On Friday, I said I’d post something from the new American Party’s big announcement at the State House, and I meant to; I really did. But it didn’t happen. Not that I didn’t try. While rabbiting away at my day job, I tried twice to upload the video I had shot at their presser, only to see my internet connection (and presumably, that of others at ADCO) slow way down, so I aborted each time. HD video is great, but 14:15 of it can really be a drag on bandwidth. At least, I assume that’s what was happening.
That night, I took a look at the video, only to find that it had no sound. I’ve had that happen a couple of times lately. I think my iPhone 4 is wearing out. So I had been wasting time as well as bandwidth.
None of that should have stopped me from posting about it, but the opportunity for a timely post just got away from me. And there was another reason… I didn’t have much that was constructive to say.
I have a great appreciation of both Oscar Lovelace and Jim Rex, and what they are trying to do, in terms of breaking the death grip that the two parties have on our politics. I think they are operating from the purest of motives, and that they have been sensible and pragmatic in going about it, according to their own understanding of things. And before I get into my fault-finding, here’s some normal coverage of their thing on Friday.
I want to be a cheerleader for them. Hey, I’d even like to get involved, or even (gasp!) run for office, if I could honestly embrace the alternative that they’re offering.
I think I expected too much.
That Jim Rex in particular would start a party that would appropriate the ever-popular trope of term limits is in keeping with a pattern. As state superintendent of education, he played upon the popularity (in certain circles) of “school choice” to push public school choice. And now again, he’s trying to pair something that might poll well among portions of the electorate to push something that he thinks would be good for the state and nation.
But all I could do, listening to them make their announcement, was find fault. Worse, when Oscar and Jim each came up to me afterwards, rather than play reporter and ask questions, I told them what I didn’t like about what they were doing. Which was obnoxious of me, I know. And I could sense, after each had come up to me and initiated a conversation, that they both were ready to talk to someone else almost immediately. They had come to launch a party, not listen to criticism. I didn’t blame them a bit.
But I couldn’t help it. Because to me, we so badly need a good alternative to the two parties that when I finally see the only sustained effort to establish one that I’ve seen in my 26 years of observing SC politics, I hate to see it going wrong.
And here’s how I see it going wrong. There are two main problems:
- The term limits thing. This wouldn’t be a big deal, except that one item is likely to define this party. I suspect that most people walking away from their pitch are likely to think of it as “the term limits party.” That’s because most of the rest of the things they call for – honesty, ethical behavior, etc. – are things that everyone says they want. And if you’re going to hang your identity on something, the term limits gimmick is a poor vehicle. It is popular to believe that “career politicians” are what’s wrong in politics today. Therefore, term limits as a popular silver bullet. But that’s not what’s wrong. In fact, inexperienced politicians are at least as much of an expression of the real problem as are those who’ve been in office forever. More about that real problem in a moment. But the fact is, one can cause a lot of mischief in the 12 years the American Party is talking about allowing politicos. And you get a lot of ignorant blundering about to boot, with legislative bodies full of people who lack basic knowledge of how things work. Calling for term limits – particularly limits as loose as 12 years – is a way of seeming to do something measurable without accomplishing anything at all.
- The second problem is something I hadn’t noticed in my interactions with this new party: On Friday, I heard a lot of talk, particularly from Dr. Lovelace, about “career politicians beholden to corporate interests” At times, I felt I was at a séance that was conjuring up the ghost of Occupy Wall Street. And folks, it might have a certain populist appeal, but the problem with our politics is NOT that there are a bunch of wicked rich men pulling strings behind the scenes. If that were happening, I think, frankly, you’d see more pragmatic policymaking. Big business types, for instance, would in a skinny minute increase our gasoline tax so as to maintain our roads, because good roads are good for business. But that doesn’t happen because of the populist games both parties play with the gas tax – Republicans playing on reflexive resistance to any tax increase, and Democrats opposing anything that would place a burden on the poor.
And that gets us to the real problem with our system, and that is the parties themselves. The American Party correctly diagnoses the problem when it says what we need is “elected officials who place the common good and problem-solving above party loyalty and partisanship.” The parties are about themselves. They are about perpetuating themselves, and that means constantly stoking the fires of resentment among their respective constituencies toward the OTHER side. Everything is framed in terms that make it difficult for any office-seeker to stray from the party line, lest he or she be judged one of THEM.
Every vote, every statement, is geared toward helping the party gain a majority, or expand a majority, or if the party in question is stuck hopelessly in the minority, make things hard for the majority party.
Assembling consensus on policies so as to pass legislation that all or most could support is not only discouraged, it’s rendered practically impossible.
The point of a third party – one that addresses our real needs – should be to break that stranglehold that the existing parties have, with their never-ending quest to achieve a majority plus one. To go on about career politicians and rich, powerful folk behind the scenes is to misdiagnose the problem, and to create distractions. Which is what the parties do.
Yeah, I know how silly it can seem for me to be holding out for the purity of my UnParty – which offers no silver bullets, which demonizes no scapegoats, but simply attacks the real problems created by the two parties, working together to ensure that nothing gets done.
And I know that a pragmatic person looks for gimmicks that sound good to rally people around a banner, such as term limits and blaming those wicked “corporate” interests (I keep wondering – what is it about incorporation that makes an entity evil?).
After all, no group of people has ever stood up behind ME at a press conference to express support for the UnParty.
But I still believe that something is needed to explode the two-party system, and the American Party, as currently presented, isn’t it.