A continuing border crisis, a crumbling healthcare system and endless wars – Democrats and Republicans both struggle to find solutions to these real and pressing problems.
Perhaps it is time to seriously consider creating a third party, an organization with a fresh perspective that could break the grip of our two dominant parties on the politics of our country.
This is precisely what the Movement for a Popular Party is trying to do. Launched in 2018 by former supporters of Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign, the MPP is a national organization building coalitions among workers to change our country’s trade policies, take money out of politics and restore democracy.
For the skeptics, let’s review some of the old and tired arguments against third parties. It is said that those who are not part of the two-party system take the votes of the so-called “viable” parties and that those who vote for third parties reject their votes.
But the point is that, historically, third parties have been very successful.
Our country, it should be remembered, did not start with Democrats and Republicans; George Washington did not belong to a party at all. It was only after his tenure that a partisan divide emerged between Democratic Republicans and Federalists.
Then it was the Whigs – yes, a third – who emerged among the disaffected elements of the main political forces in the 1830s. It was a party that fielded candidates and won elections – including those for four presidents.
The success of Abraham Lincoln’s presidential candidacy in 1860 was also part of an effort by a third party – that of the Republicans.
The history of the United States is replete with other examples of successful third parties, such as the Populist Party, which emerged in the late 20th century, led by farmers. This party’s platform – to root out corruption in politics and harness corporate power – is what many people now see as critical issues in American politics.
The Populist Party and its supporters were part of the movement to create anti-trust legislation, including the Sherman Antitrust Act, which was passed in 1890 after years of debate, then the Clayton and Federal Trade Commission laws.
Populists also defended the post and sought balanced budgets.
In Minnesota, the Peasants Labor Party came into being in 1918 and eventually merged with the state’s Democrats. To this day, the full name of the Minnesota Democratic Party is the Democratic-Peasants-Labor Party.
Before this merger in 1944, the Peasants-Labor Party fielded candidates in successful campaigns, winning the governorship three times and putting many senators and representatives in power under that party’s banner. He created a real policy with real effects, including a moratorium on farm foreclosures, relief for the unemployed, banking reform and new state forests.
We have ample evidence of the failures of the two-party system. President Donald Trump stood on the sidelines as COVID-19 raged and his trade wars failed. On immigration, Trump left a partially built wall that human traffickers now throw children on, as millions on the other side await a response regarding their legal status.
Now, Joe Biden’s agenda runs into a bipartisan impasse. Democrats and Republicans, in the latest COVID-19 stimulus package, have bickered over the size of payments instead of corporate control of our economy. Our parties are taking to the air to debate the precise meaning of the word “infrastructure” instead of working together to find ways to fix bridges and provide quality Internet service.
A third, as history shows, could break this deadlock by presenting new ideas, candidates and policies. Now is the time to create this party. If we keep playing with the two options we already have, we can only lose.
Pahnke (anthonypahnke.com) is Vice President of Family Farm Defenders and Assistant Professor of International Relations at San Francisco State University in San Francisco. This column was produced for The Progressive magazine and distributed by Tribune News Service.