The Slow Boring of Holes into Hard Planks
Matt Yglesias comments on what we have to do to push American politics further to the left, and pretty much hits the nail on the head: “If you want to move US public policy to the left, what you have to do is to identify incumbent holders of political office and then defeat them on Election Day with alternative candidates who are more left-wing.”
I’d go one step further and argue that it’s not only important to be replacing some Congressmen and Senators with even slightly more left-wing Congressmen and Senators, we need more left-wing mayors, more left-wing city council members, more left-wing school board representatives, more left-wing transportation commissioners, and on and on and on. As Yglesias notes, the right has been able to create a lock-step party machine due to decades of ideological discipline and encouraging takeovers on every level. Pat Robertson protege Ralph Reed once said, “I would rather have a thousand school-board members than one president and no school-board members.” It’s a shame that the Religious Right has come to understand the strength of grassroots organizing better than the Left.
As we all know from the fight over school curricula, those right-wing school board members are really paying off.
On the level of institutional fixes, a third party is still less optimal than some other strategies. It’s better to propose a switch to a form of representation that’s more likely to yield stronger left-wing outcomes in places where that’s likely. This means an embrace of alternative voting schemes like proportional representation in municipalities and if we want to get really radical, a switch from a bicameral assembly and governor system in a state like California to a parliamentary system where we could cement a left-wing majority.
With that said, a third party could make sense in local elections in heavily left-leaning areas (like the Bay Area), and also could act as a credible threat to the center-left Democratic Party in smaller elections to force the Democratic candidates to move left to capture more votes. I don’t think this dynamic makes a lot of sense on the national stage, though, where the race between Democrats and Republicans is so close.