Bruce Bartlett

Readers sometimes ask why I occasionally write columns advising Democrats on how they could gain some political advantage by adopting certain policies. After all, as a Republican, don't I want my party to win? Why am I helping the enemy? The answer is that I'm a Republican only because, historically, it has more closely represented the libertarian views I hold. My goal is good policy, not victory for my team.

The fact is that there is no real alternative for libertarians interested in having some influence on national policy and politics. The Libertarian Party is a joke and, anyway, there is really no place for third parties in the American electoral system. The requirement that presidents must gain an absolute majority in the Electoral College effectively means that we can never have more than two major parties.

Third parties just end up defeating the party closest to them ideologically by splitting the vote, thereby leading to victories by the party to which they are more opposed. A good example is Ross Perot's third party effort in 1992, which only had the effect of defeating George H.W. Bush and electing Bill Clinton. Most of Perot's voters were Republicans who simultaneously believed that Bush had not done enough to reduce the deficit and that the 1990 budget deal was a mistake because it raised taxes.

Of course, there is always the possibility that a third party could supplant one of the major parties. But that has only happened once in American history, when the Republican Party replaced the Whig Party as the principal opposition to the Democrats. However, that was a unique situation in which the deep and fundamental issue of slavery divided the country in a way that no other issue ever has. The Whigs tried to straddle the issue and lost out to the forthright anti-slavery of the Republicans.

I see no issue of similar magnitude on the horizon that could cause the kind of national cleavage that might open the way for one of the major parties to self-destruct. The only issue I observe that even comes close would be a generational divide between the elderly, who are the recipients of massive and growing income transfers, and the young who will pay exorbitant taxes to finance those transfers.


Bruce Bartlett

Bruce Bartlett is a former senior fellow with the National Center for Policy Analysis of Dallas, Texas. Bartlett is a prolific author, having published over 900 articles in national publications, and prominent magazines and published four books, including Reaganomics: Supply-Side Economics in Action.

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