Third Party & Independents Archives

Healthy Political Faith

It is hard to avoid labels. I am a proud political dissident. Could the majority of Americans be dissidents? Think of the two-thirds of the country that believe the nation is on the wrong track, the 52 percent that believe politicians are dishonest, the majority that do not vote, and the vast majority that think of themselves as centrists, libertarians, moderates or independents, rather than liberals, Democrats, conservatives or Republicans.

And definitely think of the many thousands of Americans out in the streets in recent months to protest the Iraq war, and the larger numbers reading Internet sites to sidestep the mainstream corporate media. Dissidents exist because placing faith in mainstream politicians is as delusional as George W. Bush believing that sending more American soldiers into the Iraq cauldron is justified. It flies in the face of reality, experience and sanity.

The great paradox is that so many people still desperately place faith in politicians. It’s as if through magic or divine intervention some super-honest, non-corruptible, brilliant and charming Democrat or Republican can reform the system. And make us feel good again, restore quality to American democracy, and fight economic inequality by rejecting and stomping on all the evil corporate and other special interests that have robbed we the people of our country. Someone that will actually put the interests of working- and middle-class Americans above those of rich and powerful elites.

So what should American dissidents put their faith in?

I have long sought the answer to that question to avoid existential depression and despair. And also to avoid doing what most Americans do to dull the pain: compulsive and distractive consumerism. This is just fine with mainstream politicians. Debt-ridden consumers are so much easier to govern than active dissidents. As George W. Bush has preached on many occasions, neo-patriotism equates to personal borrowing, spending, shopping and consumption.

Other than protesting, I have arrived at two things worth putting my political faith in. And faith is exactly the right word. They require devotion and commitment as an act of faith. There is no way to prove that they will materialize or, if they did, that they would deliver all that is needed. Yet, to keep putting faith in glib, power-hungry politicians is plain nuts, based strictly on actual history.

My first answer is third parties. At critical times in American history third parties have come to the rescue and greatly improved our nation. We need more political competition. We need some third party to become competitive to Democrats and Republicans in local, state and federal elections. Some party that does not advocate fractious issues that divide, but rather presents a set of principles that bring American dissenters together to collectively pursue substantial changes in our political and governmental system.

Yet, third parties have not done well in recent decades, despite having highly committed members, albeit in relatively small numbers. The two-party duopoly has convinced most people to think of votes for third-party candidates as wasted. And so in every election many – and perhaps most – voters end up voting for the lesser evil Democrat or Republican, and eventually regretting it. Many others reject placebo voting. They have properly lost political faith.

My second answer is less understood and just as undermined and sullied by the two-party duopoly and other status quo defenders. It is to compel Congress to obey Article V of the Constitution that says it “shall call a convention for proposing Amendments” if two-thirds of state legislatures apply for one. That numeric requirement is the ONLY constitutional requirement for an Article V convention. Now, here is an absolute truthful fact. Applications have been submitted from 50 states – actually over 500 applications. An official with The John Birch Society – one of the nations’s far, far right-wing groups – when confronted with that fact said: “had we ever reached the requisite number of state applications, a convention would indeed have been called.” I could not believe that this anti-government, pro-constitution group could actually have such faith in Congress. Or was that just a fanciful excuse for opposing a convention?

Still, we must ask: Why has Congress not called an Article V convention? The answer is simple.

Both Democratic and Republican members of Congress have not wanted to share the constitutional power to propose amendments with the states. Institutionally, Congress has defied Article V to keep power. As Russell L. Caplan noted in Constitutional Brinkmanship: “Congress has never kept regular track of incoming convention applications, and there exists no official catalogue of the applications adopted by the states since 1789.” Researchers have had to dig through many documents to build an inventory of state applications (see Amendment 5).

While Congress has acted surreptitiously, many people and organizations on the left and right have steadfastly and openly opposed an Article V convention. What do they have in common with Congress? They want to maintain the status quo that gives them ample opportunities to control government. For decades they have successfully implanted fear into the public consciousness. They especially like to talk about a “runaway convention,” able to overturn our Constitution, destroy our democracy, and rob us of our civil liberties and freedoms.

