01 October 2010

The Anti-Bipolarchy of New York: Greens and Libertarians agree to disagree with the two-party system

If the Green Party stands to the left of the Democratic Party, as can be safely assumed, and the Libertarian Party stands to the right of the Republican Party, as is widely assumed, it might also be assumed that Greens and Libertarians should be more hostile toward each other than Democrats and Republicans are. But just as Churchill and Stalin could join forces against Hitler, Greens and Libertarians have recently found a common cause in opposition to the American Bipolarchy. Seeing themselves as the truly independent alternative parties, as opposed to such pretenders as the Conservative and Working Families parties, Greens and Libertarians have often taken a principled stand in favor of easier ballot access and equal participation in candidate debates for both parties, as well as other independents. This collaboration was highlighted by a joint appearance in Albany yesterday by Howie Hawkins and Warren Redlich, the Green and Libertarian candidates for governor of New York.

At a time when more New Yorkers ought to grow suspicious of both Republican Carl Paladino's irresponsible temperament and Democrat Andrew Cuomo's potentially corrupting establishment ties, can we hope for a backlash against the Lazio Logic that condemns us to a "real choice" between two candidates even when neither appeals to us much? If so, Hawkins and Redlich are the candidates poised to benefit, though Kristin Davis and Charles Barron present alternatives for this campaign. In Albany yesterday, Redlich and Hawkins challenged the imperative of ideological solidarity that sustains the Bipolarchy by each denouncing both Cuomo and Paladino. Simply by doing so, they prove the necessity they assert for their inclusion in any gubernatorial debates; "left," as defined by Cuomo, and "right," as defined by Paladino, are not the only options for New York.

Most New Yorkers adhere to the Democratic-Republican Bipolarchy because they accept the premises of lesser-evilism. A conservative must hold his nose and vote for Paladino to prevent the worst-case scenario of Cuomo's election, while a liberal must also hold his nose while voting for Cuomo to prevent the even-worse scenario of Paladino's election. While Greens and Libertarians, to my knowledge, have no plan to replace Democrats and Republicans as a New Bipolarchy, it seems reasonable to ask whether the two parties would be as civil toward each other should both have a more realistic chance of winning power as they are now as allied outsiders. The two parties presumably have profound philosophical differences (though thinkers elsewhere have proposed a "green libertarian" synthesis that would, for instance, attack pollution as a violation of individual rights), and we should not expect them to minimize or deny those differences.

What each party should avoid in the future as both gain strength is the partisan exaggeration of philosophical differences that has transformed our present Bipolarchy into a paralyzed parody of consensus without consensus, an agreement never to agree. A Green or Libertarian has every right to declare his own policies preferable for the state or the nation. He has less right, intellectually at least, to declare the other's policies intolerable. Democratic republicanism flourishes, paradoxically enough, in an environment of relative indifference to the outcome of elections, in which voters vigorously declare their individual preferences but are willing to settle for any option chosen by a majority rather than feeling forced to settle for a next-worst option out of fear of a supposedly intolerable worst. We may perceive Greens and Libertarians as standing further apart from each other than Democrats and Republicans, but that's only when we plot them on a fictional left-right axis. If the two insurgent parties, and others with them, can find a common alternative language for articulating their principled differences while transcending the polarizing left-right paradigm, they might do their country a great service regardless of which one wins a big election first.


Albany Lawyer said...

Howie is a wonderful guy. We talked quite a bit that day and we agree on many things.

We disagree on some fundamental economic issues, but even there we found some common ground.

Neither of us is interested in the personal nonsense we see from the Dems and Repubs. We talked about policy.

Anonymous said...

I generally shy away from debates, knowing that they generally turn into a oneupsmanship of mud slinging. I would be interested in seeing/listening to a debate that was an actual debate.