Two-party system places stranglehold on alternatives

By the time you read this, the 2004 presidential election will have been decided and my candidate of preference will have lost. He will have lost, in no small part, because a majority of American voters are probably unaware of his name, let alone his views. Naturally, I refer to neither John Kerry nor George W. Bush, but instead to a third-party candidate – Libertarian Party nominee Michael Badnarik.

The Libertarian Party, like the Green Party, the Constitution Party and the now-defunct Reform Party USA, has been virtually ignored by the media, policymakers and other forces that painstakingly safeguard a de facto two-party system. When a third party is mentioned at all, it is usually in reference to one of Ralph Nader’s snicker-inducing vanity campaigns.

As such, many have come to the conclusion that supporting a third-party candidate is an exercise in futility.

This view, in my opinion, is akin to driving a car into a wall at 60 mph because you don’t believe your brakes will work. If a third-party candidate offers a better alternative than either the Republican or the Democrat in any given race, there is no defensible reason not to vote for him or her. Saying “he’ll never win, so I might as well vote for the guy I hate the least” undermines the power and the purpose of the vote.

Do you really want the leader of the country to be merely the lesser of two evils? Or would you rather feel confident in knowing that you supported someone who you actually believe in even if he or she didn’t win?

As I’ve stated before, I believe compromise is a good way to fish out a practical solution between two opposing extremes. This does not work, however, if the candidates themselves are compromised and the full range of ideas is not represented. Both Kerry and Bush are flip-flop artists and, despite their differences, the two of them combined still do not represent all the voices to be heard from in American politics.

Kerry, often perceived as the quintessential liberal, comes off looking like Ronald Reagan when compared to the likes of the Green Party. The radical Greens firmly oppose military action in Iraq and restrictions on same-sex marriages – stances which counter those taken by Kerry.

Similarly, Bush’s “hardline” views seem marshmallow soft when stacked up against the platform of the Constitution Party. The Buchananesque party’s platform calls for the end of federal education funding and a moratorium on immigration – positions that counter Bush’s “compassionate conservativism.”

Not only will paying more heed to lesser-known political parties broaden the field of debate, it will also restore a sense of purpose and unity to the two conventional parties. “Democrat” and “Republican” are rapidly evolving into broad, meaningless labels.

Joseph Lieberman and Howard Dean are miles apart on the issues, but both share a common party affiliation. On the other side of the aisle, GOP membership might be the only common ground between Lincoln Chafee and Tom DeLay.

By branching out into other parties, politicians needn’t compromise their values by allying themselves with those who hold contrasting views.

Pat Buchanan, the archconservative former White House official, has already availed himself of this option. Disappointed that Republican Party leadership had been snatched by war-mongering, spend-happy neocons, he broke faith and ran as a Reform Party candidate for president in 2002.

The more progressive members of the Democratic Party – Reps. Maxine Waters and Dennis Kucinich come to mind – would do well to follow suit. Their interests are not being served by the party as a whole and rank-and-file Democrats are not about to waste their political currency by pulling the party further left to appease them.

Ergo, a far-left liberal who is ignored as a Democrat can transform himself into a prominent leader of a different party.

Regardless of how much sense this option makes, politicians won’t consider branching out unless they believe voters will remain behind them. And voters might be reluctant to support a third party without the credibility a high-level candidate can bring. It’s truly a Catch-22 situation.

One possible way to break this cycle is to push for a fairer playing field. Many states have laws that prevent third-party voter registrations. Others have laws that preclude third-party candidates from appearing on ballots.

Green Party presidential nominee David Cobb, along with Badnarik, was arrested for publicly protesting his unjust exclusion from the presidential debates.

Clearly, the effectiveness of third parties cannot be accurately measured if the deck is continually stacked against them.

As a footnote, I’d like to point out that not all third parties are necessarily radical. Badnarik’s platform, for example, would place him near the center of American politics. His pro-choice, anti-war rhetoric would endear him to liberals while conservatives can take solace in his anti-tax, pro-gun stances.

Personally, while I don’t profess to share all of Badnarik’s anti-federal zeal, I do find it commendatory that he places more faith in the Constitution than either Bush or Kerry and remains firmly committed to its ideals.

Besides, its refreshing to see someone who is willing to go to jail for doing little more than letting the American public know that he exists.