America seems to have the brainpower to find solutions to all of its political problems except one. Unfortunately, this one problem prevents any of the other solutions from coming to fruition. Until the Gordian Knot of corruption in American politics is untangled, efforts to find solutions to any other issues are purely academic. This is not a new realization. As I wrote in my first post in this blog, “With little hope of influencing policy, discussing politics among skeptics can be seen as merely a diversion or a hobby.” The goal of the Protest Party is to change this dynamic by empowering “We the People” to influence policy. If we are to find some way out of the issues facing us, finding some way to amplify the people’s power in our government is a necessary complement to my main focus on this blog, which is to engender a more Skeptical electorate. If the idea seems a bit bizarre, audacious, or far-fetched, well, yes. If the solution were easy, someone would have done it already.
Last week I explained what the Protest Party idea is. The Protest Party can be viewed as a depository for “Protest Votes,” a way for people to use their vote to clearly communicate their discontent with the system. I think it can also be used to influence policy. It remains to be seen how people will choose to leverage the Protest Party, but I envision it being used to fight corruption. Here, I address some anticipated questions.
How many people would be willing to “throw their vote away” on a “Protest Party?”
Americans already seem to understand the futility of voting R or D, despite institutional biases towards making it seem more worthwhile than it is.
Why do I say there is a bias towards thinking that the parties make more of a difference than they really do? On certain issues, the Democrats and Republicans have real differences, but other issues are almost entirely ignored. The types of issues that are ignored by both parties fall into one of two categories. First, many issues justifiably don’t need further discussion. For example, the question of whether to we should invade Canada is justifiably never raised. Keeping a lid on such ideas is a good feature of the two-party system. However, there is a less desirable category of disregarded issues. These are policies that benefit both parties but not the people, such as the systemic corruption that keeps them both entrenched in power. This is a terrible problem. It encompasses the military-industrial complex, the drug wars, our frightful healthcare system, or two-tiered justice system, and many other urgent and heart-wrenching problems. The mainstream media fails to distinguish between these two categories. It tends to take ideas seriously only if at least one of the two major parties support it. This makes sense for invading Canada, but not for opposing systemic corruption. This bias in the media is compounded by the two parties. The Republicans and Democrats have incentive to exaggerate their differences, as this rallies their bases and keeps focus off of uncomfortable issues like corruption. In the end, the policies manifested by the two major parties are not so different, as they need to appease their nearly identical financial backers in order to stay in power.
Despite these forces biasing Americans towards seeing the two parties as being more different than they really are, many millions of voters still refrain from going to the polls. In the election this past November, Barack Obama received about 65.6 million votes, and Mitt Romney received 60.9 million. All other candidates combined for about 2.2 million votes. Compare these numbers to the over 80 million eligible American voters who opted not to vote at all. There are various reasons why so much of the electorate opts not to exercise their right to vote, but surely one factor is that many of them disliked both Obama and Romney. Add the 80 million non-voters to the many who only reluctantly voted for either Obama or Romney under the theory that one was the “lesser of two evils,” and you have tens of millions of Americans who might consider voting for a Protest Party. Not to mention the 2.2 million who already do vote for a minor party.
Given a simple way to do good, most people will do so.
So is the Protest Party meant as a way to subvert the two-party system?
Not necessarily, although it has that potential. My main goal is to undermine the two parties’ monopoly on the national topics of discussion and force the media to focus on some of those issues that are important but not being addressed by the two major parties. The goal is to provide such a clear, unified voice of dissent that the media will find it easy to create a storyline. Combine that with the Protest Party’s explicit threat to affect the outcome of the Presidential Election, and it seems quite plausible that people would become interested.
In addition to injecting new issues into the political discourse, media coverage of the Protest Party might allow it to affect policy along the spectrum of issues already in contention between the two major parties. As I discussed above, you cannot expect to effect much change by simply voting for either of the two major parties, even if you only care about the issues on which they differ. What can make a big difference on these issues is to affect public opinion, thereby shifting the “median voter” one way or another. One obvious way to do that is by garnering media attention for your cause.
Media attention on Third Parties isn’t always so great. Don’t you remember Ralph Nader in 2000?
It’s true that Nader’s Presidential campaign with the Green Party may have “spoiled” the 2000 Election for Al Gore. Democrats revile Nader for that to this day. While Nader’s campaign certainly garnered some attention for his views, it also alienated many of his most likely converts.
The Protest Party is designed to be much different. Rather than challenging just one party, it challenges both; this should diminish the resentment it engenders. Rather than having a full platform, it will focus on just a single issue; this should widen its appeal and make its message clear. Rather than trying to get a candidate into office, its goal is simply to force a new issue to be discussed; this should make the party seem more reasonable and therefore acceptable to Americans.
Nader said that the Democrats should have adopted some of his platform if they wanted him to go away. Of course, the Green Party platform was divisive, complicated, and already closer to the Democrats than the Republicans. The Protest Party explicitly challenges either party to take on its platform, which will be simple and non-partisan enough to be seriously considered by either party.
Third parties always lose. Why bother? Also, won’t you step on the toes of other third parties?
It’s true that our system intrinsically supports a two-party equilibrium, but the goal here isn’t to get anyone elected, just to get some media attention on a specific issue. Also, the issues I anticipate the Protest Party championing all have to do with removing the impediments to amplifying the voices from third-party campaigns. This will hopefully also attract other third-party supporters to join us for a temporary coalition. The third-parties all agree on many of the most essential corruption issues, so having any of them take a prominent role in the national discourse would be a worthy goal in itself.
How will you get funding?
Don’t know yet. Want to help?
This whole endeavor seems a little underhanded. What about the integrity of the Democratic Process?
Feel free to go down with the ship clinging to your romantic ideal of American Democracy. That’s not what we are living in. The Democratic Process has holes that are being exploited by people hurting the country. If we are to have any hope, good people also need plans to exploit whatever avenues for change that are available to us.
Why put yourself through all of this on such a long-shot?
Well, I think part of being a good person is making sacrifices in the name of justice. America commits and enables many heinous injustices, and its power to do so ultimately comes from us. We empower those injustices. The tragedy is that we each have so little individual power that we deny responsibility. The Protest Party is my attempt to reject that mindset. It is my response to accepting my responsibility for America’s injustices.
Please ask more questions and critically challenge any of these points aggressively, either in comments or by emailing kwils21 at gmail dot com. I need your help to flesh out this project before I move forward.