The False Lure of Third Parties

Dangerous Third Party DistractionI’ve received an email from a Romney supporter advising me that I should vote for the Green Party, or the Peace & Freedom Party, or the Justice Party, rather than for President Obama.

The person who sent me this advice grew up urban poor during the Great Depression.  His childhood world was framed by the Jewish shopkeepers and landlords whose demands for payments kept his family in poverty, and the pre-civil rights black men who competed with his father for any available work.

He grew up to be a self-proclaimed socialist, or even a communist.  He devoted himself to school and succeeded in life, rising out of poverty and supporting programs that he thought would help others rise in the world.

There are few things he opposes more vociferously than Willard M. Romney and the rapacious Wall St. merchants of greed that Romney fronts for.  President Obama is one of those few things.

The idea of supporting candidates from third parties has some merit and some irrelevance.  The best model for third party activity is the corporate campaign to use for-profit churches to take over the Republican Party, back in the 1980s.  But what made that campaign successful is also what will make it difficult for any people-oriented third party to emulate.

Corporations were rocked and horrified by the Civil Rights movement and then the Anti-Vietnam War movement.  These movements shook the Cold War economic system of cost-plus contracts and complacent consumerism.  Both movements grew, initially, in churches.

The Civil Rights movement didn’t start with TV newsfilm or televangelist preaching.  Black ministers, preaching to black people that the mainstream ignored, told the people who were most oppressed, who were systematically disfranchised, who were made economically dependent on the ‘goodwill’ of the master race, that they had the right to throw off their dependence.  They had the right to resist their oppression.  They had the right to demand enfranchisement.

The ministers went further.  They told black sufferers that they had more than the right.  They preached that those who suffered now had a duty, to themselves, to their faith, and to their children, to speak out, to act out, to rise up and throw off their chains.

The Montgomery Bus Boycott taught business leaders that civil rights could be a threat to their profits.  The Brown v. Board of Education case put civic leaders and their financial backers on notice: That they were going to have to spend money educating people to whom education had been denied; That they were going to have to provide public services and infrastructure to people to whom such things had been denied.  Such things and services cost money.

There are books and research studies and magazine articles that recount the meetings through which corporate leaders recruited and then organized racists like Jerry Falwell.  The pitch was simple – racists who had established a track record for profiting by exploiting racial fears were offered vastly larger fortunes if they would abandon overt racism and build churches devoted to preaching a pro-corporate gospel.

Racism didn’t have to be abandoned.  It only had to be downplayed and made a second string issue, behind whatever interests the corporations wanted pushed.  As colleges and universities became home base for the anti-war movement, one of the first targets of corporate rage was education.  Education at all levels was a threat to consumerism and war profiteering.  Education had been a target of opponents of the Civil Rights movement.

The segregation academies that made Falwell his first millions were built on the promise that children enrolled by white parents, to avoid new integration laws in the public schools, would also be taught that obedience and respect for parents and superiors was “Christian” and that independent thinking was evil and devilish.  It was easy to translate these lessons into antipathy against universities and anyone who dissented from the official/corporate line that anti-communist adventures were good and questioning war expenditures was disloyal.

Bribe taking conservative vice-president Spiro Agnew described intellectuals as “effete” and “snobs”.  After it became public knowledge that Agnew had taken more than $260,000 in bribes, polls showed him more popular than Ronald Reagan among the most “conservative” Republicans.  But after Agnew was convicted of taking bribes, Reagan was ascendant and became the corporate front man.

As Reagan took the presidency, corporations expanded their control of for-profit megachurches.  These churches presented Sunday entertainment spectacles in place of worship services and delivered corporate messaging as sermons.  At corporate ‘suggestion,’ these churches had members run for local school board and city offices, where they instilled corporate education models and anti-regulation policies.

Corporations have long-term, profit-driven interests in funding churches and local political campaigns.  By sponsoring school board politicians, they started careers which pay off as the politicians advance to state and then federal offices, and then get appointed to courts where they can make decisions favoring their corporate sponsors.  Vast numbers of the Tea Party leaders in Congress and state offices around the nation got their start in the Reagan and Bush I years.