Indeed, at a 1998 House hearing on a bill to amend the Constitution, Republican Charles T. Canady said: “The specter of a ‘runaway convention’ seems to have been accepted by many as a convincing political argument.” In 1995, when both houses of the Virginia legislature passed a resolution to limit Article V conventions, one reason cited was “many states are reluctant to ask Congress to call a national convention for fear of creating a ‘runaway convention’ that might undermine the delicate constitutional framework the forefathers worked so hard to establish.”

Yet some people see the truth. Writing in the Wall Street Journal in 1997, Roger Pilon of the libertarian CATO Institute made these salient points about an Article V convention: “With Nebraska as the only state with a unicameral legislature, it takes majorities in 75 of the 99 state legislative bodies in America to ratify any change in the Constitution. Looked at from the other direction, it takes only 13 such bodies to block any change. …Are we really to believe that a runaway convention could get its schemes past the public? Are there not 13 bodies in this land that would rise to block all but the most popular of proposals? …By overwhelming majorities, averaging 75 percent, Americans of every creed and color have come to understand that there is something fundamentally wrong with a system that has resulted, under modern conditions, in our being ruled year in and year out by a class of professional politicians. That situation is neither healthy nor right in a limited, constitutional democracy. Fortunately, the Framers provided a way to do something about it, a way to make substantial change while ensuring that our fundamental principles remain in place.”

And Wendell Cox, speaking before the right wing American Legislative Exchange Council in 1995, asserted that “concerns about a ‘runaway’ convention are entirely unfounded.” At the conservative Heritage Foundation James L. Gattuso concluded in 1988 that “there are numerous political and restraints which make it virtually impossible for a ‘runaway' convention to rewrite the Constitution against the wishes of the American people.”

The Framers gave us the Article V convention option because they anticipated that the federal government could become too powerful or just plain incompetent and ineffective. Dissidents know this has happened. The government has already been hijacked by all kinds of moneyed special interests and corrupt politicians. An Article V convention is like a fourth, temporary branch of the federal government – except that it is really a production of the states aimed at improving the federal Constitution. With enormous public and media attention its delegates would be far more difficult to corrupt by special interests.

What must be emphasized is that an Article V convention would have NO power to change the Constitution or do anything else other than to propose amendments that would have to be ratified by three-quarters of the states.

John de Herrera recently summed it up nicely: “Americans have been conditioned like Pavlov's dog to fear a convention because of what might happen--that it would be some kind of Pandora's box. But what the newspapers and politicians failed to mention is the ratification process. They only told us half the truth, and as the late great Ben Franklin mentioned, half the truth is often a great lie.”

All kinds of people say totally stupid and wrong things to keep the public afraid of a convention. Supreme Court Justice Arthur Goldberg, a Democrat, wrote in 1986 that "one of the most serious problems Article V poses is a runaway convention. There is no enforceable mechanism to prevent a convention from reporting out wholesale changes to our Constitution and Bill of Rights.” Wait a second! An Article V convention can only make PROPOSALS.

In 1987 arch-conservative Phyllis Schlafly said: “If a constitutional Convention can change our structure of government as defined in Articles I, II, and III, it can also change the Article V requirement that three-fourths of the states are needed to ratify any changes. The Convention of 1787 reduced the number of states required to ratify a change from 100% of the states to 75%, and a Convention in the 1980s could ‘follow their example’ and reduce it further, to 66%, or 60%, or even 51%.” Just that one stubborn problem: An Article V convention can only make PROPOSALS!

On the positive side is how former Attorney General Griffin Bell saw things: “Those who wring their hands over the prospects of a convention run the risk of exposing their elitism, implying that the average citizen cannot be trusted.” This resonates with me. As certain as the law of gravity is, is that elitist politicians cannot be trusted.

Another favorable view was that “the convention mode seems preferable, in that it allows amendments to originate with the people themselves, instead of only permitting them to take or reject propositions originated by others [Congress] not especially chosen for the purpose, and which might not be precisely such as they would wish to either accept or refuse.” Abraham Lincoln said that in his first inaugural address.

