Advancing a Free Society

The Third-Party Temptation

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Every leap year thoughts turn, not just to love, but to a third political party free of the encrustations encumbering Democrats and Republicans. This year, leaders of one self-appointed group, traveling under the moniker Americans Elect, promise that their presidential and vice-presidential candidates, one from each of the two major parties, will be on the November ballot in every state. They plan to host a “secure, online convention” in June but reserve the right to exclude candidates deemed unworthy.

Third-partyism is tempting. The idea of a middle way has appealed to certain Washington insiders unhappy with the Obama administration but also dissatisfied with those pursuing the Republican nomination.

As ever in the American two-party system, a winning party must appeal to multiple, sometimes contradictory, constituencies. Democrats must satisfy job-hungry unions and antigrowth environmentalists. Republicans must resolve differences between social and economic conservatives.

Given such heterogeneities, leaders must be vague and inconsistent. They are wont to change their minds and appear to be lacking in all conviction. By comparison, those who lead third parties can, at least for a while, inspire by their apparent nobility of presence and purity of heart.

The Third-Party Temptation…