04 October 2010

Thomas Friedman sees 'Third Party Rising' ... in 2012

New York Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman is still trying to summon his hoped-for "radical center" into battle to topple the American Bipolarchy, though he's adopted the slightly more realistic target of 2012 instead of expecting the now-impossible for 2010. In "Third Party Rising," his latest column , he once more tentatively identifies the "radical center" constituency while proposing a platform for it.

[After a week in Silicon Valley, Friedman reports that] I continue to be astounded by the level of disgust with Washington, D.C., and our two-party system — so much so that I am ready to hazard a prediction: Barring a transformation of the Democratic and Republican Parties, there is going to be a serious third party candidate in 2012, with a serious political movement behind him or her — one definitely big enough to impact the election’s outcome.

Notice the singular noun, candidate. Friedman is thinking presidential here, for good or ill. This Promised One's constituency could include "at least two serious groups, one on the East Coast and one on the West Coast, developing “third parties” to challenge our stagnating two-party duopoly that has been presiding over our nation’s steady incremental decline. These mystery groups, presumably, are the building blocks or core cells of the Radical Center. Friedman has discussed people like these before; they're aspiring technocrats, capitalist innovators who believe in cooperating with government, not fighting it at every turn. They are frustrated with Democrats and disgusted with Republicans -- or is that vice versa? Give either party control of the Executive and Legislative branches and you still get "suboptimal" government, and Friedman says "Suboptimal is O.K. for ordinary times, but these are not ordinary times."

How to optimize government?

We have to rip open this two-party duopoly and have it challenged by a serious third party that will talk about education reform, without worrying about offending unions; financial reform, without worrying about losing donations from Wall Street; corporate tax reductions to stimulate jobs, without worrying about offending the far left; energy and climate reform, without worrying about offending the far right and coal-state Democrats; and proper health care reform, without worrying about offending insurers and drug companies.

Friedman submits a sound bite for a 2012 third-party debate participant: "“These two parties are lying to you. They can’t tell you the truth because they are each trapped in decades of special interests. I am not going to tell you what you want to hear. I am going to tell you what you need to hear if we want to be the world’s leaders, not the new Romans.” Sounds good, but people have said it before. Every third party candidate who manages to crack public awareness says that the big two are lying, that they're captives of special interests, etc. Does Friedman expect that Americans will finally be ready to listen two years from now, or does he have some idea of making a third-party candidate more credible than his or her predecessors have seemed in the past? Are we simply to wait until he unveils the Promised One from the "serious groups" of the east or west and invests that One with credibility all by himself? Are the serious groups doing any grass-roots work, at "coffee parties" (whatever happened to...?) or elsewhere, to cultivate state and local Radical Center tickets, or do they and Friedman expect us to stake everything, Perot-style, on some charismatic technocrat's presidential run? From the evidence we have now, if Friedman's "serious groups" do plan to stake all on the Presidency, they may not be as serious as he claims.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

It will take more than two years for such a transformation. First of all, the tea baggers will make it less likely for the American public to buy into a "third party", since that is what the tea party nominally was meant to be. Then to organize the east and west coasts, overcome their petty rivalries and cultures to find a solid common ground and mode of attack on the "duopoly". Not to mention finding such a charismatic person who shows real ability...\

And even were it to all come together and a third party with viable candidate were to actually take the presidency (actually, you'd need a VP on the ticket as well) they would still have to deal with a congress made up of the "duopoly" and would end up going nowhere and getting nothing accomplished.