Americans Elect?

gene mccarthyIn the last month or so, there has been a somewhat low-key launch of an independent presidential campaign that is distinguished from previous efforts by the fact that it is not starting with a candidate like Ross Perot or Ralph Nader. Rather, Americans Elect starts with the premise that millions of Americans are deeply disillusioned with our current parties and candidates.

It proposes to define its platform by soliciting the views of those who respond to the website, and to select its candidates for President and Vice President by secure on-line voting by its members. Tom Friedman called attention to it in a recent column.

So, is this the essence of 21st century democracy? Read on.

A trip to the website reveals that they do solicit responses to a series of poll-like questions on public policy issues, which are then tabulated to reveal the respondent’s “political colors,” and permit comparison with the aggregate of previous responses. It appears that most of those who have responded so far are to the liberal side of the spectrum. This suggests that Americans Elect has the potential to become a liberal third party movement that could take votes from Obama in 2012.

The website reveals nothing about the people behind Americans Elect, or its funding sources (beyond the vague note that they have received start-up loans from generous donors who will in due course be repaid). For that information we need to go elsewhere. Irregular Times is a website that has been providing extensive information on Americans Elect and its predecessor, Unity 08, since at least 2006. Its information is collected here.

What is clear is that the funding sources are largely drawn from the financial industry, and include, most prominently, Peter G. Peterson (former Commerce Secretary and adviser to President Nixon, former Chair of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, and currently a major advocate of achieving fiscal soundness by restructuring Social Security and other entitlements). The preponderance of political affiliations (as measured by donations) of Americans Elect’s big donors are Republican.

Disillusioned liberals ought to know that if this effort takes off, it is very likely to siphon votes away from Obama and facilitate a complete Republican takeover of the federal government. And this outcome may well be what some of the big donors have in mind. And as the Irregular Times site makes clear, the Board of Directors of Americans Elect has ultimate control over who gets to be a delegate and what the positions of the organization will be. The plan seems to be to capture at least one state’s electoral votes and use that leverage to extract concessions if neither major party candidates wins a majority of electoral votes.

Normally, third party candidates can throw a state to one side or the other, but they rarely win states outright. The campaign of 1948 is instructive: there were two minor party candidates, Henry Wallace and Strom Thurmond. Wallace and Thurmond received almost identical popular vote totals, but only Thurmond won electoral votes, in the Deep South. Wallace’s vote was more widely distributed, so he won no electoral votes. Americans Elect is more likely to have a broad distribution, like Wallace, rather than a regional concentration, like Thurmond. Thus its endgame strategy is unlikely to pan out.

Third party campaigns for the presidency have a history of consistent failure to win that office (sole exception, Abraham Lincoln in 1860), and of facilitating victory by the forces most opposed to the views of the third party’s supporters. Recent examples include Eugene McCarthy in 1968 (allowing Nixon to defeat Humphrey), John Anderson in 1980 (allowing Reagan to beat Carter), Ross Perot in 1992 (allowing Clinton to beat Bush I), and Ralph Nader in 2000 (allowing Bush II to beat Gore).

john peelerMoreover, very few third party campaigns go beyond the presidential race to run candidates for Congress or state office. This is a fatal weakness in our system of checks and balances, where the President can get nothing done without cooperation from Congress. Americans Elect says it intends to nominate legislative candidates, but only after the presidential election of 2012.

However unhappy we may be about the current lamentable state of American politics, Americans Elect is more symptom than cure.

John Peeler

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Comments

  1. says

    We don’t a third party in the middle. We need a genuine progressive American party – one that will stand up for Americans and not some fanciful notion of America.

  2. Jon Williams says

    Perhaps a Progressive Democratic Party could be patterned after (what I know of) the Working Families Party in New York, i.e. rather than field its own candidates in all races, the PDP could throw its support behind any candidate in a race, Dem, Green or even the odd Republican when stars align. Of course such support would come at a cost to the candidate, namely the promise to take Green/progressive viewpoints seriously.

  3. Crystal says

    My position aligns with Jon Williams’ more than Alan8 or GreenAdvocate. I understand those positions, but believe they are mostly based on emotion rather than a rational, sound solution.

    Nader had no prayer of a chance, but DID cost Gore the election in 2000, like it or not. My issue with Nader was that he was not willing to work his way up through the system. Like *that* or not, too.

    It is a much better, though long-range approach to fill the Congress with more progressive reps and senators, rather than ‘send a message’ by electing Republican presidents. That message was sent in 2000 and, after 8 years of a Republican, we still got a DINO… pretty much. Hard to totally take away creds given an albeit weak Health Care Reform law.

