Going beyond the American political binary

The fundamental fallacy … committed by almost everyone is this: “A and B hate each other, therefore one is good and the other is bad.”  [Bertrand Russell]

When people hear a story, they ask: Is it really true?  When people hear two stories, they ask: Which one is true? [Author unknown]

The smart way to keep people obedient and passive is to strictly limit the spectrum of debate, but allow very lively debate within that spectrum.  [Noam Chomsky]

In the USA, political partisanship can be bitter nowadays.  Pew Research reported that nearly one in two Americans have stopped talking politics with someone because of something they said.  Among liberal Democrats, the figure is six in 10.

The most obvious explanation for this is polarization on certain issues—abortion rights, gun control, gay marriage or affirmative action, for example.   The alignment of the two parties is clear, and I don’t talk to many individuals who mix and match issues.

But studies show that many Democrats and Republicans decide on issues based on party, affiliation rather than choosing their party based on issues.  Pollsters find that they get different answers to their questions when they say where Obama or Trump stands on a certain question than when they just state the question.

What all this hides is the fundamental agreement of top Democratic and Republican leaders on fundamental questions of peace and war, and of economic and political power.

Democratic and Republican administrations of the past 20 years have agreed to a state of war waged by invasions, bombings, assassinations and economic blockade with no expectation or even definition of victory.

In the name of war, they have normalized universal warrantless surveillance, detention without trial and torture, and have prosecuted whistleblowers who reveal the government’s crimes.

Democratic and Republican administrations of the past 30 years have given free rein to financial speculators who have crashed the economy and enriched themselves.  Neither party when in power has prosecuted financial fraud.  Neither has enforced the anti-trust laws.  Neither has stood up for the right of workers to organize.

I’m not saying there is absolutely no difference between the two parties’ leaderships.  I’m saying that neither party’s leadership has strayed from what is acceptable to Wall Street, Silicon Valley or the military-industrial complex.

Nor am I criticizing you if you think abortion rights or gun ownership is more important to you than any of the issues I’ve mentioned.  I just say the public deserves a chance to vote for advocates of peace and economic justice

A lot has been written by Jonathan Haidt and others about fundamental value differences between progressives and conservatives.  But what set of progressive or conservative values justifies financial fraud?  Or waging war against countries that do not threaten us?   Or an economic system in which income is continually redistributed upward into the pockets of the superrich?

Suppose you are in a restaurant, and the only two beverages available are a steaming hot cup of motor oil and a tall cool glass of battery acid.  Do you drink the motor oil because the battery acid is worse? Does your refusal to drink the motor oil mean you are in favor of drinking battery acid?

If you are an American voter who wants peace, or who wants a better deal for working people, that is the kind of choice the two major parties have offered you.

There are three ways of getting a better choice.

Demand a price for your support.

A good example of this was the LGBT community’s “don’t ask, don’t give” boycott of financial and political support to the Democratic Party because of President Obama’s refusal to support gay marriage.

Now you could have argued, back in 2010, that gays and lesbians were better off with Obama and the Democrats than they would have been with Republicans.  But they weren’t willing to settle for a lesser evil.  They wanted—and got—positive support.

Another example would be the Tea Party movement within the Republican Party.  Tea Party supporters ran opponents in primary elections against any Republican who didn’t support their program.  Establishment Republicans could have argued that they were lesser evils than the Democrats.  But the Tea Party got further by fighting for what it wanted than by settling for what it didn’t want.

Conduct a hostile takeover of one of the two parties.

This is what the Goldwater movement did in the Republican Party.  Senator Barry Goldwater was branded a radical right extremist, and defeated by President Lyndon Johnson in a landslide election in 1964.

But his followers persisted, and eventually nominated and elected Ronald Reagan.  What was once considered extremism became the accepted idea.  IN 1984, Reagan defeated former Vice President Walter Mondale, the representative of the conventional wisdom of 1964, in a greater landslide victory than the one 20 years before.

