I think one of the great strengths of the American system of government is the two-party system. It forces people to compromise and keeps both parties fairly close to the middle of the political spectrum. I think these are good things, but they necessarily frustrate those with strongly held views, who gravitate to third parties because they prefer the company of like-minded people. They get great pleasure out of congratulating each other on their adherence to principle and on how much better they are as human beings than those who compromise and work within the major parties.
This is fine if politics is just a game. But at the end of the day, third parties cannot win the White House under current rules. Some third party advocates say that may be true, but the Republican Party started out as a third party and rose to become one of the two major parties. The same thing could happen again, they say.
To this, I have two answers. First, the Republican Party was never really a third party. The Whig Party had completely collapsed by 1856, when the Republicans ran their first presidential candidate, so we went from one two-party system immediately to another two-party system. Second, the problem of slavery is the greatest one this nation has ever faced. Nothing remotely similar exists today or likely ever will upon which a viable new party could establish itself.
Therefore, I will continue to argue that only by changing our electoral system in some fundamental way will it be possible for third parties to become viable. My preferred solution, if we really want to empower third parties, is twofold. First, change state laws to make it easier for new parties to get ballot access. Right now, the laws are rigged against them. Second, allow cross endorsements and aggregation of votes.
I would like to see all states have a system like New York's, where there is a viable Conservative Party, Liberal Party and others. They often endorse the Republican or Democrat, and the votes they get on the third-party line also count toward their total. This way, voters can send a message to politicians without wasting their vote.
To sum up, third parties cannot win unless there is fundamental electoral reform. Those who favor third parties like the Libertarian Party must, therefore, work for such reform if they hope to become viable.
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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