In October, New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman wrote that industry leaders in Silicon Valley and elsewhere were disgusted with Washington D.C. and the two party system. He reported that “at least two serious groups” on the East and West coasts were “‘developing third parties’ to challenge our stagnating two-party duopoly that has been presiding over our nation’s steady incremental decline.”
Friedman also predicted that “there is going to be a serious third party [presidential] candidate in 2012, with a serious political movement behind him or her — one definitely big enough to impact the election’s outcome”.
Two months later, Friedman’s predictions appear to be coming true, if two new political organizations, No Labels and Americans Elect, are the “serious groups” to which he referred, and the financial and political heavy hitters who founded them are working in tandem to create a major new third party.
According to Wall Street Journal reporter Monica Langley in an article of 11/24/10, No Labels was created by a “Democratic powerhouse fundraiser Nancy Jacobson and Republican strategist Mark McKinnon, who were introduced to each other by Kevin Sheekey”, a political adviser of New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg. The mayor’s disdain for the two major parties are well known, as are his presidential aspirations.
According to John Heilemann in a recent New York magazine article, a key factor for Bloomberg and his advisers with respect to a presidential bid is his ability to get onto the ballot nationwide. “Thus are Sheekey and others eagerly monitoring a new outfit called Americans Elect, which plans to launch early next year” to obtain ballot access in all 50 states.
Interestingly, both organizations claim they are not political parties while acting like political parties. No Labels has published its platform online and is in the process of mobilizing an electoral base of disaffected voters through its website and Facebook page. Americans Elect, with initial financing by Wall Street veteran Peter Ackerman, is in the process of acquiring ballot access in all 50 states. Its goal is to place “presidential and vice presidential nominees . . . on the ballot . . . [who] will be a competitive alternative to candidates put forward by the Democratic and Republican parties”.
As a web entrepreneur, I welcome Americans Elect’s avant-garde mission of updating America’s technologically obsolete electoral system by organizing “an Internet-based convention that nominates a presidential ticket for 2012 that will bridge the vital center of American public opinion”. Won’t we all love to see the end of the two major parties’ unutterably boring presidential nominating conventions? And who could be against Americans Elect’s aim to “empower Americans to choose a viable presidential ticket that is responsible to the vast majority of citizens while remaining independent of the partisan interests of either major party.”
Despite these obvious upsides, I have deeply mixed feelings about these organizations. From what I can glean, they could either make a giant leap forward and give the 80% of Americans who hold the Democratic and Republican parties and Congress in contempt a major new alternative party and alternative candidates to vote for. Or they could lock the electorate into a major new third party that is as autocratic as the current major parties.
With substantial financial and political support and a mobilized electoral base of voters hostile to the Democratic and Republicans parties, the new party could eviscerate and render these two parties uncompetitive for the foreseeable future, and still flout the popular will to no lesser degree than the two parties have done.
As I try to figure out what is in the offing, I must admit it is gratifying to imagine that the political and financial elites that founded No Labels are about to give the Democratic and Republican parties some serious push back from above. I also welcome the prospect of the Democrats and Republicans getting serious push back from below. This will happen if they have to compete for the hearts and minds of American voters who are No Labels party supporters and feel free to reject the two major parties’ candidates in favor of No Labels candidates who have the backing they need to beat major party candidates.
But I cannot escape the fear that a No Label/Americans Elect party may bring about a giant leap backward if it weakens any further voters’ tenuous control of electoral and legislative processes. It is easy to contemplate such a disaster when you look at No Labels’ platform and realize that voters appear to have had no direct input into it, there is no real mechanism for giving them direct input into it, and the platform is built around the traditional partisan interests of the fiscally conservative core of the Republican Party!
Not only do key planks of No Labels’ platform violate voters’ well-articulated preferences, but its core agenda plank is right out of investment banker Pete Peterson’s playbook. This is a man who has distinguished himself as has no other political figure, except possibly the Koch brothers, by his financial infiltration of every conceivable nook and cranny of American politics to promote what I take to be his implicit and explicit agenda of defunding Social Security and increasing the wealth gap by transferring even more of the nation’s wealth to the already wealthy.
In fact, a No Labels position paper published on its website, Deep Dive: The Federal Deficit, links directly to Peterson’s foundation and the numerous projects he has funded to promote his fiscally conservative views. Adhering to Peterson’s party line, the No Labels platform asserts that most American voters want “a government that makes the necessary choices to rein in runaway deficits, secure Social Security and Medicare, and put our country on a viable, sound path going forward.”
This blatantly false assertion about what voters want contradicts polls that show voters are far more concerned about their jobs and the nation’s economy than the nation’s budget deficit, and want the nation’s lawmakers to give top priority to spurring job-creating economic growth. They are adamant that lawmakers “‘keep their hands off Social Security and Medicare’ as they attempt to address the national deficit”.
I take this chasm between voters’ expressed agendas and No Labels’ core platform plank as a personal, professional and political affront, not only because it is high time that voters across the political spectrum take charge of the nation’s political agenda setting, but also because I have developed a web-based mechanism that empowers voters to do just that. This mechanism, the Interactive Voter Choice System (IVCS), enables them to set the agendas of any political party, voting bloc or electoral coalition, in writing. They can use the agendas as legislative mandates, and support only candidates who pledge to enact them into law. They can use their written mandates to hold incumbents accountable for their performance and vote out of office those whose track records fail to show they exerted their best efforts to enact voters’ agendas into law. In essence, IVCS empowers voters to take charge of electoral and legislative processes.
