Why the Advocates of a Third-Party Presidential Candidate in 2012 Are Wrong

Every few years, when Americans seem disappointed with the nominees of the two major political parties, talk begins about the need to form a third party. I confess that once I too had that idea. In 1996, when I wrote my book about the Democratic Party, I ended it with the following argument:

the fact is that in America…the Democratic Party as a whole has shifted to the Left, precisely at the moment when the Republican Party has shifted toward the Right. That means that the old political Center has eroded once and for all -- a fact that has led many Americans to hope for the creation of a new political party of the Center, the kind that might be led by the likes of Bill Bradley, Colin Powell or Sam Nunn.

Much has changed since I wrote those words, including how I see the world today. I was right that the Democratic Party was beyond repair and in effect had become the equivalent of a European style social-democratic or socialist party in all but name. I called in my final paragraph for a party that represents post-Cold War America, that “stands for fiscal and personal responsibility, cultural conservatism, and a more limited and constrained social safety net.” That is still our requirement, now more than ever. But it is clear that such an outcome will come only from the ranks of the Republican Party, unless a time arises when conservatives will come to have a major influence in the Democratic ranks.

Now, the influential New York Times columnist, Thomas L. Friedman, has recently argued that indeed we need an alternative to the current two-party system. He believes neither party meets the bill for creating a sound American future. He more or less endorses what he calls a new “quiet political start-up that is now ready to show its hand, a viable, centrist, third presidential ticket, elected by an Internet convention,” which he says is “going to emerge in 2012.” He claims that it is being endorsed by an “impressive group of frustrated Democrats, Republicans and independents,” and is called Americans Elect. According to Friedman, it has obtained 1.6 million signatures to get on the California ballot as part of an effort to get ballot status in all 50 states.

That argument is also contained in the forthcoming book co-authored by Friedman and Michael Mandelbaum, the distinguished Christian A. Herter Professor of American Foreign Policy at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies. It is titled That Used to Be Us: How America Fell Behind in the World It Invented and How We Can Come Back. It is clear that the argument on behalf of Americans Elect will only get more publicity as the days go on.

Friedman and Mandelbaum obviously hope, as Friedman writes in his column, to blow open the entire nominating process, thereby “guaranteeing that a credible third choice, nominated independently,” will be available for all Americans to have come the 2012 election day.

The first question to ask, since we are told that the group’s offices are “swank” and a “stone’s throw from the White House,” is: who is financing the organization? Friedman tells us only that its funds come for “serious hedge-fund money.” I ask a simple question: when is hedge-fund money a source of independent centrist thought, which comes to the country from the top down and from the brains of a Times columnist and not from any genuine bottom-up people’s organization?

How do they know, since their convention will be an Internet ballot, that all Americans will have access, and that people in favor of one or another candidate will not vote many times from different computers and using different handles? Have they even thought that out? Friedman says “the people will choose the issues.” You bet: Thomas Friedman and friends will play no party, except, of course, for setting forth the agenda and dominating its announcement of party principles. How democratic.

Oh, we are told that all we have to do is go to the Americans Elect website and register -- again: many times, with different names, if we so choose. Will they know that this is not being done by interested partisans? The answer is rather obvious.

Friedman says only serious candidates will be permitted -- “no Lady Gaga allowed.” I guess he would permit a Barack Obama type -- who had no real experience to handle the job of president, no real record in the Senate, and one real job behind him -- that of community organizer. Some of us, I think, might prefer Lady Gaga instead. After all, she obviously is a marketing and business genius.