19 July 2010

Independent Candidates: It Pays to Advertise for Free

Howie Hawkins is the Green Party candidate for governor of New York. He probably can't afford to buy advertising space in many newspapers, but it cost him nothing, except perhaps the cost of a stamp, to get on one of one local paper's most widely read pages: the letters-to-the-editor page. He turned up in The Saratogian yesterday with a message aimed straight at disgruntled Democrats. The Republican party isn't even mentioned in his letter, except implicitly in a reference to Herbert Hoover. Here's what Hawkins has to say about the Democratic party in New York State:

The Democrats tell voters that the way to peace, universal health care and a strong sustainable environment is to vote for them. But with the Democrats in control in Albany and D.C., they escalated the wars, increased military spending to $1 trillion, mandated that we buy costly private health insurance rather than provide cost-efficient, publicly financed health care for all (e.g., HR 676), bailed out Wall Street rather than Main Street and pandered to oil, coal, gas and nuclear corporations while climate change accelerated.The Democrats have abandoned the last vestiges of their New Deal legacy and now echo the Republicans in calling for the economics of Herbert Hoover. They all want to cut public spending when the economy needs a public spending stimulus to fuel recovery. Meanwhile, the corporate welfare, bailout and crime wave grows while unemployment, foreclosures, poverty and hardship spread.

This is where Democrats will protest to emphasize the obvious differences between themselves and the abominable Republicans, who alone can benefit from liberals voting for Hawkins. We may as well concede the point; there are obvious and even meaningful differences between the Democratic and the Republican approach -- but they just aren't different enough. The issue between Democrats and their constituents is always whether what Democrats offer is good enough. Democrats will insist that liberals and progressives settle for what they can offer. Given the balance of power in our political environment, they may as well command that everyone settle. No one is obliged to obey that command, however. It may well be that Republican government would prove worse than Democratic rule, but it is false to assume that those are our only choices. If this is a free country, then liberal and progressive New Yorkers have a right to demand better from the Democrats, or better than the Democrats. Democrats will sneer at anyone who allegedly makes "the perfect the enemy of the good," but their position in the American Bipolarchy allows them to make the worst the enemy of the good. That is, by arguing that the only alternative to settling for whatever they choose to do for us is the worst-case scenario of Republican control, they free themselves from any obligation to do more than just enough to win elections. Democrats don't have to be actually good, just good enough to differentiate themselves from Republicans.

Hawkins might have better utilized his space by making this sort of argument rather than simply attacking Democrats. But at least he's taking advantage of one of the free opportunities available for spreading his message, and nothing stops his supporters from repeating or refining his message on letters pages across the state. Independents have to take advantage of every opportunity, find every free or cheap way of getting their message out, since it's too late to change the rules this time. Hawkins himself ought to get a letter into every paper in the state -- and if any paper doesn't run one, we'll have to wonder why.

1 comment:

DLW said...

It also pays to define the success of one's third party candidacy for a major office in other terms than winning.

What third party candidates should all be advocating for is the use of a mix of winner-take-all and winner-doesn't-take-all elections. The simplest winner-doesn't-take-all election to use in US elections is American Proportional Representation.