Open Thread: This Time, for Sure, Rocky!

Via Dave Weigel, Brendan Nyhan at CJR tweaks “The Third Party Fever Dream“:

National Journal editorial director Ron Fournier is a respected journalist with years of distinguished service as an Associated Press correspondent and editor. So why is he issuing hyperbolic warnings about how “social change and a disillusioned electorate threaten the entire two-party system”?…

Fournier and the politicians and operatives he interviewed are hardly the first politicos to forecast a third-party revolt, of course. His piece this week is just the latest installment in a long pattern of journalists and political operatives predicting a major challenge to the two major parties.

The reality, however, is more prosaic. While we occasionally observe potential insurgent third parties or major presidential candidacies from figures like John Anderson or Ross Perot, the relentless logic of strategic voting and the adaptive nature of party competition tends to deter such challenges before they arise or cause them to quickly fizzle once they are underway. In particular, actual third-party initiatives in recent years have tended to promote an establishment-oriented centrism that has little natural constituency beyond the political and media elite. (If you don’t believe me, ask Unity ‘08, Americans Elect, Draft Bloomberg, and No Labels!) And even if an insurgent party or candidacy did find a way to appeal to an unrepresented or disaffected swathe of the electorate, the two major parties would very likely find a way to coopt its message and restore stability…

It’s well worth clicking over — for one thing, I’m not gonna spoil the snark in the final paragraph. But I think the Very Serious Yearning for a sensible, centrist third party is the flip side of the Politico temper-tantrums about “access”: Our professional betters, who have been happy to consider themselves avatars of the People in Charge any time over the last forty years, have come to an awareness that they no longer control the conversation and establish the boundaries for what can be considered Serious Politics. Mocking the ‘pajama-clad basement dwellers’ and ‘teenage internet L33ts’ having failed to nip this troublesome cohort in the bud (hello, OfA!), the brighter machers among the political-journalistic interface are desperately hoping to distract just enough of their audience with New! Improved! Even More Sensibly Centrist — Now with Grassroots Virality! schemes of safe’n’sane Third Parties that will bleed off popular outrage without actually changing the Beltway environment so much as to require the existing power-structure enablers to learn anything new.

36 replies
  1. 1
    Spaghetti Lee says:

    The Americans Elect/No Labels crap was never going to catch on. Not in this universe. It’s a very specific fantasy for a few people who are not nearly as important as they think they are, and nothing more.

    A farther-than-far-right third party, though, still seems possible, although I’m probably biased in hoping for one. You had some tea party guys passing around a picture of Karl Rove in an SS uniform, because trying to field winning candidates in winnable elections is just like Hitler. If that’s not open revolt I don’t know what is.

    I’m not much of a historian, so maybe others can fill me in: when the New Deal coalition broke down in the late 60’s, or the 20’s coalition lost power in ’32, was it one of those things that no one predicted it would happen, until it did? Maybe that’s the sort of situation we’re in with the GOP’s coalition. My not-so-bold prediction: If they make decent gains in ’14 they’ll hold. If they can’t do that and then lose again in ’16 to the next Dem presidential candidate, they will no longer be able to ignore that they’re fucked, and heads will roll.

  2. 2
    Rosie Outlook says:

    I put this question at the bottom of another topic, if it’s OK I’ll also put it here where more people are likely to see it. An Ohio representative is trying to outlaw employers demanding an applicant’s Facebook password in order to pry into what we used to call their private lives. Can employers get away with this on Europe, Canada, and Japan? Also, why do people still use Facebook? I can see where you would pretty much have to use it if you were running a business, but I can’t understand why anyone else would go near it.

  3. 3
    Baud says:

    Quick, name an issue that any potential third party would stand for?…


  4. 4
    Comrade Jake says:

    Sounds like McCain had an interesting day mingling with the GOP base (via TPM):

    Crowd starting to turn on @SenJohnMcCain on immigration. A former law enforcement official has been shouting. McCain says guy is a jerk.


  5. 5
    dmbeaster says:

    Elite media are in the infotainment business, and are as much ratings whores as the Khardasians (anchors are actors reading the lines crafted by producers). Part of their serious people schtick is that what they say and believe allegedly matters. That is why they are always preaching some weirdo third-way routine with no actual constituency, except themselves. If they can sell it, then they can definitely boost ratings. It is also why they are not offended by, and in fact admire, the factual freedom of Fox news, because it has been a ratings success.