It comes to this: Be a proud dissident. Find a third party to believe in. Take a good look at some new efforts: the Centrist Party, the Populist Party of America, and the Whig Party. Join the movement to make Congress obey the Constitution and call an Article V convention that could safely re-energize and engage Americans politically. The only thing to fear is that bipartisan lies about an Article V convention will triumph. The job of making American democracy is not done. Doing what our Founders anticipated we would have to do, through a convention, is not the same as undoing what they did. They had faith in us.

Thomas Jefferson was correct. A free people have the right to alter or amend their government when they see fit. Everyone believes in freedom, yet too many fall victim to phony political faith healers. Dissidents keep the faith and want to practice freedom themselves. Just like the people who created our nation.

Posted by Joel S. Hirschhorn at January 30, 2007 10:16 AM
Comment #205836

This again?

Posted by: womanmarine at January 30, 2007 2:59 PM
Comment #205839

Joel S. Hischhorn,
Those are both good ideas:

  • (1) Third party

  • (2) Article V Convention.

There is also third way, and that we will visit that third way some day, one way or another:

We can get our education:

  • (a) the smart way, or

  • (b) the hard, painful way

History shows us that (b) occurs more often.
So, why doesn’t (b) happen always? Because progress is slow; 2.000 steps forward, and 1.999 steps backward.
Too often, hindsight prevails over foresight.
When foresight prevails, it is because humans have become educated enough to avoid the hard, painful way.

The Article V Convention would be good because it would raise awareness and the people would inevitably become more educated about government. It will help to reveal things that are broken (and there are many).

A third party is a great idea.
But, also, a coalition of third parties is a good idea.
Obviously, all third parties can benefit by joining to educate the voters about the overwhelming problems with the current bunch of irresponsible incumbent politicians within the the two-party duopoly, and learn to recognize and reject the clever, distracting control mechanisms used by irresponsible incumbent politicians; unfortunately, a human flaw that is not sufficiently understood. Education is needed.

The simple, inescapable fact is that, while most Americans believe that our elected officials are too corrupt and irresponsible, they fail to understand that it will never get better by rewarding them by repeatedly re-electing them.

The logic is inescapable.
Just stop doing it.
But, humans are not always logical.
Too often, they have to learn the hard way.
At any rate, our education is already in the pipeline.
Some painful consequences are probably already unavoidable.
The only way to learn sooner than later, when it is more painful, is via education.

That is what ALL third parties, and all those that understand the root problem can do to avoid learning the hard way, again.

Posted by: d.a.n at January 30, 2007 3:25 PM
Comment #205888

Come on now.
We’ve all got our ax to grind.
IMO, this could be a very good thing, if it can get the media to focus on some of the nation’s pressing problems.
It could help in terms of education, and it could help to get people more involved.
I don’t see many (if any) down side.

Posted by: d.a.n at January 30, 2007 8:28 PM
Comment #205900

I don’t mind seeing more than post on the same topic. I mean, on the left of our screen we have a certain person’s dozen or so recent celebrations of the person of Barack Obama and a certain other someone who reminds us constantly about those (all in red now) incompent, irresponsible, incumbent politicians.

Anyhow, the Article V convention could either be good or very, very bad. I mean, you know how public opinion goes up and down like a rollercoaster, and any spur of the moment amendments to the Consitution are things we’d be stuck with for a very long time, since the Supreme Court wouldn’t be able to touch them. In a way, we should be grateful that it’s so difficult to amend the Consitution.

Posted by: Loyal Opposition at January 30, 2007 9:17 PM
Comment #205909

Constitutional Convention called: 1786
Constitution Written: 1787
Constitution Ratified: 1788, final state ratifying in 1790.

So what’s the point of cumulative calls for a constitutional convention? If they could could call this one in a year, they sure as hell can do it now.

Posted by: Stephen Daugherty at January 30, 2007 10:01 PM
Comment #205910

Stephen, well, they COULD, but do you think they should?

Seems to me that in the 1700s it made sense to be refining and retooling the Consitution so often. I just worry about temporary public passions finding quick passage into our more basic legal framework. I mean, that could be downright dangerous.

Can you imagine what amendments might have gotten in there had there been a Consitutional Convention on, say, September 12 2001? Sometimes slow and difficult is better than quick and dirty IMO.

