Dancing the Two-Party Tango

Steve Russell

When The Richmond Times-Dispatch endorsed the Libertarian Party ticket of Gary Johnson and Bill Weld, it said neither Trump nor Clinton reaches the "moral and professional standards" the editors would hope to see in a POTUS.

That's kinda sorta what I've been saying from the get-go.

I am uncomfortable with the Clinton "ambient corruption level," a phrase I think I coined. I have also been uncomfortable with the Clinton role in the Democratic Leadership Council, an organization founded to convince Democrats to act like Republicans and acquiesce to chipping away at the body of law to benefit working people known in history as the New Deal.

That pales beside Trump's problems, though. Trump sends me into a blind sweat panic. Is this country prepared to elect somebody who did not know the "nuclear triad" or that Russia has invaded Ukraine? Who thinks judges "sign bills" and that the commander in chief can lawfully order American GI's to use torture?

Trump’s biases against Muslims and African-Americans and Mexican-Americans are well known. His treatment of women as a separate species defined by his sexual interests tells me a vote for Trump is a vote against the world I would want my two daughters living in and my four granddaughters growing up in. Nip and tuck with sexism for Trump’s biggest liability is that he's a self-professed Indian fighter, seeking to put an end to our separate political existence.

I am biased against Trump but not because I’m Indian and he’s not. Pols do things that hurt Indian interests all the time but it's seldom on purpose. We are too few to attract the big guns, but Trump has a record of hostility to tribal sovereignty going back before he got into politics. It does offer a certain clarity when a candidate is promising to attack your fundamental interests on purpose

So there are two reasons why I can hold my nose hard enough to vote for Clinton. One is that she's not Donald Trump and the other is that while I find the Clinton corruption level disquieting, there is no denying that the Clinton years were times of relative peace and prosperity.

When she leaves the White House, she may sell pardons like her husband did but at least she will leave the walls standing. With Trump, every potential disaster is in play.

Why not vote third party? Two reasons. One involves the U.S. political structure and the other is my dissatisfaction with the third party candidates on offer.

Here’s the structural issue. Taking over one of the two parties is a task of X magnitude. Taking over the entire nation is a task of X plus Y magnitude. The values of X and Y do not matter. If you can’t do one then you can’t do the other so it makes sense to work on the easier of the two, the one already accomplished by the Tea Party when it hijacked the GOP.

If the Republican Party continues its self-immolation, the resulting realignment may open political opportunities. There are probably still some Whigs out there, orphaned by the last major realignment. Before you laugh at them, recall that the Whig Party was formed in reaction to the policies of Andrew Jackson including, specifically and loudly, Indian Removal.

Given that history, it’s beyond ironic that the first Whig POTUS was the Indian fighter, William Henry Harrison. The last was Millard Fillmore. Out of the ashes of the Whigs, the Republican Party was born in opposition to slavery.

So it’s once more beyond ironic that the party of Abraham Lincoln, the Great Emancipator, is in our time home to the unreconstructed racists who still run the Confederate states.

All told, four Whig presidents served, two elected (Harrison and Zachary Taylor) and two VPs who became POTUS on the death of the president, John Tyler and Fillmore.

While the Whigs are probably gone for good, a realignment might create room for a party not wedded to transnational corporations to the degree both of the present parties are. This all remains speculation until the GOP is beyond saving.

As a matter of practical politics, the 2016 election is a binary choice. Any vote not for Trump is a vote for Clinton and vice versa.

The futility of third party politics goes for congressional races as well. When a Bernie Sanders or a Joe Lieberman or an Angus King is elected, the first decision point is with which party will the third party candidate caucus?

When the two major parties are of equal strength, as in the Senate right now, a third party senator can exact a price from the leadership of the caucuses. Putting the choice up for bids is possible then, but when the count is lopsided as in the House right now, it’s the other way around. You will caucus with the Republicans or get nothing done.

Neither party is not an option because you can’t caucus with yourself and the real work of both houses of Congress does not happen on the floor. Committee assignments matter greatly, and if you want a floor vote on your priority issues, that can’t happen at all without the Speaker of the House and it’s unlikely to happen in the Senate without the leadership signing off.

Generally speaking, the votes are counted before anything gets to the floor. That’s one way we knew that the Tea Party had taken over the House. It was either that or then-Speaker John Boehner forgot how to count.

On the local levels of government third parties make better sense from the voters’ point of view. A party that wants to run the country needs to prove it can run a city, county, or state.

I did say there are two reasons not to vote third party and one is structural. The other reason is the quality of candidates on offer by the third parties this year. The facts on which that opinion is based are set out here.

There is a concept I’ve never understood called “protest vote.” That always struck me as akin to taking all the paper money out of your wallet and lighting it on fire because you think taxes are too high. That makes exactly the same amount of sense as refusing to wield the power contained in your vote because you complain that you have too little power.

You are unlikely to improve the “moral and professional standards” of a government by declining what opportunity you have to influence it. If you seek influence, observe that the party that replaced the Whigs is now in a crisis of its own. These moments of crisis are also moments of opportunity for those who feel poorly served by the two major parties.

If it’s easier to take over a party than a government, it is still easier when a party is disintegrating. If you consider yourself a political orphan and think the GOP is going the way of the Whigs, get ready to pounce on what is left. The pounce is done most effectively from the inside.

If you think any of the third party candidates are likely to win or—much more importantly—you think there is no real difference between Clinton and Trump (particularly for Indians), then, my words having failed, I cannot improve on Abraham Lincoln’s:

Elections belong to the people. It's their decision. If they decide to turn their back on the fire and burn their behinds, then they will just have to sit on their blisters.

Steve Russell, Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma, is a Texas trial court judge by assignment and associate professor emeritus of criminal justice at Indiana University-Bloomington. He lives in Georgetown, Texas.

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David Odell's picture
I think it could be said, that the police activity in Standing Rock is emboldened by the prospect of a Trump win. Trump would actually like to operate the dozers as a photo op. Clinton will be seen in history as a benevolent mobster. The kind that can be bought, but never trusted. There are many ways to influence our gov't other than a vote for this Potus or that. Local sheriff elections for one. I would rather sit on my blisters, than carry the weight of having supported either. We will find another way.
David Odell
turbojesus's picture
Every non-voter is a vote against a national identity. If substantial majority of people start deciding that they don't need to vote in a national election, that may mean that we may not need to have one. Every empire gets overextended and requires a contraction. Mass communication and transportation may have allowed greater commerce and economic advantage. But every bubble bursts and the novelty has become mediocrity. Mass media and politics has made people chiefly concerned about their private emotional experiences. Further alienating them from other individuals and drawing people into a tribal culture. The only reason why we haven't contracted our nation already is because people try to hold onto the national power. Mostly thru manipulation of the vote by both sides in varying tactics.
Unfortunately, Mr. Lincoln may have been correct in his time, but no longer. The elections do not belong to the people. In our modern age when technology has advanced to the point that every individual vote CAN be accurately counted and spatially analyzed almost instantaneously, the electoral college still belongs to politicos and big business. What a nation we might've had if we had President Gore by popular vote instead of President Bush II by electoral college..... I truly wish the electoral college system would be dissolved.

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