    The real problem is that they continue to have their malevolent influence on public discourse.

  6. 6
    Anoniminous says:

    Wake me up when Fournier, et. al., get a $500,000,000 campaign war chest and a 50,000 strong organization. Until then, he’s wanking.

  7. 7
    Ben Franklin says:

    “I was fully prepared to get a letter saying no such file existed, after all Swartz was not really a criminal. Instead I received 21 pages out of a 23 page file the FBI had put together on one Aaron H. Swartz.

    Two of the 23 pages were not released, according to the FBI, due to; privacy (U.S.C Section 552 (b)(7)(C)), sources and methods (U.S.C Section 552 (b)(7)(E)) and, curiously, putting someone’s life in danger (U.S.C Section 552 (b)(7)(F)). Putting someone’s life in danger? TYPICALLY, THAT REFERS TO INFORMANTS {EMPAHSIS MINE}. Did someone close to Swartz provide information to the FBI on him or is the FBI just being really dramatic? Or is this standard justification for not releasing the Special Agent on the case’s name? I am honestly still confused by that box being checked off.”

    Carl Malamud, the online activist?

    Here’s the doc…….

  8. 8
    Ben Franklin says:



  9. 9
    Zam says:

    Independents/Centrists are often either the dumbest fucks on Earth or just lying. Like a trained bear they know they get a treat when the pull the lever. Saying they are independent or in the center gets them a nice tongue bath from pundits and politicians. Most of them support one side or the other, they just like to pretend to be above it all. Look at Joe the Plumber, the story around that was this independent real voter asking tough questions to Obama, years later he is on wingnut welfare, cashing paychecks to list off whatever crazy shit the right is going on about that day. He’s on the right but he gets all this attention from the media if he just says “oh yea, I’m an independent.” Even with Libertarians, they may go on and on about how they just want small government in the economy and in the bedroom, but every time they go to vote they seem to keep pulling the lever for the side that holds the whichever of those two is most important to them. Being an independent doesn’t mean you are above all that partisan bickering, you are not the adult in the room, you are just too dumb or too frightened to take a stand and research the issues.

  10. 10
    MikeJ says:

    Threatens the two party system? Egad, I thought Jesus wrote that on the tablets for George Washington to carry to Gettysburg! We can’t have a threat to the sacred two party system!

    Seriously, voting for third parties is for morons, which is why I encourage Republicans to do it.

  11. 11

    @Comrade Jake: Unfortunately for him, his official title is Senior Senator from Arizona, not Senator of the Village.

  12. 12
    Ben Franklin says:

    Malamud’s 10 rules for radicals….(Be Nice !)

  13. 13
    Baud says:


    When I was young, I was independent, but pretty consistently voted Democratic. For me, it was part indecisiveness, part ignorance, and partly the idea of “not going steady” with either party.

  14. 14
    SatanicPanic says:

    @Rosie Outlook: Facebook was kind of fun for a while. And I just don’t care that much about privacy issues, for reasons that are particular to me, so there’s not really a downside. It’s kind of boring now though and I don’t use it that much anymore.

  15. 15
    Yutsano says:

    @Baud: I’ve noticed libertarians are Republicans who either like weed or aren’t hardcore into the Jeebus stuff. Otherwise they just don’t like paying taxes. For anything. But they lurves them some military!

  16. 16
    Zam says:

    @Baud: Yea I can kinda get that as a young voter, or at least a new voter. I myself started following this stuff years before I could vote. This is more in reference to those who have said they are independent for years, yet consistently vote for one or the other, or the people who vote for whats popular at the moment. They just really like the praise they get for being such an “adult” every time they say they’re independent.

  17. 17
    Kay says:

    @Comrade Jake:

    Sounds like McCain


    He must hate that. He doesn’t really like…noise.

    Remember in 2008 how political media used to say he was really, really good at town hall meetings? Not speeches, but town hall meetings, specifically.

    He wasn’t good at those, either, at all, but they all love him so they just assumed he had to be good at some form of human interaction. Nope!

  18. 18
    Chris says:


    Just a nitpick – “independent” =/= “centrist.” A massive contingent of independents are people on the fringes of the political spectrum for whom both parties are too far to the right/left. Like a bunch of the teabagger voters whining about how the Republican Party’s sold them out because it hasn’t yet managed to privatize everything right down to the Post Office.

