The resurrection of the third party

You wouldn’t know it by the look of things, but these are exciting times in the world of national politics. Granted, the Bush-Gore race has not thus far been the stuff of legend, but that’s partially what makes this campaign season so potentially pivotal. If it’s true most voters have come to expect large-scale elections to come down to choosing the lesser of two virtually identical evils, this year’s crop will do nothing but confirm that notion. What makes this election so exhilarating, then, is the prospect of where this disillusionment might eventually lead.
The Third Party Candidate has long been something of a mythical figure in our national psyche. Like Linus waiting for the Great Pumpkin, voters have become accustomed to the rush of anticipation that comes with every unknown’s midsummer announcement and the crushing sense of betrayal when the mystery figure fails to show up on Election Day. We know these guys are only going to hurt us, but we keep coming back for more. What other option do we have?
This year, though, things just feel different. We seem to be very near the point at which voters simply decide business as usual is just not good enough. There has been a palpable lust for an alternative rippling through the past several elections, especially amongst Republicans. How else could so many people have embraced a paranoid reactionary like Ross Perot or a one-issue cipher like Steve Forbes? Colin Powell’s name has been tossed about frivolously every year since the Gulf War, despite his insistence that he is not the least bit interested in running for office. After John McCain fell to the Bush juggernaut, there was rampant speculation about his potential as a third-party breakthrough. And for the hard-core lunatics out there, Pat Buchanan is always hanging around.
Things have been quieter on the liberal side. Perhaps it’s because we’ve had eight years of an administration that at least gives lip service to some progressive ideas. The general take is along the lines of “Clinton has sold us out plenty of times, and he has damaged the party pretty badly for a few years, but it beats having a Republican in there.” This year, however, has seen a groundswell of support for Ralph Nader, who is starting to look as if he might garner enough support to give the election to Bush. Not that Nader would care. He has publicly stated that he would not vote in a race between Bush and Gore because there would be no difference no matter who won. The Los Angeles Times included a vividly worded response from Gore, saying that Nader will not be a factor because most voters will want to choose between “two very stark alternatives.”
Nader’s steadfast adherence to his principles and undisguised disdain for his opponents and the two-party system define the coming political era. Voters have grown very tired of being told what to do by the powers that be. When McCain and Bill Bradley were eliminated from the primaries, both candidates’ large constituencies expressed feelings of being overwhelmed by an unstoppable force that had less to do with the opponents’ charisma or qualifications than with money and political machinery. Bush’s campaign in particular has been very blatant about the non-secret of its success. The Bush camp was releasing massive fund-raising statements before most of their opponents had even attended a banquet. Throughout the race, the candidates have flouted their financial statements shamelessly, apparently no longer interested in the pretexts of issues or even morality. This preoccupation with large doses of cash from the right sources has understandably left many voters feeling as if they are unnecessary to the process.
The visible third-party candidates, with the exception of Forbes, have so far one trait in common: Each of them claims to speak for the little guy. Party politicians have always said that, but it had become so much a part of the standard campaign mantra that voters seemed shocked when Perot — an undeniable groundbreaker despite his creepiness — first said it with something like sincerity. Thus energized, the long-dormant little guy has been wreaking havoc on a steadily escalating scale.
Some years down the road, when the revolution has come to fruition, we Minnesotans will be able to look back and say we started it all, for better or for worse. Certainly, a Minnesota governorship is a far cry from a U.S. presidency. But Ventura’s election will prove to have been of inestimable value for the third-party movement. Despite all of the outrages and interparty fragmentation, Jesse Ventura has proven he is at least as capable of governing as a good portion of the nation’s elected officials. The simple fact that his election did not result in an absolute debacle is a validation of the third party that has already served as an inspiration to disenfranchised voters across the country. Whether that inspiration will be reflected at the ballot box remains to be seen, but the conditions appear to be right for the kind of change that will alter our national identity forever. It could be this year, it could be another thirty years, but this generation will live to see the suspense broken.

Ira Brooker welcomes comments at [email protected]