Who knows?  Maybe Bernie Sanders will be defeated as Barry Goldwater was, but pave the way to a landslide victory for President Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in 2040.

Vote for a third party.

At worst, your vote will have more impact than if you didn’t vote at all.  The election system is rigged to make it difficult for new political parties to get on the ballot.

It’s not impossible, and sometimes third parties do appear to be a threat—like the agrarian radical People’s Party in 1888 and 1892 or George Wallace’s American Independence Party in 1968.  The usual result is for one of the two major parties is to partially adopt their program and steal their thunder.

The Democrats in 1892 and 1896 adopted much of the People’s Party platform, and Wallace’s campaign inspired the Republican Southern Strategy.

But sometimes a major political party simply collapses, like the Whig Party in the years leading up to the Civil War.  The new Free Soil Party combined with former Whigs and others to form the Republican Party, whose candidate, Abraham Lincoln, won election in 1860 in a four-candidate race.

In a crisis, small political parties could become unexpectedly important.

Even if you are an American voter who chooses to go for the lesser evil this time, don’t let the political binary limit your thinking.  Fox News and MSNBC do not represent the limits of what’s thinkable.


Two Theories of Political Polarization

An Unsettling New Theory: There is No Swing Voter, an interview of Rachel Bitecofer for POLITICO magazine.

New Study Shows American Polarization Is Driven by a Team Sports Mentality by Zaid Jilani for The Intercept.

What’s Wrong With Both Major Parties

The Belief That Everything Will Be Fine Once Trump’s Gone Is More Dangerous Than Trump by Caitlin Johnstone.

Here They Come Again: The Kind of Neoliberal Democrat Who Prefers Trump to Sanders by Adolph Reed Jr. for Common Dreams.

100 Ways Republicans Are Just Like Democrats by Taylor Tyler for Independent Voter News.  From 2012, but still relevant.  Of course Republicans are not like Democrats in all ways, and not all the similarities are bad, but this list is damning.

Trump = Obama = Bush = Clinton on Four Key Issues on Washington’s Blog.  From 2017, but still relevant.


P.S.  As I hope goes without saying, I was not a supporter of Barry Goldwater, George Wallace or the Tea Party.  I mention them as examples of how political outsiders can exert an influence.


8 Responses to “Going beyond the American political binary”

  1. silverapplequeen Says:

    Reblogged this on silverapplequeen.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. whungerford Says:

    If Sanders were nominated and elected this year, what might he realistically hope to accomplish? He would be saddled with a trillion dollar deficit.. Even if Congress were able to raise taxes, that might be very unpopular with the voters perhaps leading to President Ivanka in 2024.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Fred (Au Natural) Says:

    Red vs. blue thinking exactly what the red and blue want.

    Both parties have outlived their usefulness. But control of the government makes an effective third party challenge difficult.


  4. philebersole Says:

    Another quote.

    I would rather vote for what I want and not get it, than vote for what I don’t want and get it. [Eugene V. Debs]


  5. philebersole Says:

    Obviously I don’t accept the argument that the present state of things is good enough (or will be when Donald Trump is removed from the White House) and I don’t accept the argument that trying to make things better will make things worse.

    Here’s another quote.

    Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never has and it never will. Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have found out the exact measure of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them, and these will continue till they are resisted with either words or blows, or with both [Frederick Douglass]


  6. jvi7350 Says:

    You say a lot about what you are not doing, while doing what you say you are not. I’m only confused when I’m paying attention. It’s not so much that the system is rigged against third parties, it’s that third parties lack the know how to reach the electorate. The socialist party is not running a third party campaign because they have Bernie running on the Democratic ticket. As a Libertarian, I’m no Bernie fan, but the reality is he is leading the pack. Unfortunately for the cause to get Trump out of the White House, that’s over the cliff to a long fall come the national election. liberavoce.home.blog


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