The Finch Formerly Known As Gold

18 June 2004

And someone makes three

Bill at Hawken Blog points out that third parties have had more influence than you think:

Virtually every significant progressive gain in American history was originally proposed by an alternative third party the abolition of slavery, women's right to vote, the 40 hour work week, unemployment insurance, worker's compensation laws, the minimum wage, pure food and drug laws, the abolition of child labor. In fact, the very foundation of what we today would consider the bare minimum for a just and compassionate society was championed by third parties.

Even non-progressive third parties have influenced the course of American politics. Ross Perot's 1992 and '96 runs for president put the issue of the balancing the budget on the table. The Dixiecrats in 1948 represented the anger of conservative southern Democrats with their party’s newfound liberal civil rights plank. They would break away and join the Republicans in large numbers after Barry Goldwater's 1964 conservative takeover of the party.

The Republicans, you'll remember, started out as #3 behind the Democrats and the Whigs, and pushed two issues: slavery, which they didn't want, and women's suffrage, which they did. Eventually, the Republican concentration on the former at the expense of the latter, even after the Civil War Between The States For Southern Independence, convinced the suffragists to go out on their own.

Whether the Greens or the Libertarians or some other third party (actually, anyone beyond the Greens or the Libertarians probably should be considered a fourth party) will eventually become strong enough to become a major party remains to be seen, but I'm persuaded that having them nipping at the heels of the big boys is a Good Thing, and that this state's ongoing effort to keep them off the ballot whenever possible is counterproductive at best.

Posted at 6:30 AM to Political Science Fiction

That assumes, of course, that one sees all of those things as "gains". With the exception of the abolition of slavery and women's suffrage (and, I confess, even I sometimes wonder about the latter), there's a lot of room for debate there and one can easily say instead that third-parties have been responsible for a lot of loss of freedom. The minimum wage and Pure Food and Drug Act are particular targets of libertarians -- frankly I consider the Pure Food and Drug Act to have been one of the worst ideas ever -- and the workmen's comp and unemployment insurance aren't far behind.

By the way, 40 hour work week? Since when? I get paid only for forty hours, but more typically I've actually worked closer to 60 - 70.


Posted by: Myria at 1:39 PM on 18 June 2004

Well, Bill was coming from a specifically "progressive" viewpoint, and his choices do reflect that, but it seems pretty clear to me that undoing these things will require third-party assistance, just as doing them did in the first place.

My workweek averages about 48 or 49 lately.

Posted by: CGHill at 1:49 PM on 18 June 2004

Just a reminder, the Oklahoma Libertarian Party still has a hearing pending. We may yet be on the ballot this year in the state. As soon as we get rescheduled the information will be on our website.

Posted by: Chris at 10:56 AM on 19 June 2004

But were these "movements" actually "parties"? Or were they effectively fringe movements of existing parties?

I used to think "third parties" were a good thing. But now I think that if they hold the status of "party" they have more influence than their numbers legitimize. I now think that these "movements" (whether good, bad, or ugly) are better subsumed within a two-party system -- thus being moderated within the existing system. I think that is a meaningful check on revolutionary tendencies, while allowing the "fringe" or "forward-moving" elements a legitimate voice with impact. Also, it does not negate the possibility for the "movement" to over-take the party, if it's message is strong enough.

Thus, the two-party is a system that fosters "progressiveness" while moderating it, enabling a stable political system.

Posted by: cj at 12:43 AM on 21 June 2004

Eventually, of course, they are subsumed within the two-party system; the Republicans became a major mostly because the Whigs went into decline, and bereaved Whigs wound up joining the GOP. The most hard-nosed Greens will remain outside the D/R axis, but many of their ideas and some of their members will end up among the Democrats. (I hesitate to make any predictions about the Libertarians, whose pursuit of a single goal might cluster them with the Democrats on one issue, with the Republicans on another.)

Posted by: CGHill at 7:16 AM on 21 June 2004