let’s take a stroll along the hall of forgotten parties. Over the course of the country’s history, there have been quite a number of smaller parties, and some have even won campaigns below the federal level. Today, the three most prominent minor parties are the Green Party, the Libertarian Party, and the Constitution Party. The oldest among these is the Libertarians. They’ve officially been around since 1971, and boast a membership of over half a million people. Libertarian party members held 176 minor positions across the country. A couple of the more prominent members are former presidential candidate Gary Johnson, and Justin Amash, a former Republican who switched parties, making him the first Libertarian Party congressman. The Green Party is a little younger. It’s been active since the 1980s, but only really gained national attention in 2000 when Ralph Nader ran for President as the Green Party candidate. Greens tend to do well in elections where party allegiance is not listed on ballots next to the candidate’s name, which suggests a fairly wide appeal based solely on policies. Some of these policies include participatory democracy, nonviolence, and environmental justice. The last minor party that currently fields presidential candidates is the Constitution Party. Founded in 1992 under the name The US Taxpayers Party, it was rebranded to its current name in 1999. The Constitution Party is staunchly right-wing, advocating for expansion of gun rights, the banning of abortion, and restriction of immigration. As a smaller party, this group doesn’t tend to win elections at any level, but one of their candidates did finish second, ahead of the republican candidate, in the 2010 Colorado governor’s race.
Besides these three parties, the country has had a number of other, often interestingly named political parties since the 1800s. One of the oldest of these was the Anti-Masonic Party, founded in 1828, basing their entire existence on the fear of the Freemasons. We’ve also seen the Anti-Nebraska party, which sounds funny today but was actually based on the tenets of abolitionism; there was the nonpartisan league, the Black Panther Party, the Concerned Citizens Party, the Christian Freedom Party, the American Nazi Party, and dozens of others, many of which never fielded candidates for major races. One of the most interesting examples was the Socialist Party of America, which was active from 1901 to 1972. Socialist Party candidates ran on platforms way ahead of their time, advocating for things that were unthinkable back then. The eight-hour work day, the 40-hour work week, workplace safety laws, child labor laws, universal suffrage, and many other things that we take for granted today. It was staunchly anti-fascist and anti-stalinist, and garnered considerable support from working Americans. Over its 71-year existence, the Socialist Party of America had some major successes, electing dozens of state legislators, over a hundred mayors, and many more local officials, and even earned nearly a million votes in the 1920 presidential race with their charismatic and well-loved candidate, Eugene V. Debs. What’s even more impressive is that Debs earned those million votes from the inside of a jail cell. He had been locked up for speaking out against World War 1. Debs was a fascinating person and a talented speaker, and remains one of the most important figures in the history of American socialism. Check out some of his speeches if you ever have the time. I’ve left some links in the description.
While there have been dozens of minor political parties throughout the nation’s history, they all have one thing in common. Not one of them could put a dent in the unstoppable two-party system. And so, over the years, the Democrats and the Republicans burned themselves into the minds of American citizens, erasing our collective imagination of what could be possible beyond their limited center-right window of discussion. Now we get to the part where I’m probably going to upset both liberals and conservatives. Yes, the general population is more divided than ever. There are very real ideological differences between conservatives and liberals. That does not apply to the Democratic and Republican parties. There is very little separating today’s elected Republicans and Democrats. The disagreements that they do have tend to be based more on aesthetics than actual policy differences. Both parties are perfectly willing to use state violence to limit our freedom of speech. The Republicans are just open about it, and the Democrats will go for a photo op in traditional African garb, and then say they’re going to increase the police budget. Both parties are dedicated to meddling in foreign affairs and are heavily funded by the military industrial complex. The Democrats may put on a bit of political theater when the military budget comes up, but when push comes to shove, they agree to huge budget increases. When it comes to climate change, Republicans have opted to embrace the anti-science position espoused by many of their voters, whereas democrats will pay lip service to climate science and then refuse to implement the necessary legislation to prevent climate catastrophe. The campaigns of both parties have devolved into “we’re not the other guy.” The Democratic platform is “we’re going to beat Trump,” and the Republican platform is “we’re going to rally behind Trump.” When politics becomes a popularity contest, it doesn’t matter what the people actually want. Policies with incredible bipartisan support get left by the wayside because the two major parties know, at the end of the day, the people will vote for their team. Red or Blue. But, as in sports, the teams have owners. And these two teams just happen to be owned by the same people. Fossil Fuel companies, pharmaceuticals, defense contractors, the world’s worst offenders when it comes to pollution, addiction, war, and needless suffering, they fund both the Republicans and the Democrats. Republicans don’t even try to deny it because much of their base doesn’t care. Many democrats, on the other hand, are having to find more secretive ways to accept massive donations because their base is very anti corporate money. Every democratic presidential candidate swore off corporate donations, but, surprise surprise, they all found ways around that promise. Even my beloved Bernie Sanders accepted a bit of corporate money, though he was far better than the rest.