    Agree with your appraisal of centrist. Those stupid motherfuckers have done more damage to the country than movement conservatives in the last twenty years.

  19. 19
    Ben Franklin says:

    It is not — repeat, not — the president’s fault that major media corporations are run by bean-counting morons. (It is his fault that he hasn’t done more on the issue of media consolidation, but that’s not what the PG’s are going on about here.) Of course the White House will exploit this fact to its own advantage. The White House is a political operation. That’s what those things do.
    By no means does Obama escape tough scrutiny or altogether avoid improvisational moments. And by no means is Obama unique in wanting to control his public image and message – every president pushes this to the outer limits. His 2012 opponent, Mitt Romney, was equally adept at substance-free encounters with reporters. But something is different with this White House. Obama’s aides are better at using technology and exploiting the president’s “brand.” They are more disciplined about cracking down on staff that leak, or reporters who write things they don’t like. And they are obsessed with taking advantage of Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and every other social media forums, not just for campaigns, but governing.
    Ah, the ol’ balancing paragraph. And right on schedule, too. After which we learn that, yes, even in the field of social media, the Romney campaign was an exercise in distilled suckitude. I am shocked — SHOCKED! — to learn this.

    Read more: Things In Politico That Make Me Want To Guzzle Antifreeze, Part The Infinity – Esquire

  20. 20
    Spaghetti Lee says:


    I have more respect for (almost) any sincerely-held belief than one that’s adopted just to further one’s career. I don’t mind people who call themselves centrists because they actually have a mixture of ideological views. Famous media people who do it just for fellow media-person asspats are more loathsome. People who call themselves ‘independent’ just to sound smart but have voted straight-ticket R (and it’s usually R) for the last 40 years are deluded clowns more than anything.

    I think the whole ‘PICK A SIDE! ONE OR THE OTHER!’ thing that you’re doing would turn most people off-it would just make the “I’m above all this” instinct kick in harder. I don’t think of centrist as a dirty word on its own: In fact, if people want to say they’re centrist, the Dems should make the case that they are centrist: not much in the Dem platform is really that far out there, it’s mostly the sort of social democracy that worked well throughout the Western World post-WWII, before the nutjobs took over.

    The problem isn’t centrism, it’s the media’s treatment of centrism and other such labels. What’s fucked up is that we live in a country where a competent and beneficial government is seen as radical leftism, right-wing hegemony is ‘centrism’ and absolute whacko-nutjob right-wing ideologues control one of the two major parties.

  21. 21
    Baud says:


    This is speculation, but I think some libertarians are racist, sexist, and classist. They just believe the invisible hand of the free market will keep the undesirables in their place, so there is no need to make a show of it.

  22. 22
    xian says:

    @Baud: I was also a “decline to state” as we say in California for most of my young voting life without every once managing to pull the lever for a Republican. My reasons were that I was left of the Democrats (and I did sometimes vote for Greens, Peace and Freedom, etc.), and also that my parents were Republicans and I wasn’t over that yet.

    Then George Bush the lesser happened and I realized that staying on the holier-than-thou sidelines wasn’t an option. I picked my team, registered as a Dem, and got active.

  23. 23
    lamh35 says:

    So Tweety had a segment on Mark Sanford running for Congress. My first thought was will the mistress now wife (didn’t he marry her?) be on the trail with him ala Calista Gingrich, and what will his wronged ex-wife have to say about he candidacy? They are in the same party right?

  24. 24
    xian says:

    @Ben Franklin: note that the Politico article also lied and said that Obama had managed to garner mostly positive coverage when analyses of the election season showed that coverage of Obama skewed significantly negative.

  25. 25
    Omnes Omnibus says:

    @Baud: Square roots?

  26. 26
    Tom Q says:

    All these people predicting/hoping for a third party, or collapse of the current system, are essentially people who understand the GOP has gone batshit but can’t shake three decades of thinking Democrats have cooties — and they project their feelings onto the population as a whole, without noticing a majority of the public seems pretty OK with voting Democratic these days.

  27. 27
    AHH onna Droid says:

    Right@Spaghetti Lee: Right on. It’s not centrism, it’s both sides do-it ism. Both the embarrassed Republicans and the emo purity progs. Far right dont fit bc they are authoritarians. They will fall in line or rage quit.

