I’ve had 24 hours to feel annoyed about the DNC chairmanship, and after a friend got me to read a few things I’ve decided there’s more important things to worry about. There’s significant symbolic elements to that job, and it’s mostly measured by two things: how well you raise money and how many elections you win. Democrats have already made fundraising into a science, so as long as Perez keeps doing that he won’t really go wrong there; and in 2018 we’ll know if he can help the party win elections. Of course, if Democrats lose control of any more state legislatures, then Republicans will control enough states to call a Constitutional convention and shape the country into anything they like. If that doesn’t make party leaders worried enough to change behavior then maybe I’m dumb for worrying about it.
No, the thing I’m not looking forward to, now that Perez has won, is spending more time and energy telling people not to leave the Democrats and start a third party.
I admit, I had a strong emotional reaction to what happened yesterday. My exact words were:
Eloquent, if I do say so myself. But now it’s a day later and I realize certain realities, none of which are different based on feelings:
- The American system of government is fundamentally oriented towards a two-party system.
- No third-party has become a meaningful force in American politics in over 150 years.
- The Tea Party took over the GOP in under six years; they didn’t squander their enthusiasm and waste their time trying to start a third party.
- Bernie is not a young man. Of course I want him to live until 120, and as my sister says, “He should live and be well.” But the most likely situation is that he will pass away sometime during the formation of any third-party because it will take forever. That will turn that nascent party into a tailspin, as its own internal groups vie for control. And what will the losing faction of that struggle start organizing? Another, even newer third-party.
- Creating a third party is much harder (and vastly more complicated) than anyone thinks. You need ballot access in every state you hope to get votes, and that means you have to recruit rules committees in every state you want to compete in. So then you have to learn the laws of the state in order to prepare your application, then you have to meet the requirements of each state laws in order to submit your application, and you have to do that with unpaid people who are working on it in their spare time. 99% of them won’t be lawyers and can’t afford to get legal advice for each of the steps needed along the way. So then you also have to raise money to do it, and raising money is going to be hard enough with all of the other causes that we need to raise money for now. And you have to do all of this in all of the states simultaneously so that your candidates can appear on the ballot in the next election. Miss a deadline and you have to wait until the next election cycle to try again, which burns another 2 to 4 years with each misstep. And while you’re doing all that, you have to find candidates who will then run in that election under your party- and they have to be good candidates who know what they’re doing or you’ll get skewered in the press- if you get any coverage at all. Plus, you have to build a platform which entails endless discussions about what’s in it and what’s not, and without a strong leader that process will be unnavigable.
Let’s pretend for the sake of argument that all of the above has happened, and not only has it happened flawlessly, but it’s also happened in record time. Now, you must start the process of losing several elections until you learn messaging, marketing and recruitment. You’re looking at 20 years before your third-party occasionally earns a municipal victory, and 40 years before you are potentially viable. And those are probably optimistic minimums. The Green Party has been trying to be viable in the US for decades and they are still essentially irrelevant. Perot’s Reform Party had a strong leader AND money, and after 2 election cycles they fell apart.
But finally, my above-mentioned good friend (who knows things I don’t) pointed this out: Democratic division strengthens Trump, and she’s right: any progressive who leaves the Democrats is helping Trump and his cronies. The history of American politics and the mathematical realities of voting tell us it’s true. You don’t have to like that – I don’t – but you can either have your feelings or you can have a party that’s in power. If you’re advocating for a third party, you won’t have both in this country.
If everyone clamoring for a third-party put their time and energy into aggressively organizing against Democratic candidates in favor of progressive candidates, we could enjoy the same success our Tea Party friends do. There’s no reason to reinvent the wheel, and it’s a colossal mistake to try. If progressives want to become the dominant force in American politics, we have to remain in the Democratic party and co-opt it from within. There’s simply no debate. We are Democrats and we need to stick together.