Third-party candidates serve vital purpose

by Jim Longworth

I first became disillusioned with the two-party system back in 1976 when Ronald Reagan was rejected by mainstream Republicans in favor of party hack (but nice guy) Gerald Ford. I thought Reagan should have bucked the system and run on a third-party ticket. Instead he resisted the urge to break away, but I wondered how things might have been different had he bolted the GOP and won as an independent. The recession wouldn’t have occurred, our hostages wouldn’t have been in Iran for over a year and the Cold War would have ended sooner. As much as I liked Reagan, though, my admiration is mainly reserved for men and women who take risks, show courage, and run against the grain. Sorry, but two-party people just don’t fit those criteria. Early on, America had different political choices than today. There were Whigs and Federalists, Democratic Republicans, then Democrats and Republicans. But throughout those transitions, we still maintained a basic two-party system, and that’s why we also have a rich history of third-party challengers. Generally speaking, but not always, third-party-goers conduct a one-issue campaign. In 1872 Victoria Woodhull became the first woman to run for president, and she was nominated by the Equal Rights party. Guess what her campaign theme was. But Woodhull was not the one-trick pony you might have guessed. She was a wiz at investing, she owned her own publishing company and she advocated free love. Unfortunately Woodhull lost to incumbent Ulysses S. Grant. Racist Strom Thurmond ran as a Dixiecrat in 1948 and his platform focused on preserving the status quo in the South. His bigotry was mildly disguised by calling his group the States Rights Party. But racism aside, Thurmond’s independent bid was significant because he managed to win 39 electoral votes, and that brings us to the biggest barrier that third-party candidates face in trying to ascend to the presidency: Hardly ever do independents win electoral college votes, and that’s because the system was designed by old white, power-hungry, aristocratic, living-off-their-wives’-money control freaks who distrusted the will of the people and wanted to make certain that insider politicos picked the chief executive. As such, we are locked into a corrupt system in which the winner of the popular vote in any given state captures 100 percent of the electoral votes for that state, even if he only won by one popular vote. Today there is a move afoot by some states to revise the system so that each candidate receives a proportionate percentage of electoral votes according to his popular vote tally. In my opinion, we should abolish the EC altogether, but if that’s not possible, then the reapportionment strategy is the next best thing. But even if the college was abolished, most third-party candidates would be hard-pressed to win the top prize. Teddy Roosevelt came close in 1912 when his Bull Moose party spoiled Taft’s re-election bid and put Wilson in the White House. And Ross Perot was a contender in 1992 when he ran as the Reform Party candidate against Bush the elder and Bill Clinton. At one point in the campaign, Perot was neck-and-neck with his rivals, but then faded to collect only about 20 percent of the popular vote. What Perot did, however, was to educate us about the deficit, and propose a businesslike approach to governance. He ran again in 1996 and began warning us of the dangers of NAFTA. The two-party mainstream wouldn’t heed his warnings, and today we’re paying the price with plant closings and massive layoffs. Pat Buchanan, who ran twice as a GOP rebel in ’92 and ’96, and as an independent in 2000 used the national stage to warn Americans about the dangers of illegal immigration. He proposed a moratorium and a tightening of border security before anyone else was even talking about the threat. Had voters put Buchanan in office, and had he implemented his programs, it’s doubtful that the 9-11 terrorists would have been able to enter the United States, and certain that they would have been unable to obtain fake drivers licenses so easily, which enabled their deadly operation to move forward. Over the years we have also had third-party candidates campaign for peace by calling for an end to a war. In 1968, Dick Gregory and Eldridge Cleaver ran on the Freedom and Peace and Peace and Freedom tickets respectively, demanding an end to the Vietnam War. And Ralph Nader may make his fourth independent run next year by advocating a quick pullout in Iraq. Since Congressional Democrats are obviously impotent against the Decider, I am hoping Nader will stay engaged and keep up the pressure to bring our troops home ASAP. Nader as you recall was blamed by Democrats for Al Gore’s loss in 2000. That’s because the consumer advocate guru garnered nearly 3 percent of the popular vote in a race where Bush won by less than 1 percent. That’s all the more reason for Ralph to run in 2008 – so he can clean up the Bush mess which he made possible. Perhaps my favorite third-party candidate of all time is Millard Fillmore who in 1856, after serving one term as president, ran as an independent. To be honest, I don’t really like the man – I just love the name of his organization. It was called the “Know Nothing” party, and I think today’s GOP and Dems should adopt the moniker because they actually do know nothing, and seem to be proud of it. Bush is certainly a know nothing. John Edwards is a do nothing. Obama basically says nothing, and Giuliani thinks nothing. Ralph Nader, a relatively poor man, has nothing, but knows a lot, so, by default, he’s my man in ’08. Wouldn’t it be great if we all ended our disillusionment with two-party politics and finally put a third-party person in the White House? Once again though, the only thing stopping us are old white, power-hungry, aristocratic, living-off-their-wives’-money control freaks. Some things never change.