We could debate their relative shades of gray, but candidates from both major parties depend on sponsorship from corporations and the wealthy to finance their elections. Then they must “repay” those debts once elected. Overturning Citizens United with a Constitutional amendment that includes a mirror-fogging test for personhood, comprehensive campaign finance reform, and perhaps some restructuring of the Electoral College would help clean up the current mess.
However, things may not permanently improve until the clout of political parties also gets severely trimmed. Political parties weren’t built into the Constitution and didn’t exist for the first several years of the republic. Washington never belonged to one, and several founders warned against splitting into factions. As much I hate admitting this, having actively participated in them for much of my life, political parties may be among our worst social inventions and international exports.
Four times throughout U.S. history, parties have significantly realigned or coalesced around shifting societal and economic trends, and it’s happening again. The Tea Party amounts to an attempted coup among Republicans, and the Occupy Movement seems to be shouting “A pox on both your houses!”
In a parliamentary system, several smaller parties often simultaneously represent specific constituencies and form coalitions to pass mutually acceptable legislation. We Americans have opted to cram all elected officials into one of two boxes. It’s a defect that keeps everything artificially polarized and highly dysfunctional.
Thomas Jefferson advised “rebellions,” meaning sweeping major revisions in how things are structured, about every 20 years as “medicine necessary for the sound health of government.”
So how’s this for a Jeffersonian rebellion? Let’s elect presidents outside the current party system.
An Internet group known as Americans Elect is attempting just that. Anyone can complete an online questionnaire about their social and political values. The survey’s results will be used to attract candidates matching the broadest consensus for Americans Elect to endorse. The system risks being gamed, used or even subverted, but the concept has merit.
Of course, we do have a history of third parties impacting elections. More than getting its own candidates into office, however, third party influence has mainly been to make one of the two major parties more responsive to its demands.
A challenge with getting third party candidates elected is that they’re less well known and sometimes perceived as quirky and representing only narrow interests. And while candidates like Ralph Nader have had passionate and loyal followings, they can also siphon off enough votes from the party that’s closer to them to tip the election to the party that’s further away. This is what happened in Florida in 2000.
So why not try something completely new: putting together a coalition of candidates from various points on the American political spectrum that runs together as an alternative to one candidate from one party. They’d run as a presidential administration…an entire cabinet representing a broad range of interests.
Imagine a “candidacy” like this. My personal choice would be Vermont’s independent, left-leaning, Senator Bernie Sanders at the top of the ticket, but I’d settle for our former guv Jon Huntsman, a credible, back-of-the-pack, GOP contender who’s moderate and open to progressive ideas.
Make Sanders his VP running mate, and fill in from there. Ron Paul would be a fascinating Secretary of Defense. Could there be a better shredder of the Pentagon’s bloated budget? As of this writing, Congressman Paul leads the polls for Iowa caucuses, but most pundits believe he won’t win the Republican nomination. Perhaps this experience will finally convince him that life outside his party can be much more interesting.
Other “cabinet candidates” might be former New Mexico governor Gary Johnson, Louisiana’s Buddy Roemer, Elizabeth Warren, Ralph Nader, Robert Reich, Tim Pawlenty, Charlie Crist, Dennis Kucinich, Eliot Spitzer and Jeb Bush. I’m fighting off a mild gag reflex as I write this, but Michele Bachmann and Rick Santorum should also be considered. And don’t forget some highly qualified non-political technocrats and third party members.
Former Salt Lake City mayor Rocky Anderson had an excellent interview with MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow but made what seemed like a Freudian slip. He referred to the new party he’d just formed as the Justice Department rather than the Justice Party. To me, that’s prophetic because Rocky would be an outstanding Attorney General.
The problem with Anderson’s new party and him as its sole, presidential candidate is that they probably won’t attract enough support to make his run much more than a protest. He’ll likely get my vote, but I harbor no illusions that it will amount to anything more than a no-confidence gesture against either party’s candidate.
All it would take to pull off a real revolution in how presidential politics are done is for several good, prominent people to suppress their egos, relax their narrowly focused agendas, and run and serve this nation’s best interest as a team. Just imagine all the campaigning they could do.
If we keep doing what we’ve always done, we’ll always get what we’ve always had, and when the dust settles, it won’t really matter much if it’s Barack, Newt or Mitt. They’ve all emerged from the bottom of very deep pockets. With some creative thinking, however, we could do better. Much better.
Jim Catano, has cycled through both major and some minor parties during his political life. He writes and edits from Salt Lake City.