Regular citizens also have long-term interests in the results of political campaigns.  Our debased public schools, which no longer compete even with Third World schools, affect the health, safety, well being and future of every child in the United States.  But regular citizens aren’t given reason to think about long term consequences.  They are taught to think about who to hate, today.  Who to blame for today’s economic problems.

And Parties like the Green Party, Peace & Freedom Party and Justice Party offer regular citizens NOTHING.  They do not offer a movement, built around people and people’s concerns.  They do not offer solutions to local problems, improvements to local schools or clean-up of local corruption.

They offer, once every four years, the pretense that their presidential candidates, with no supporting body of local, state or Congressional allies, will make major changes in “the system”.  This is balderdash.  This is fantasy thinking on the same level as the Ryan/Romney economic plan.  As Joe Biden might say, this is malarkey.

This is also political opportunism.  It allows these parties’ candidates and their operatives to get into the fundraising game and route lucrative contracts to each other, just as reports now show the Romney campaign has done with hundreds of millions of dollars to its insider cronies.

But these parties are meaningless distractions without local and state levels on which to build.  Without Rosa Parks, and Thurgood Marshall, and Medgar Evers, and Dr. King, and Malcolm X, who committed their lives on local streets and in local church halls, ‘grand gestures’ of national presidential campaigns are nothing.

James Meredith didn’t run for president.  He demanded admission to the University of Mississippi.  He didn’t promise to “change the system”, but rather demanded the right to earn an education.  He went to classes.  He ate in the cafeteria.  He lived in a dorm.  And he was harassed and opposed during every minute that he stayed on the University campus.

Tom HallI don’t know who James Meredith will vote for in this year’s elections, if voter disfranchisement efforts don’t bar him from the polls.  But people familiar with his history, and the history of the Civil Rights movement, know that a presidential vote for a party that holds no Congressional offices is a vote against progress, against the future, and even against the achievements that have been made so far.

Anyone who casts such a vote, knowing how close the race is between President Obama and Willard M. Romney, is really casting a vote for Romney.

Tom Hall

Posted: Tuesday, 30 October 2012


  1. Rich Broderick says

    Mr. Hall, you are simply wrong, and here’s why, at least as far as Jill Stein and the Green Party are concerned. There are Green Party organizations around the country. They do not become active only once every four years, but are working every day, day after day, at every level — city, county, state, and federal — to effect systemic economic and political change. Here in Minnesota, Greens have elected people to city councils in the Twin Cities and Duluth. Greens have also been elected to district councils in St. Paul and have run for school board, mayor, state legislature, Governor, and Congress. Can you get any more local and grassroots than that?

    Greens also recognize that politics is not just about elections but overall civic engagement as well. As a result, Greens have been in the forefront of coalitions fighting for a Minnesota version of universal health care, mass transit, clean air and clean water, foreclosure relief, police review boards, and adequate funding for community resources like recreation centers and libraries. With the adoption of Instant Runoff Voting in Minneapolis and now St. Paul there is every reason to believe that the Green Party will not only provide a long-absent progressive pressure on the mainstream Democratic Party but one day elect a mayor in one of the cities.

    This nation’s founders did not want the country dominated by political parties of any kind and would be particularly horrified to see the country controlled by a Republicrat corporate funded duopoly that has busily enacted all kinds of laws and extortionist tactics to keep third parties out of the process and even fund their own national conventions with public money. Your condemnation of the idea of voting for third-party candidates is not common sense. It is simply a call for more of the same.

  2. -Nate says

    I’m glad to see folks are at least thinkng about their choices here .
    Voting based on fear , is UN AMERICAN .