Last summer, I spoke with Americans Elect’s chairman, Peter Ackerman, and he expressed interest in IVCS. But the organization and No Labels appear to be moving full speed ahead to obtain ballot access and create a major new political party that duplicates the autocratic agenda-setting and nominating practices of the Democratic and Republican parties. Assuming that No Labels becomes a formally organized party, there is no mechanism I can detect that enables party supporters to set its agenda by selecting policy priorities across the board, as IVCS is designed to do, and not merely those that fall within the fiscally conservative spectrum, and pick candidates who pledge to enact the voters’ agendas into law rather than their own. If this is the case, No Labels will be another “take it or leave it” party over which voters have no control. Its candidates will ignore voters’ needs and flout their will as soon as they are in office, following in the footsteps of the large majority of Democratic and Republican representatives.
If the No Labels and Americans Elect team up to create a major new third party that does not allow voters to set its agenda across the board transparently and democratically by choosing their preferences from all the well-established policy options open to them, and pick electoral candidates whose track records and commitments adhere to this agenda, than I predict that the nation is likely to end up with a far more fiscally conservative president and Congress in 2012 no more likely to adhere to the wishes of the electorate than the current president and Congress.
As I wrote last week, if anyone has any doubts about the damage that will be done to the standard of living in the U.S. by a White House and Congress dead-set on reducing the deficit by cutting expenditures instead of creating jobs, they should read Paul Krugman’s recent New York Times article, Eating the Irish.
While I do not think the American people will be eaten alive by a major new fiscally conservative political force in American politics, their livelihoods may be. This week it was reported that the conservative interests that have been taking over the federal government slowly but surely since the late 1960s have exploited the current financial and economic crisis in the U.S. to open the public purse to the tune of $9 trillion in loans to bail out insolvent bankers and financiers, as part of an overall authorized expenditure of $23.7 trillion. It is a very bad omen that they are now proposing, as Obama’s deficit commission did this week, to make retirees and working Americans pay the price for this profligacy, by hacking away at Social Security and Medicare to limit government expenditures when the economy is floundering. That their fiscally conservative ideology is at the heart of No Labels’ platform bodes even worse for the American people.
Possibly, I am paranoid and there is no danger that No Labels and Americans Elect are a smoke screen for a new conservative political force. But the only way I can think of to stave off this fear is for me to invite them to use my Interactive Voter Choice System (IVCS) to empower their supporters to decide what kind of fiscal policies they prefer — while they are setting their agendas across the board. No Label supporters will also be able to use their agendas to decide who they want to run for office on No Labels ballot lines in the 50 states to enact their policy priorities into law, assuming No Labels formally organizes itself as a political party. The system is not entirely developed, but its various components and the website that is being built around it can be completed by next summer. It enables voters to formulate their own options as well as select them from a pre-set list of policy options across the board that is being developed.
As I explained in a recent article, I conceived of the system while attending one of Howard Dean’s Meetups during his 2004 presidential primary bid. It grew out of frustration that I had no way to influence his agenda and mobilize other supporters who shared my policy priorities so that we could collectively pressure him to endorse our priorities in exchange for our support. Thanks to its genesis during a presidential campaign, IVCS is ideally suited to empower No Labels supporters to determine its agenda and decide which presidential and Congressional candidates they want to run to implement their agendas in 2012.
I should add the general comment that unlike the No Labels proto-party, which is built and managed from the top down, IVCS enables voters across the political spectrum to build and manage political parties, voting blocs and electoral coalitions from the bottom up around transpartisan agendas, and transpartisan slates of candidates, if they see fit.
Most importantly, if several major third parties emerge before the 2012 elections, voters can use IVCS to prevent the fragmentation of the electorate into losing splinter groups and parties too small to elect their candidates to office. They can do so by using IVCS consensus-building tools, such as the Voting Utility, to continue negotiating and even voting on which policy preferences they wish to include in common agendas, until they can identify the combinations of preferences that attract the number of votes their blocs, coalitions and parties need to beat major party candidates they oppose. This process enables them to set flexible, evolving agendas, and build malleable and expandable electoral bases that can outflank and outmaneuver those of major parties.
A quick overview of IVCS is available on Facebook.
I have written about IVCS in the following:
2012: The Game Changing Implications of the Interactive Voter Choice System (IVCS), Re-Inventing Democracy, November 19, 2010.
How Voters Can Unrig the 2012 Elections with Transpartisan Voting Blocs and Electoral Coalitions, Re-Inventing Democracy, November 11, 2010.
The “Missing Mandate” in the 2010 Election Results: Let This Be the Last Time, Re-Inventing Democracy, November 4, 2010.
Third Party Rising?, Re-Inventing Democracy, October 15, 2010.
2012: How U.S. Voters Can Wrest Control of Congress from Special Interests, Re-Inventing Democracy, September 12, 2010.