Posted by: Loyal Opposition at January 30, 2007 10:07 PM
Comment #205912

In previous posts of Hirschhorn’s my commentary has been negative on his argument. I agree with your position: the constitution is difficult to amend for a reason. What I was arguing there was that the precedent for the last call for a convention, there being only one of that, was for a quick agreement to hold one, and a quick ratification. This wasn’t meant to be something that simply happens every times a number equal to two-thirds the total states calls for one.

The Constitution was an agreement between the states, and changes can only be brought upon the same kind agreement between the states.

We are the United States of America, not the Cumulative.

Posted by: Stephen Daugherty at January 30, 2007 10:43 PM
Comment #205926

I would have no issue with a Constitutional Convention, but agree with Stephen’s analysis of this.

LO, I agree it could be dangerous, but then so was the one in 1786. We have nothing to fear….you know the rest. Those that give up freedom for security, deserve neither.

I’m full of pablum, today.:)

Posted by: gergle at January 30, 2007 11:30 PM
Comment #205938

Gergle, not to quibble with pablum, but that is not the full quote. Without security, freedom is impossible, as those who fought the Revolutionary War knew better than anyone.

Posted by: Loyal Opposition at January 31, 2007 1:03 AM
Comment #205976

One of the reasons I say “this again” is that it’s not clear to me what Joel wants. It just appears to be a rant with no stated purpose.

What specifically does Joel want to happen? What ammendments does he want proposed? To just rant that none have been called without indicating why one should be called makes no sense to me.

Posted by: womanmarine at January 31, 2007 11:39 AM
Comment #205988


So you don’t like our system and want to change it. I’d venture to say that the vast majority of people in the U.S., close to 100%, don’t like some specific aspect of our system. But no system set up my man can be perfect.

You don’t think much of either party. OK. What makes you think that a third party would be better? It would be run by the same power-hungry people as those running the current 2 parties.

As far as a convention goes, what makes you think that what it comes up with will be better? It too will be run by the power hungry in our country.

If you want to be practical, you join a third party that you believe in - and work with it in local elections. As far as national elections are concerned, you waste your vote if you vote for a third party candidate. As you can see, those who voted for Ralph Nader were just as instrumental in getting George W. Bush elected as were Republicans.

I believe in the principles of the Democratic Party. They are often not-followed. My job is to see that Democrats are elected and then to see that they follow Democratic principles.

You may express your principles differently. But within the present system you can work to achieve your goals. We’ve got a lot of problems to be solved. We don’t need to get bogged down in a convention.

Posted by: Paul Siegel at January 31, 2007 1:42 PM
Comment #206007
Pual Siegel wrote: As far as national elections are concerned, you waste your vote if you vote for a third party candidate.

A vote for a third party candidate is NEVER a wasted vote.

One should be asking themself: “Why is this person telling me a vote for a third party candidate is a wasted vote”?

In fact, if a Democrat tells you that your vote for a third party candidate is wasted, then ask them “So, what is a vote for a Republican”.

And vice versa ?

They’ll tell you that your vote is STILL wasted, because what they really mean is that your vote is wasted unless you vote for THEIR party.

That sort of blind partisan nonsense is nothing more than a clever tactic to try to trick you into voting for THEIR party. Don’t fall for it.

The fact is, even though third party and independent voters may not get their candidate elected, the third party and independent voters are the voters that really decide elections (at least as much as any other party).

Third parties give the OTHER parties some incentive to do better. Competition is a good thing.

Besides, if your vote for a third party was really a wasted vote, then why are the main-party loyalists so irked about it?

If it is wasted, then it is no good to anyone, eh?

You see, there is something fundamentally wrong with that sort of logic. Of course, the blind party loyalist will never agree. They don’t like your individualism and non-conformity.

So, if your vote for a third party candidate is wasted, then why do they worry. Why do they say “your vote for a third party is really a vote for the OTHER main-party candidate” ?

Where’s the logic in that?
That’s an obvious non-sequitur.

The reason it irks them so much is because they understand the math, and they don’t like competition.

There’s nothing wrong with a three (or more) race.
More competition and more choices is a good thing.

So, there is good cause to be suspicious of those that try to tell you that your vote is wasted.

No matter how small your party is, your vote is never wasted.

As for the convention, I’m all for it, because it could raise awareness and participation, and help to educate the electorate.