This brings us to the most important fact of modern politics. Because of how willing both parties have been to accept corporate donations, they are now completely reliant on those funds to run competitive campaigns. If one party says no to tens of millions of dollars from Lockheed, Exxon, and Merk, they’ll be outspent a thousand to one and risk losing the election. The corporations donating to the two parties understand this. Spending millions of dollars to boost Democratic and Republican campaigns isn’t charity, it’s an investment. What do they get in return? Policies favorable to their respective industries. Ever wonder why we don’t get real, impactful climate change legislation even though it’s supported by the vast majority of Americans? Because Fossil Fuel groups spend billions of dollars every election cycle to help elect candidates from the local level all the way up to the presidency. Once elected, those politicians are then on the hook to live up to their promise of favorable policy, which means easing restrictions, spreading misinformation, or signing lucrative contracts. Contracts with Lockheed or Boeing means keeping the country in a perpetual state of war so they can develop and sell new weapons and tools of war. Policies favorable to Exxon or other Fossil Fuel groups means invasive new pipelines, the dismantling of climate regulations, and enabling even more disastrous climate fallout. Pharmaceutical companies want distribution rights to the eventual COVID vaccine, or to be able to pump more addictive opioids into hospitals and pharmacies. And the billionaire executives leading all of these industries want tax laws that will benefit them, allowing them to amass even more wealth, while leaving 99 percent of Americans to fight over scraps. This is why we’ve been at war for decades. This is why we’re seeing record heat waves, flooding, and destructive weather. This is why you can’t go to the hospital without going bankrupt. The two major parties are completely bought and paid for. We don’t really have a choice at all. We either elect a corporate puppet with a red tie, or a corporate puppet with a blue tie.
So, what do we do? If both parties represent the same interests, and they don’t care what the people want, what options do we have? Can we reform the parties at the ballot box? Can we push politicians in the desired direction? Maybe, but if past election cycles are any indication, candidates will make big promises and then capitulate to their donors after they’re in power. What about a third major party? Could that be possible? That’s a difficult question to answer. The history of the US is full of fledgling parties that never really made it off the ground. A few have had decent success, but could a third party really unseat a president backed by billions of dollars of corporate money? That’s exactly what a new group called the Movement for a People’s Party hopes to find out. On August 30th, 2020, 400,000 people tuned in to watch an online convention for a new political party opposed to corporate interests. Following the appalling trainwrecks of the Democratic and Republican National Conventions, a lot of people, myself included, were curious to hear what the People’s Party was about. The convention featured a pretty impressive slate of speakers, from former presidential candidate Marianne Williamson, to national co-chair of the Bernie 2020 campaign, Nina Turner, to Cornel West, Jimmy Dore, Jesse Ventura, and many other labor leaders, activists, and average Americans frustrated with the toxic two-party system. After a formal vote to establish an official party, the movement announced their intention to draft a platform, get on local ballots, and field candidates for the 2022 midterms, and hopefully, the 2024 presidential race. Now, history has shown us that third party candidates struggle against entrenched forces like the Democratic and Republican Parties, but if there’s anything that could give a new party a foothold, it’s the horrific state of the country and the fact that we’ve been offered two of the least appealing presidential candidates in history. I think a message that puts average people over the interests of billionaires and the world’s most destructive corporations could really resonate in today’s political climate. Will it be enough to force their way into the national conversation? That remains to be seen, but I really hope it is. I would love the opportunity not to vote for the lesser of two evils, but for a candidate who actually represents the will of the people. And I don’t think I’m alone in that.
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