    We need to sacrifice our short term need to vent in order to build a long-term strategy. I like the sound of a Progressive-Democrat. I think there is a much better chance of real change if we focus our efforts locally. Look at Wisconsin, Sanders, etc. Kucinich cannot yet win the primary. We need to get more liberals on the same page before that kind of change will happen.

  4. Marta says

    I appreciate the information about this pseudo-liberal party, but I’m in agreement with Alan8. I have ZERO intention of voting for Obama, and fully intend to vote Green.

    I’m aware that this could easily make a Republican president. But really, what has Obama done that is even faintly progressive? Obama is not even a centrist like Bill Clinton. He’s to the right of Nixon as far as policies.

  5. Alan8 says

    “Americans Elect” is a fake liberal group financed by wealthy interests that seek to split the Democratic vote. If they do have any electoral success, their wealthy financiers will see to it that they never threaten the wealthy with higher tax rates. Much like the wealthy financiers of the Democratic Party.

    The Green Party doesn’t accept corporate money and represents CITIZENS’ interests, like single-payer health care, stopping the insane wars, and pulling out of corporate trade agreements like NAFTA.

    They’ve spent the last 10 years getting on the ballot in virtually every state, and are in a position to challenge the corporate-funded Democrats with a REAL progressive party. 5% of the vote will get the
    Green Party matching Federal funds, and will send the Democrats a message that selling out the people to corporate interests will cost them votes.

    Let’s make the Democrats start to fear the swing voters ON THE LEFT!

    VOTE GREEN!

    • Marie says

      Progressive-Democrates – Good plan.
      We probably will not win the next presidency; but atleast in that way we might be able to get better Democrates in Senate and House of Representatives.
      The way it looks now it seems the president is not able to stand up to those bad greedy-ones anyway.
      Or is it really true , quoting what I once heard Milton Friedman say, that it is possible to elect a good president; but arived in the White House they don’t stay good.

  6. Jon Williams says

    Mr. Peeler mentions that “very few third party campaigns go beyond the presidential race to run candidates for Congress or state office.” Wouldn’t it be possible for the existing congressional progressive caucus to start an effective third party by pulling up stakes from the Democratic Party camp and establishing the Progressive Democratic Party? Could they be prevented from using the word Democratic or Democrats in their name? As politicians brave or savvy enough to call themselves progressives, most if not all of them are surely popular enough in their districts to get reelected under a banner hailing them as “new and improved” Democrats. And the promise, implied or otherwise, would be that this new party, at least in its infancy, also caucuses with the existing Democratic Party. If Lieberman can do it…

    Then the Progressive Democratic Party could run its own presidential candidate primary, probably featuring respected progressives like Kucinich, Feingold, Sherrod Brown, etc. Wouldn’t it be refreshing to hear a debate in which middle-of-the-road voices were the exception instead of the other way around?

    • Marie says

      Progressive-Democrates – Good plan.
      We probably will not win the next presidency; but atleast in that way we might be able to get better Democrates in Senate and House of Representatives.
      The way it looks now it seems the president is not able to stand up to those bad greedy-ones anyway.
      Or is it really true , quoting what I once heard Milton Friedman say, that it is possible to elect a good president; but arived in the White House they don’t stay good.

  7. says

    If Peeler is still affirming things like Nader is responsible for Bush winning, then his analyses deserve less than serious perusal.

    We needed a third party LONG ago and needed to spend the time and energy needed to build it. Let’s have the courage to look at whom and what forces prevented it. That’s right. Tough, isn’t it? No one wishes to be responsible. Let’s play the ol’ American game of Blame The Victim, and lay it at the feet of those trying to build a 3rd force.

    This game-playing with the two so-called “official” parties is exactly what has reinforced the corporatization of America and silenced its real critics. It was always an uphill battle, but with Democrats waylaying working and `concerned folks and convincing them to “stay aboard” is what has made the Republican Agenda (not Party) so strong.

    With the “help” of the “two parties” running Congress we have essentially neglected all serious discussion about the shift to a “service economy’ and its consequences, more wars & imperial war powers as a security policy, the demise of the Bill of Rights, failing Health Care and Education systems, busted housing market, the outlandish ripoff of the Treasury in ’08, torture, and more. Suddenly the Debt Fiasco at center stage. None of the above issues were predictable, of course…,right?

    It’s the demise of the USA as we’ve known/imagined it. “Do we need a third party?” Need we ask?

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