Posted by: d.a.n at January 31, 2007 4:21 PM
Comment #206249

What if the third party candidate is corrupt and/or incompetent? Would a lack of virtue in such a candidate indicate that a vote for somebody else was better, or would we vote for this unworthy character merely for the sake of what party he belonged to?

Posted by: Stephen Daugherty at February 1, 2007 11:31 PM
Comment #206250

Also, wouldn’t we be better off raising awareness and participation, educating and energizing the public before we try and push an initiative to rewrite the constitution through, and not after?

Unless the public will comes first, the convention will only function to put the cart before the horse on reform.

Posted by: Stephen Daugherty at February 1, 2007 11:33 PM
Comment #206390
Paul Siegel wrote: As far as national elections are concerned, you waste your vote if you vote for a third party candidate.
Stephen Daugherty wrote: d.a.n , What if the third party candidate is corrupt and/or incompetent?

Stephen Daugherty,
It is questions like that which make one wonder about the validity of the phrase “there are no dumb questions”.

Of course no one should ever vote for any corrupt politician (from any party). The point is the absurdity of telling people their vote is a waste if it is NOT for a main party candidate.
Of course, saying “NEVER” is rarely true and should be avoided.
Technically, I should rephrased it to:

  • Voting for a third party candidate is NOT necessarily a wasted vote.
  • Stephen Daugherty wrote: Unless the public will comes first, the convention will only function to put the cart before the horse on reform.
    Cart before the horse? No. There’s nothing wrong with raising awareness at anytime. However, the convention itself could raise awareness, and the “political will” already exists if there is sufficient support for the Article 5 Convention requirements:
    The Congress, whenever two thirds of both Houses shall deem it necessary, shall propose Amendments to this Constitution, or, on the Application of the Legislatures of two thirds of the several States, shall call a Convention for proposing Amendments, which, in either Case, shall be valid to all Intents and Purposes, as Part of this Constitution, when ratified by the Legislatures of three fourths of the several States, or by Conventions in three fourths thereof, as the one or the other Mode of Ratification may be proposed by the Congress; Provided that no Amendment which may be made prior to the Year One thousand eight hundred and eight shall in any Manner affect the first and fourth Clauses in the Ninth Section of the first Article; and that no State, without its Consent, shall be deprived of its equal Suffrage in the Senate.

    So, an Article 5 Convention could be a good thing. The upsides outweigh the downsides. We shouldn’t avoid Article 5 for fear of what may happen.

    However, personally, I think there is a much easier way. Just stop rewarding irresponsible incumbent politicians by repeatedly re-electing them.

    Stop Repeat Offenders.
    Don’t Re-Elect Them.

    But, however reform comes about, it will most likely only be after we have the necessary motivation, which will come in the form of pain and misery for 30+ years of too much moral and fiscal irresponsibility.

    Posted by: d.a.n at February 2, 2007 4:39 PM
    Comment #206398

    A dumb question? I think it’s a particularly clever one. The heart of it is the dilemma you put yourself in by saying “A vote for a third party candidate is NEVER a wasted vote.”

    That basically says that one should vote for somebody because of what party they don’t represent: the Republicans or Democrats. It sets a standard for third party partisanship. The Third party candidates should earn their power, not be given it in hopes that they will have some special quality that will prevent them from becoming corrupt in office.

    Your revision, however, is agreeable.

    As for the Convention?

    What it comes down to is this: The convention should come as a result of a general political movement. If it’s a general political movement, one should have done the work on increasing awareness and gathering the political will beforehand. That’s what I mean by not putting the cart before the horse. First the will, then the convention. It shouldn’t be casually invoked by the states, then foisted on a disinterested or skeptical public. That will only cause trouble.

    The simplest solution is to keep an eye on politicians, let them know you’re watching, and don’t hesitate to take action if they fail to measure up. We need to start raising the stakes for political survival. If we can do that, it will be harder and harder to simply coast on folk’s goodwill.

    Posted by: Stephen Daugherty at February 2, 2007 6:11 PM
    Comment #206404

    Stephen D., the power of democracy is not to retain incumbents, they will do that all by themselves, in communist countries, socialist countries, dictatorships, politburos, etc. The power of democracy is to remove candidates from office by voting another candidate.

