02 March 2012

Grow, Little Political Start Up

I have long been a believer in political moderation and centrism. I was one of the early signers-on to the Modern Whig Party, an effort by returning Iraqi War Veterans to start a centrist new political party.

Although, for personal and work-related reasons, I had to reduce my involvement in that effort, my time spent with that group introduced me to some of the most decent, patriotic, and concerned citizens I have ever met in my life. It gave me real hope for our country to meet other people with a lot of common sense. If only such deep concern and goodwill would pervade our everyday politics, and media reporting, out nation would be in better shape.

One thing we did not have much of, though, was money. And to play with the big boys, you need of lot it. I mean a lot. Think of a lot of money. Then multiply that by 100. OK, got it? Well, you still don't have enough. So that was the one thing that was limiting, and very frustrating. How to get money? Contributions, of course. But the kind of people who give the big bucks do so because they expect something in return. And being a start-up, you don't have anything to give. And you won't, unless you get some money. So you have the familiar what-came-first-the-chicken-or-the-egg kind of problem.

Three solutions can easily be imagined for a political start-up. First, overwhelming public enthusiasm will help you bootstrap your way into office, and into getting some contributors. An example of this would be the Tea Party surge that we saw in 2009-10. Big, big, big public interest creates rapidly growing credibility. However, the powers-that-be will strive mightily to divert you insurgency in to established political channels. As we saw with the Tea Party, where the anti-establishment ethos of its early days was diverted safely by the moneyed political elites into the Republican Party. If the Occupy Wall Street protests had picked up more momentum, the Democrats were certainly prepared, if not eager, to divert them into another Democratic Party interest group.

Secondly, a significant donor can step up and back the start-up effort. While sure to be welcomed at first, one can never forget that money brings control, and unless your deep-pocketed donor is truly benevolent, you risk becoming a political tool of one person's interests (or the interests of a small, wealthy group).

Thirdly, established political figures can break away from established politics and back the start-up. This is what has happened in our distant past, and what happens in other countries. It has not happened here in a long, long time. I suspect it is due to both sheer inertia and the legally entreated positions of the two parties. But it was this possibility that always intrigued me the most. Surely, I thought, there must be some established political figures that were deeply unhappy, and would be willing to make a leap if the time looked right.

Which is why I am intrigued most by articles like this one:

NY Times: Prominent Democrat Endorses Third-Party Group
Even as Republicans wage a bitter, intra-party feud for the right to challenge President Obama a group called Americans Elect is steadily building support — and a 50-state infrastructure — for a bipartisan ticket that could challenge both parties for the White House.

That effort will get a fresh push on Tuesday from David Boren, a former Democratic senator and governor from Oklahoma who backed Mr. Obama in 2008 but says he is now looking for a way to provide “electric shock therapy” to the political system.“The country is going to really be in deep trouble if we don’t act soon,” Mr. Boren, who is now president of the University of Oklahoma, said in an interview with The Caucus. “I think this is really a cry from many of us who are really concerned for the future of the country.”

Mr. Boren is part of a small, but growing cadre of politicians from both sides of the aisle who are expressing displeasure with the political system — and the political gridlock it is producing. Just last week, Jon M. Huntsman Jr., the former governor of Utah and candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, voiced support for a third party, saying that the two-party system was broken.
Now, I will admit, that this kind of news may not seem all that exciting. Also involved in this type of general disgruntlement are former Louisiana Governor Buddy Roemer, and N.Y. Mayor Bloomberg. No individual may seem particularly inspiring. But taken together, their general disgruntlement hopefully represents a larger trend. And then you also have the Americans Elect effort.

Among average Americans there is a lot of unhappiness with the way our politics is (not) working. More unhappiness than the media would ever reveal, in bed as they are with the political establishment. The number of those who say they are political independents increases every year. Something will have to eventually give. I may not think Americans Elect is ideal. I still pine away for my beloved Modern Whig Party. But perfection is rarely encountered in politics. We cannot not let the perfect be the enemy of the good.

Maybe a combination of methods two and three, mentioned above, will work. Taken together, maybe some break away politicians together with the Americans Elect effort could grow, and start a crack in the deadening concrete overlay of the two party system.

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