Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Ron Paul and Bob Barr: Third Party Meltdown

Lost in the glare of McCain vs. Obama and the meltdown was a meltdown of another sort between third parties. Ron Paul held a news conference to promote third party shared interests (ballot access and awareness), and Bob Barr, unfortunately, pissed Paul off by showing up 2 hours later and giving his own press conference.

We all understand that Bob Barr wants to get Bob Barr and the LP elected, not Ron Paul or Ralph Nader. But Barr also has to understand domestic realpolitik, which is to say, you can't get there from here, if you're getting excited that in one state you have two-digit share of the popular vote. This is why in the Libertarian primary I supported Michael Jingozian, because he was the only candidate serious enough to recognize the LP stood no chance in the 2008 election, so we should start building a base for 2012. But in exchange for literally nothing, Barr damaged a relationship between Paul and the LP that could have been the nucleus of a revitalized twenty-first century conservatism; either the GOP has to clean up its act and give the evangelical kids the boot, or the Eisenhower-Nixon-Reagan Republicans will find a new home elsewhere. Now Chuck Baldwin of the Constitution Party has Paul's endorsement, which seems odd coming from the famously lower-case libertarian Paul - since the Constitution Party wants government to decide who you're allowed to marry and whether you have a baby, not to mention strongly favoring the state's right to kill you. This is the same controversial party that in Alaska has had (among its positions) secession from the Union, and the same one the Palins have been members of (relevant link in this article).

Of course, Ron Paul's struggle for ballot access and media coverage is only one example of many, which is why Paul and every other third party candidate but Barr were there that day, and also why the event was given back page status by the press. Pennsylvania requires 67,000 signatures for "third party" candidates but only 2,000 for Republicans and Democrats. In Ohio the LP had to get a court order to get on the ballot. And the national media has in effect become its own self-appointed primary. There's no conspiracy here, except the pressure of selling news in soundbites to a population that demands an easily understandable world. Media coverage is badly corroding the effectiveness of American elections. For example, FOX News decided that no candidate who polls below 10% nationally is invited to the primary debates (pointed out by Ron Paul on CNN). In 2004 Dennis Kucinich was excluded from debates by ABC (at one point being in the room, but off-screen and and left on the cutting-room floor). I don't care for Kucinich's politics, but the power of the networks to exclude serious candidates from national discourse is nonetheless disquieting.

I don't have a solution for the distorting effect modern media has on the election process, but it's obvious that two-party inertia is a problem. There is a wider range of choices out there than the GOP and Democrats offer. If you're a capitalist, you believe that more choices are better, and that's why the rainbow of products on the shelves of American supermarkets outshine what you can expect to find in centrally planned economies. That's exactly why it's so strange that our political process behaves like a Soviet supermarket. "Hungry? Lucky for you stout comrade, we have made your choice easier! In the glorious Kravgeniy Oblast Market Collective, you can buy either Democrat OR Republican brand crackers!"

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