    Ergo, a vote for a third party candidate is never a wasted vote. If there is such a thing as a wasted vote in democracy, it is one for an incumbent, but, I wouldn’t buy that argument either.

    I will buy the argument though, that a vote for party instead of the candidate, is a lazy vote. Even if that vote is for a 3rd Party instead of their individual candidates experience, talent, capabilities and policy stance.

    Posted by: David R. Remer at February 2, 2007 6:26 PM
    Comment #206513

    I don’t know. You could say there’s no wasted vote, but there are candidates that one can come to regret voting for. There are also candidates who have no hope of winning. I could tell you your votes wasted, but the vote you cast is according to your own purpose, not mine.

    Still, I would say that it would healthy for Third Parties to recognize that developing a mainstream third party, a base of successful candidates at local level, and systematically breaking through the obstacles thrown up to that by the two main parties over the decades are all necessary goals for making third parties fulfil their stated purposes of breaking the rigid two party control of the country.

    It may require a different kind of third party than what we see here today. The third parties of today may be too specialized or on the fringe concerning their beliefs to gain the public acceptance necessary for a large political effort.

    Voting as you see fit, towards your purpose is good for you now. But you have to recognize that third parties will not have the desired impact until they can really give the other two parties a run for their money.

    Posted by: Stephen Daugherty at February 3, 2007 6:47 PM
    Comment #206593
    Stephen Daugherty wrote: But you have to recognize that third parties will not have the desired impact until they can really give the other two parties a run for their money
    Not true. While other non-main parties may not get their candidate(s) elected, they definitely can have an impact, and not all of those voters are not as oblivious to the impact as some think.

    Even if their third-party candidate is not elected, the impact is valuable and beneficial.

    It provides competition for the two-main parties, which can give them some incentive to be better.

    The two-main parties are irked by it.
    It really makes no sense, since there is no way of knowing the vote for a third party candidate would have otherwise gone for THEIR party, instead of the OTHER party.

    Most of the talk about wasted votes comes from the two-main party loyalists. What is the motivation for that? It could be a foolish thing. After all, if they are successful at convincing a third-party voter to vote for a main party candidate, they may not choose the candidate of THEIR party, but the OTHER party instead.

    True, people vote ways that they regret later.
    It’s not a perfect science.
    Politicians fool us.
    People are not always perfect judges of character.

    At any rate, the Executive Branch and Congress is too irresponsible, and the problem is not merely one bad vote. It is also that too many voters continually rewarding irresponsible politicians by repeatedly re-electing them. Especially those that lazily pull the party-lever, without even knowing who they are voting for (which happens a lot). Mere party affiliation should not trump the qualifications, character, record, and positions of the candidate.

    Especially since there is really not that much difference between the two main parties.

    Voter education is needed, so that voters understand these issues, and aren’t fooled into thinking their vote for who they like best is a wasted vote.

    Posted by: d.a.n at February 4, 2007 1:47 PM
    Comment #206800

    From Joel
    To the many thoughtful commenters

    I will keep writing about what I believe to be important themes, because it is all too clear that there is an enormous need to inform and educate people. I was a professor for 13 years and I know how difficult it is to break through psychological defenses and get people to open their minds to new information and ideas. I continue to be utterly amazed how Americans can look at our current political and governmental system with all of its ineffectiveness, corruption and disregard for working- and middle-class people and still not be willing to take some risks to make our country better. This assumption by many that any new, competitive third party or an Article V Convention will be just as corrupted and untrustworthy as our current system indicates a state of mind that is totally defeatist, nihilistic and hopeless. Such people, obviously, will not work outside the status quo system and exercise the freedoms that our Founders gave us. Either you have trust in your fellow Americans or you keep trusting the power elites that have failed us for a very long time. When representative democracy fails we the people, then we must believe in Power to the People through more direct democracy opportunities. And by the way, if you actually read all my articles - not just quickly scan them, then you will clearly see that I have no information and analysis in each.

    Posted by: Joel S. Hirschhorn at February 6, 2007 1:22 PM
    Comment #206801

    In that last post of mine, that next to last line should read “that I have new information and analysis in each.”

    Posted by: Joel S. Hirschhorn at February 6, 2007 1:25 PM
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