The intraparty deadlock among House Republicans over compromises to resolve the fiscal cliff impasse, as well as the negotiations between President Obama and House Speaker Boehner, who always appear to be on different pages, is further evidence of the nation’s need for a centrist third party. Whether there are last minute concessions by the players that allow an agreement to be reached is almost beside the point. The process itself affirms the continued degree of dysfunction in our current two party system and why change is essential.
It seems that the split between liberals and moderates in the Democratic Party can be bridged at times on important measures that are necessary for the government to function. However, in Congress, there is a deep chasm in the Republican Party between extreme conservatives and the few remaining moderate conservatives that defies even temporary closure in the national interest, notwithstanding exhortations by the GOP leadership. This ideological rigidity by the right-wing was demonstrated by their refusal to agree to Speaker Boehner’s Plan B in Congress because it would raise taxes on Americans earning over a million dollars annually, and any increase in taxes is an anathema to these partisans.
With the redistricting and gerrymandering that has occurred in Republican-controlled states, many of these conservative members of Congress have won overwhelming victories in their districts, obtaining 55% or more of the vote in the recent election. They do not have to gravitate towards the center or compromise on any issues because they are not afraid of future threats from Democratic challengers. Being in “safe” conservative districts, their main fear is from possible challengers even further to the right, candidates who could attack them for not being conservative enough if they agreed to compromise on any litmus-test issues. These include tax increases, heightened government non-defense discretionary spending, gun control, abortion rights, same-sex marriage, and so forth.
The failure of these right-wingers to give way on the issue of tax raises also occurred in spite of urging from major business and financial leaders who are concerned about fiscal responsibility and do not want the government to go over the fiscal cliff. This reveals the degree of the disconnect that has developed between American businessmen who have been overwhelmingly Republican through the years and the current grassroots GOP who elected these representatives. Businessmen have to be pragmatic to be successful unlike the Republican ideologues who now populate Congress.
The past “big tent” GOP used to include moderate New Englanders and conservative westerners, with leaders who could pull them together to pass important legislation. That Republican Party does not exist anymore. In fact, there is not a single member in this Congress from the New England region, with the Party dominated by Southerners and Westerners from safe districts. Pragmatism and compromise have become dirty words for today’s GOP who seem content to be obstructionists to functioning government.
A centrist third party could attract New England and nationwide moderates who no longer have a home in the Republican Party. Democratic centrists who are interested in pragmatic solutions to the nation’s problems and do not hold fast to liberal ideology would also be drawn to this new entity. The vast number of independents, who hold their noses when they enter the voting booth and choose the lesser of two evils, would have an affinity for this centrist party as well. In addition, businessmen and corporate executives who have long been unhappy with Democratic initiatives and now find themselves at odds with Republicans, might support and join a centrist third party if they believed it was a viable option that would survive over the long term.
Financial backing from businessmen, along with small donations that could be collected over the Internet from Americans discouraged with the current political situation, would quickly establish this party as a force to be reckoned with. Independents and citizens dissatisfied with both parties would have an alternative that could get them more politically engaged. The conservative safe districts, where Democrats cannot gain traction, might find candidates from a pragmatic, centrist party more worthy of support. The possible challenges from the center, might also induce right-wing conservatives to become more flexible, instead of being locked into their partisan stances.
Many affluent Americans such as Mike Bloomberg feel strongly about the need for gun control, as well as averting the fiscal cliff. If the recent carnage in Newtown does not result in sensible gun control legislation in the near future, it would be another reason for Bloomberg and his peers to provide financial and administrative backing for a centrist third party. Whether it is founded by wealthy citizens, grass roots independents, or both, the time is ripe for the formation of a centrist third party to put pragmatism and compromise back into governing.
A VietNam vet and a Columbia history major who became a medical doctor, Bob Levine has watched the evolution of American politics over the past 40 years with increasing alarm. He knows he’s not alone. Partisan grid-lock, massive cash contributions and even more massive expenditures on lobbyists have undermined real democracy, and there is more than just a whiff of corruption emanating from Washington. If the nation is to overcome lockstep partisanship, restore growth to the economy and bring its debt under control, Levine argues that it will require a strong centrist third party to bring about the necessary reforms. Levine’s previous book, Shock Therapy For the American Health Care System took a realist approach to health care from a physician’s informed point of view; Resurrecting Democracy takes a similar pragmatic approach, putting aside ideology and taking a hard look at facts on the ground. In his latest book, Levine shines a light that cuts through the miasma of party propaganda and reactionary thinking, and reveals a new path for American politics. This post is cross posted from his blog.