  28. 28
    mainmati says:

    @Spaghetti Lee: Can’t speak to the ’20s but can say something about the ’60s. By the late ’60s the Democrats were essentially three factions: a) the Southern racists who were also usually militarists; b) the coastal and (back then Midwest) liberals who were pro-civil rights and against the Vietnam War and variously Progressive; and c) the Institutionalists who were the modern day equivalent to the DLC. Johnson bounced around all three factions during his term and a half – truly the most conflicted modern President we have had. Of course, the Conservative Democrats became the soul of the modern GOP in alliance with the financial and industrial giants. The Institutionalists became the DLC and the Liberal/Progressives have become a small minority in the Congress even though they are a much larger part of the electorate.

  29. 29
    AHH onna Droid says:

    @Baud: Oh yeah, some of them are that, in spades.

  30. 30
    Bob says:

    Nuts. As in nuts to that, as in the guy is nuts, as in you’d have to be nuts to believe all that, as in Republican nuts, just a lot of nuts. If I am the least bit representative of the sane portion of the population, there is No. Way. I am going anywhere near a third party and thereby letting the zombie flesh eating Republicans take over anything. Informed choice, hell, it’s sheer horror. Let’s start from there and work our way up, but only as far as it’s safe.

  31. 31
    RaflW says:

    Watching the Independence Party in Minnesota post-Jesse Venture has put a pretty sharp period on the idea that insurgent third parties can ride an executive win to larger party relevance.

  32. 32
    Petorado says:

    Since the days of the pamphleteers, anyone with access to a printing press, or other means of broad dissemination of their ideas, has recognized they had certain power in determining who might win an election. And that power held as long as the parties were of equally symbolic but amorphous names like the Republicans, Democrats, Whigs, or Bull Moose. But now that there’s a simple choice between sanity and insanity, the media isn’t needed and loses their power over the political process. I think the “center” is the courtier press’ way of still trying to act is if they alone have the power to decipher politics from madness by inserting a mythical third option, as if it exists.

  33. 33
    Chris says:


    Well, yes and no on the Institutionalist => DLC thing, as I understand it… yes in that the Institutionalists were for preserving the status quo, but it was a different status quo, where unions and machines were as much a part of it as big business. “Establishment liberalism,” I think is the term. Nowadays, the Chamber of Commerce types have pretty much crowded out all other power centers.

  34. 34
    Forum Transmitted Disease says:

    the Liberal/Progressives have become a small minority in the Congress even though they are a much larger part of the electorate.

    @mainmati: I think this is self-deluding bullshit that the few progressives left have been telling themselves, quite frankly, because there is no actual evidence that would suggest that this is the case.


  35. 35
    Nathanael says:

    @Baud: Something a third party could support: the government not murdering people?

    A NON-centrist, NON-institutionalist third party could have a lot of support. Specifically, an isolationist + legalize drugs party would get enormous support extremely quickly, since those are two issues where the establishment Republicans and Democrats seem to be identical, but are completely contrary to public opinion. Add a “stop the rich bankers from stealing people’s home” plank and you’d lose some voters, but gain more.

    But, since we have a crummy political system subject to Duverger’s Law (we should have party-proportional representation instead), the third party can’t happen until the Republicans are driven into irrelevance, or at least reduced to a regional party.

    It could happen in Vermont right now, of course, and in a couple of years it will probably be possible in California. But the major issues which it would be dealing with are mostly national, which makes it harder to make it happen on a state-by-state level.

  36. 36
    Nathanael says:

    @Tom Q: That accounts for “centrist” third-party types. But it absolutely does not account for the leftist third-party desire.

    There’s a solid core of “dyed-in-the-wool Democrats” who have been supporting Democrats since the age of 8 (in my case!) who are hoping for a leftist third party because in the last decade or two he Democrats have been acting like right-wingers — and it’s been impossible for progressives to get traction within the Democratic Party.

    Call us “Hubert Humphrey Democrats” if you like. Our primary tool is primaries (heh) but when that doesn’t work, we start grousing about needing third parties. Well, we’ve done it before: during the late 19th Century (Greenback Party, Populists, Progressives, Non-Partisan League) and during the 1850s (the Free Soil Party and the original Republican Party). In contrast, right-wingers have never successfully created a new party — they’ve only hollowed out and taken over old ones. I’m not quite sure why that is.

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