  3. B. Cayenne Bird says

    This is thoughtful commentary you wrote here, but I wonder if you realize that people in third parties weren’t going to vote at all unless there is a candidate who truly represents them? For many people voting for either Obama or Romney goes against everything that they are against such as war, prisons for profit, the drug war, NDAA, the Patriot Act, and the senseless murder of children and innocent civilians by drones. When any party reaches 3% of the vote, it is a wake-up call to both main parties that they are representing corporate interests more than they represent the people. It is better to have alternative candidates for those who feel that Romney and Obama are both imperialists and for-profit war mongers. The electoral college chooses the President, regardless of the popular vote, and this is not a close race in many states. Third parties get the real issues on the table. Dr. Jill Stein was the only candidate to discuss the need for climate change for example. In swing states, voters might want to be cautious, but one shouldn’t need to feel like they are violating their own ethics by casting a vote for a candidate who is opposite from they want.

  4. JoeWeinstein says

    Even in a so-called ‘toss-up’ state, the probability that ANYONE’s vote in the US pres race will NOT be utterly ‘wasted’, i.e. will actually make a difference as to who wins – is next to zip. Even under extremely optimistic assumptions, that probability is less than 1 in 10,000. Under more realistic assumptions, it’s far less. So it’s rather arcane to argue that a vote for Stein is ‘really’ a vote for Romney or for that matter (from a few folks’ perspective) is ‘really’ a vote for Obama.

    Hall here is indeed all over the map. And he wildly exaggerates into a straw man what the sober third party candidates soberly promise. What, by the way, is so terribly wrong with a limited-action limited-scope party which doesn’t claim to be attempting the same missions as a ‘major’ party but simply offers an alternative for the presidency, including a vehicle to press forward an issue and message? No, the Greens don’t yet, and may not ever, offer all the ‘services’ and potential involvements to ‘ordinary citizens’ that the Democratic party offers, especially an organized Chicago-style party.

  5. Gary Corseri says

    This is a sad article.

    Especially sad because Tom Hall makes a good, lawyerly case for the ways in which corporations have co-opted (and distorted and perverted) our political system… but then continues to a rather questionable conclusion–his rationale for voting for Obama!

    There is no arguing with Mr. Hall’s idea/ideal that 3rd-party candidates need to build local bases of support if they are to gain traction on the national level. (Of course, the financial impediments to building such require Herculean labors!) But… there’s a cart-before-the-horse sort of logic here, evoking this question: How are such parties to gather such support with so much corporate-sponsored local and national media attention directed towards the “annointed” Republicratic candidates?

    I’ve watched Ms. Stein’s videos, and I agree with commentator Michael McCue that she has much to offer. A moral vote can never be a “throw-away” vote (just as NOT voting, based upon a moral conviction, is not apathy!).

    I suspect that for many “Progressives” Obama is not simply the “lesser of two evils” so much as he is evil wrapped up and presented with more attractive packaging!

    Mr. Hall is correct in ascribing much of our present dilemma to the dismal, nearly complete, failure of our public school (and, often, private school) education. We need a total overhaul of our democracy so that our professed values become our real values! We need a lot more careful thinking about this System!

  6. harry wood says

    I use to vote for the best man. I voted for Jesse Jackson one year. Also voted for good old Ross one year. I now vote for the lessor of two evils. The person you wrote about did not vote for Romney, he voted for who he thought would do the best job. For all you know, he may have voted for Romney as a second person he wanted, so his vote was against both Obama and Romney.So I would say his vote was for Omama and not Romney as you think Obama is goiing to win without his vote. So explain how he voted for Romney by really voting for Jackson??

  7. says

    No…a vote for Mitt Romney is a vote for Mitt Romney. A vote for Green Party nominee, Jill Stein, is a vote for Stein’s Green New Deal, which we need desperately. Just moments ago, Jill Stein was arrested in Texas for supporting the Tar Sands protest, and bringing the volunteers supplies for their protest. That’s courage. Obama wants the Tar Sands X-L pipeline…never talks about biggest threat to all…Climate Change! I don’t support Tar Sands Pipeline. I’m a real progressive, not a corporate-owned Democrat. So…the only logical conclusion for a true progressive voter is…I’m voting for Jill Stein. I’m voting Clean…not Machine…by voting Green! I refuse to vote out of Fear…it’s Un-American!

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