Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Re: Thomas Friedman’s Call For A Third Party

May 9, 2006

Re: Thomas Friedman’s Call For A Third Party.

From: Dean Lawrence R. Velvel VelvelOnNationalAffairs.com

Dear Colleagues:

It is somewhat rare for this writer to find himself in agreement with a column by Tom Friedman. But on May 3rd, sounding more serious by far than tongue in cheek, Friedman spoke of a desire for there to be a third party. A third party is something this author has spoken of previously and devoted a lengthy posting to on March 21, 2006. Frankly, I never thought to see a major columnist seriously discussing the idea so soon after March 21st, if ever. But Friedman has done so (even if one wonders whether his column of May 3rd is a one day wonder, so to speak). Beyond this, some of his reasons for a third party, and even the name he would give it, are not so different from what has been said here. This strikes me as a case of parallel invention brought about, as such invention usually is in science and technology, by the emergence of ideas and actions obvious to all who are interested.

It is nonetheless true that Friedman’s “wedge issue,” as it were -- the energy problem -- is a lot narrower than this writer’s broader critique of American politics and society. Friedman, however, does use his wedge issue as a basis of a somewhat broader critique than that of the energy policy alone, but his overall critique nonetheless remains far narrower than mine.

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Friedman begins by lambasting Congress for considering laws that could pander to our “addiction to gasoline.” “With a Congress like this,” he pricelessly adds (no pun regarding the price of gasoline intended), “who needs Al Qaeda?” Our addiction to oil, he later says, floats (that is a pun) “bad governments” -- “some of the world’s worst regimes, who are using their oil windfalls to halt the spread of freedom.”

Friedman (rightly) excoriates both the Republican and Democratic parties for their failures with regard to oil: “Seriously, there is something really disturbing about the utterly shameless, utterly over-the-top Republican pandering and Democratic point-scoring that have been masquerading as governing in response to this energy crisis.” He then quotes the author of a history of foreign policy who said, “‘We used to say the system is broken because it won’t respond until there is a crisis.’” “But now,” says Friedman, “it’s really broken, ‘because the system can’t even respond to a crisis!’” (Emphasis in original.)

Friedman continues: “What to do? I’m hoping for a third party.[!] The situation is ripe for one . . . .[!] . . . [N]either major party will offer a solution . . . . Combine a huge leadership vacuum on a huge issue with an internet that has proved itself as an alternative platform for organizing, financing and energizing a political campaign outside the Washington establishment, and you have the makings of a credible third party.” (Emphasis added.)

Friedman thinks a third party would have to be 'big, strategic, centrist and forward-looking.” So he would not call it “the ‘Green Party,’” a name which is taken and which “connotes an agenda that is too narrow and liberal.” Rather, he might call it the “‘American Renewal Party’” -- which isn’t too different a name than the name “American Internet and Reform Party” (emphases added) which has been propounded here, is it? He says his chosen name “frames the energy issue as critical . . . .”

Then he goes on to say that energy is the key to American nirvana in several ways, including reducing the trade and fiscal deficits, making us more competitive and respected in particular ways, weakening horrible regimes, and “stimulating more young people to study math and science.” (The reason for this last boon is not explained, but one presumes it is because we will need more scientists who focus on energy, not that people will be using higher mathematics to count the money they’ve saved on fuel.)

In the final part of his column, Friedman quotes an author of a book on third parties as saying “‘There is an opportunity here for someone who will seize it.’” Friedman himself says that person will have to be “someone who will tell the truth” about the energy situation, and he concludes with the following paragraph:

Yes, our system is rigged against third parties. Still, my gut says that some politician, someday soon, just to be different, just for the fun of it, will take a flier on telling Americans the truth. The right candidate with the right message on energy might be able to drive a bus right up the middle of the U.S. political scene today -- lose the far left and the far right -- and still maybe, just maybe, win a three-way election.

* * * * *

Now, frankly speaking, nobody could be more pleased than I to see a major columnist take up the cudgels for a third party, an idea propounded here, but one I did not expect to see taken up by any big foot any time soon. But Friedman’s view is nonetheless somewhat truncated. True, he passingly, and only passingly, extends its ramifications from energy alone to the internet, deficits, democracy, even math and science. Perhaps the merely passing nature of the extension is due to the word limitations on a New York Times column. Or perhaps, it is due more -- his column reads as if it is due more -- to the fact that his real concern is energy. Whichever, this writer thinks, as said in the blog of March 21st, that the need for a third party arises not from the energy problem alone, but from a broad array of failures in American politics and from a broad array of issues that have not been successfully dealt with -- sometimes have not even begun to be dealt with. As indicated on March 21st, American politics and life have seen a gross failure of honesty, competence and concern for others, the structure of the American electoral system is a moral crime and the mentality of the politicians who are in the system is worse, the one party, reactionary South has had vastly disproportionate influence for almost all of the 217 years since 1789 (except for 1861-1876), and we need to find answers to a host of problems (not just the energy problem) including: militarism, medical care, medical research, globalization, loss of jobs, global warming, education, the Federal courts, secrecy, and the use of money in politics.

Beyond this, the idea that “some politician, someday soon,” will “take a flier” on changing things strikes me as a triumph of hope over reality. Just who among our current politicians can one name who, one would think, has the courage, morality, intelligence and far sightedness to do this? Just who among them would be willing to do it at the risk of defeat and possible subsequent political Coventry. Not a one, this writer would guess. Our political life has descended to the point where politicians are invariably people whose major and usually only concern -- the goal to which they devote almost all their energies -- is their political survival and advancement. God forbid, in their minds, that they should take a big chance on losing an election merely to do what should be done in behalf of the country. As has been said here before, at least in part, the people who are in politics today show by that very fact that they shouldn’t be, while the people who should be ineluctably refuse to be.

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So . . . . One is delighted that, however incomplete his logic and analysis, a big foot like Tom Friedman has, at least once, taken up the cudgels for a third party (although I seriously wonder whether we shall hear from him again on this subject). But, delighted or not, one has the irresistible feeling that his analysis must be enormously expanded if it is to embrace what must in fact be covered.*

*This posting represents the personal views of Lawrence R. Velvel. If you wish to respond to this email/blog, please email your response to me at velvel@mslaw.edu. Your response may be posted on the blog if you have no objection; please tell me if you do object.