Saturday, September 30, 2006

Same old song and dance

The St. Louis Oracle is a pretty smart guy. Here's his take on the Talent-McCaskill LoveFest. I agree with about 90% of that take.

"Major party" candidates simply hate the prospect of confronting "third party" candidates. While the major party guys are angling for the center, third party opponents threaten them on their flanks by taking on the issues which may not drive the mass of voters, but which can swing an all-important 1-2% in or out of play.

In the 2002 contest to fill this same Senate seat*, Libertarian Tamara Millay and Green Daniel "digger" Romano polled a combined 1.6%; Talent won that election versus Jean Carnahan by an uncomfortably close 1.3%. Some supporters of both "major party" candidates blamed Millay and digger for that close outcome:

Some Democrats said that all of digger's votes and most of Millay's came "out of Carnahan's pocket" on the issue of invading Iraq (Carnahan voted for the war; Millay and Romano ran strongly against it).

Some Republicans said that Talent's margin of victory would have been far more comfortable had Millay not taken him to task over his anti-gun-rights record as a US Representative.

Both of these claims are a bit of a stretch, but neither is wholly implausible.

In the usual course of things, the "major party" candidates position themselves slightly to either side of the imagined "center." They believe that if they take strong stands further out on the "political fringe," they'll lose two center votes for every fringe vote they gain. So, they don't want to talk about those issues. As a matter of fact, they want so badly not to talk about those issues that they collude with their major party opponents to keep the third party candidates as far out of the public eye as possible.

Jim Talent and Claire McCaskill don't want Frank Gilmour or Lydia Lewis on the stage with them because it would force them to confront issues that need to be confronted.

- Talent toes the Bushevik line on Iraq and doesn't want anyone publicly pointing out the utter failure of that line. McCaskill is playing the centrist Democrat "we could manage the war better" card, and doesn't want anyone showing her up as spineless by taking a real anti-war stand on the stage with her.

- Talent backed the largest expansion of federal entitlements since LBJ (the Medicare prescription drug coverage program). He doesn't want Frank Gilmour pointing that out from his right. McCaskill doesn't want Lydia Lewis coming at her from her left on healthcare and entitlements by proposing universal "single-payer" health care.

And so on, and so forth. Major party candidates are cowards. They don't want to take stands that might cost them votes, but they don't want to be publicly outed as the walking blobs of Silly Putty they are, either. So, they erect difficult ballot access barriers to keep third party candidates out altogether, and when that fails they collude with their fellow Silly Puttians to, as best possible, exclude their third party opponents from the public discussion.

I'd like to briefly take the Oracle to task on the 10% of his column I disagree with:

Progressives clearly need a party of their own, and the Progressive Party is here to answer the call. The Libertarian Party might make a similar case for itself on the right, but I’ll let them speak for themselves.

Of all people, the Oracle should know that libertarians are not "on the right" per se. Some of our candidates have a more "right" orientation, some are more "leftish," but overall we have more in common with "progressives" than we do with "conservatives" or "liberals." As a matter of fact, the raw material for a "popular front" strategy including libertarians and progressives has been there all along and becomes more attractive and pertinent every day:

- Libertarians and progressives have long been natural allies versus US foreign policy, and much more so since September 11th, 2001.

- Libertarians and progressives have long been natural allies versus the "war on drugs."

- Libertarians and progressives have long been natural allies versus corporate welfare and corporate dominance of government.

- Libertarians and progressives have long been natural allies versus Know-Nothing anti-immigration schemes.

- Libertarians and progressives should be natural allies versus a national energy paradigm which relies on heavily subsidized, largely imported, polluting/high-greenhouse-emission, non-renewable fuels.

We certainly have our differences, but those differences have been moving away from our own mutual "centers" and toward the fringes. In another post -- or possibly in a dialogue with the Oracle himself -- I'm going to have to talk about the role of cases like Monsanto versus Percy Schmeisser in moving libertarians away from a naive trust in the ethics of corporate America, and progressives toward a new appreciation for property rights.

While I do not support the LP presidential candidacy of Robert Milnes (for one thing, I'm not supporting any candidate yet), I do think that his proposal for a "Progressive Alliance" has merit and needs to be explored. I suspect the Oracle at least partially agrees. He and I both did what we could to bring Libertarians and Greens together in 2002 (with some success, I think), and America's political situation continues to move in directions which make such an alliance attractive.

* Yes, I know Senate terms are six years. In 2000, Missouri governor Mel Carnahan was killed in a plane crash just before the election. His widow, Jean Carnahan, was appointed as his temporary replacement for two years, with the final four years of the term conferred in a special election in 2002.

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