A Third-Party Opportunity in 2004?

It's difficult to know whom to despise more these days, conservatives or liberals. Boy George, the compassionately conservative and hopelessly tongue-tied occupant of the White House, did us the favor of cutting our taxes while simultaneously saddling us with a metastasizing federal government and the worst military quagmire since Vietnam. On the opposite side of the political divide, we are being asked to choose among a bevy of Democratic contenders who are unanimous in their commitment to repeal the Bush tax cuts while begging the hapless UN to somehow bail us out of the mess in Iraq. From the towering, gaunt, and gangly John F. Kerry who bears an unfortunate resemblance to the corpse-like Edmund Muskie, a Democratic hopeful in 1972 who self-destructed on the campaign trail, all the way down to the freakish Dennis Kucinich who resembles a mutant from a different solar system more than he does a flesh-and-blood human being, each candidate is more dispiriting than the next. The most anti-war among them, Kucinich, is the most socialistic of the lot, while the most amusing, Al Sharpton, is also the most unelectable for a host of reasons.

Whether or not Bush emulates his father and fails in his bid for a second term in 2004 depends primarily on the state of the U.S. economy and the body bag count out of Iraq. Most elections turn on the economy as most voters are swayed by pocketbook issues, and current data indicate that George the Incumbent will have a stronger economy to run on next year. Still, if the situation in Iraq gets uglier before it gets better and more middle class Americans turn against the war, Bush could have a problem on his hands, notwithstanding better economic news. Among the Democrats, Howard Dean appears to be the only one feisty enough to fire up his liberal troops and make a serious run against Bush. For libertarians, a tight race between the Tweedle Dee Republican and a Tweedle Dum Democrat would offer the best opportunity for a third-party spoiler role, with the Green Party candidate pulling perhaps two or three percentage points away from the Democrats, and a viable Libertarian Party candidate (I emphasize the word viable) breaking the LP's one-percent stigma and perhaps siphoning two or three percentage points from the Republican tally. In a close state race (did anyone say Florida? Pennsylvania? Tennessee? Ohio? Illinois?), these percentages could be enough to deprive both major candidates of a critical state in the drive for electoral votes.

To be sure, depriving Tweedle Dee or Tweedle Dum of a victory only ensures the election of his major party opponent and hardly constitutes a victory for Libertarians — or Greens either, for that matter. But in the absence of real victory (an impossible dream under our two-party system, particularly in the current political climate), playing the role of a successful political spoiler is a door prize worth fighting for. First of all, it's fun, and since we're being taxed to death to support this creaky, aging, tottering Republic of ours, we might as well extract a modicum of fun in return. In other words, if the bastards are going to tax us, they should at least entertain us while they're doing it. Even the Romans had bread and circuses in their sorry excuse for a Republic, and it's time to bring on the clowns in twenty-first century America.

Second, and perhaps more important, true spoilers get noticed by everyone; the liberals have still not forgiven Ralph Nader for (arguably) tilting the balance to the Bush camp in the last quadrennial extravaganza, and the LP would bring down the wrath of the entire Republican establishment if it was the difference between victory or defeat for Bush in a critical state. For this to happen, the LP needs a candidate with genuine star power and an uncompromising message — end the war against Iraq now; end the war against drugs; reform the tax code and scale back government; privatize social security, health care, and other so-called entitlement programs. For too many years, the LP has been fielding candidates who sound like they belong to the classical liberal wing of the Republican Party.

It's time to get radical! To make some noise! To hammer home an uncompromising message! And to have some fun while we're doing it!

November 7, 2003