Robert Levine’s 3rd Party Push

Every week, the New York Times selects one provocative letter to the editor. Readers are invited to respond. Their comments — as well as a final rejoinder from the original writer — appear in the Sunday Review section, as “Sunday Dialogue.”

Robert Levine (Photo/Dave Matlow for WestportNow)

This week’s letter is from Westporter Robert A. Levine, a neurologist, author of Resurrecting Democracy: A Citizen’s Call for a Centrist Third Party, and subject of a November “06880” post on the subject of 3rd parties.

His Times letter says, in part:

Using the Internet and social networks to organize and raise money from small donors, this new centrist party could be independent of the special interests and able to work for the benefit of all Americans. Its hallmarks would be ethical conduct, transparency and pragmatism. Instead of being constrained by ideology, it would be guided by common sense and practicality in its search for solutions.

A centrist third party could prosper in today’s political environment and end the stalemate in Washington. There is a large body of moderate Republicans, disaffected Democrats and dissatisfied independents looking for the kind of political home that this party could provide. Unhappiness with the political options now available to Americans will sooner or later translate into a groundswell for alternatives.

To respond — and possibly be rebutted by Levine in this Sunday’s Times — email

Though I suspect a far more robust discussion will take place in the “06880” Comments section, right here in Robert Levine’s hometown.

54 responses to “Robert Levine’s 3rd Party Push

  1. Dennis Jackson

    A terrific idea, in theory, and who could argue that it isn’t much needed? However, wouldn’t it require the cobbling together of a huge organization or machine? Third party or independent runs have been undertaken by Perot, Nader, Lieberman, and perhaps most successfully and along the virtuous lines suggested by Mr. Levine, Bernie Sanders of VT. It also seems easier at the state than national level.

    Of course, OWS has recently achieved notable success along those lines. Could it morph into an effective organization supporting a platform and slate? Could it wield the influence the Tea Party did, however briefly?

  2. The Dude Abides

    Friedman and Brooks have been saying much the same thing about the emergence of a third party for nearly a year now. Howard Dean showed that big money could be raised via the internet. So what are we waiting for??? A common theme for a third party to rally behind? It is my belief that many, including myself, have become some alienated by the dysfunction and bickering of the political system that we may be turned off completely from any attempt at a grass roots movement. There is even talk, about the bobbleheads, that the GOP is so disgruntled with any of their candidates that they might draft Bloomberg in the convention process?? It will be an interesting 2012 campaign but I don’t see a 3rd party emerging any time soon. The money is just too large to overcome and compete.

  3. Let me get this straight – the cure for our ills is a 3rd party that lies between the current John Birch Society inspired GOP and a democratic party that is currently more conservative than Reagan’s GOP? Yeesh! What a sad crock of *&^$%#$ the American democratic experiment has become.

  4. I’m a moderate Republican. Sign me up.

  5. There are centrist third parties being organized in a number of states including California, Nevada and Rhode Island. This is in addition to No Labels and Americans Elect. A large proportion of the American electorate is fed up with the way politics is being practiced in this country and desirous of change. A critical mass has to be reached to set the wave in motion. It’s just a matter of time before it happens.

  6. Our current electoral system tends to dampen Third Party efforts.

    What I believe is more important than a viable third party is an open “all-in” (Louisiana-style, if you prefer) primary system in all States. Unfortunately, entrenched political interests have generally opposed these – but some progress has been made – in California, for instance.

    Open partisan primaries (that we see in some places) are vulnerable to abuse (crossover voting for the sole purpose of dampening democracy – like in the Democratic Senate primary in S.C. a couple of years ago).

    But closed primaries disenfranchise one-third to one-half of voters that would prefer to be unaffiliated – and we end up with states like Connecticut, where partisan nominees reflect the interests of parties, not the interests of most voters.

    Open, single primaries would give all eligible voters the opportunity to have a say as to who would end up on the November ballot. They would push candidates toward the center. They would help build consensus. In very liberal or very conservative states, the two candidates in the general election may come from the same party – but that would more fairly reflect the interests of those local citizens.

    (As an aside, is there anything more idiotic than our local ‘bare minimum majority’ requirements for Town Boards? Nothing could be less democratic. But that is an argument for another day,)

  7. Donna Gratehouse

    No labels and Americans Elect and whatever new iteration of “centrist third party” astroturf that comes along next share the same deficit reduction/free trade/entitlement reform agenda favored the current Beltway crowd. They can put populist lipstick on that plutocratic pig all they want but it’s still a pig.

  8. Donna Gratehouse

    @Chris Grimm – and Louisiana is a bastion of moderation and pragmatism in politics due to its open primary system? Not that I’ve noticed. Any primary system that, for example, allows David Duke (yes, that one) to secure a spot on the general election ballot cannot claim to be a moderating primary system. Ever.

  9. @Donna Gratehouse – yes, I’ve heard others say the same thing, and it’s a shallow attempt to undermine a worthy idea. The best you can do is go back 21 years to one election to feebly attempt to discredit this idea?

    Philip Giordano was the Republican candidate for Senate under Connecticut’s closed primary system, but I have the sense to not blame that system for the nomination of a pedophile for the U.S. Senate. Fair to say that the list is long, of unfortunate people who have been nominated for office under open and closed primary systems.

    The more important point (did you actually have a point?) was that open all-in primaries allow all registered voters – not just partisans – to have a say as to the final candidates in the election. I’d love to know if you have an actual problem with that.

    • longtime Westporter

      Chris, I was listening to you until you got nasty with the “did you actually have a point?” comment. Until people stop being so petty with their comments (in Congress, in campaigns, in just a simple comment to a blog where it would have cost you NOTHING to be civil!), there can’t be a groundswell of moderate thinkers concerned about our country first.

  10. Nothing will change in American politics until MONEY is eliminated from the process. Publicly funded elections/primaries are the only way to keep special interests from determining the outcome. And since only .546% of the population contribute now, it is doubtful much will change any time soon. Levine’s intent is good as are the commentators here but purely idealism. $$$ runs the show.

  11. Also @ Donna Gratehouse – I’d love to know if you are the Donna Gratehouse from Arizona, who seems to be – let’s be honest – a professional partisan hack.

    If that is the case, I would say that your attempt to defend a partisan system (and it doesn’t even matter to which party you belong) says all that anyone needs to know about why you object to open all-in primaries.

    Are you really visiting websites in Westport, CT to defend a system which has put our nation in the current state? Again, assuming you are the same Donna Gratehouse. I hope you’ll return to the site and clarify.

  12. Grimm V. Gratehouse. Slugfest. Not sure why the importance is on primaries as most Congressional incumbents are a shoe-in for reelection regardless. Lieberman in CT proved that in ’06. Perot did in Papa Bush in ’92 and Nader helped Bush ’43 take Florida and the presidential election in 2000. With that in mind, I am not sure why anyone is in favor of a third party?? The dysfunctional Congress is due, in large part, to the members coupled with the undue influence of lobbyists and not the constitutional mandate in which they were elected.

  13. Donna Gratehouse

    Chris, I consider David Duke to be pretty much game over for open primary proponents but, I’ll bite. Do you have actual evidence that open primaries have reduced partisanship and increased moderation in places that have them? All you’ve produced thus far are pleasing buzzwords and speculation. Can you even produce substantial evidence that open primaries increase turnout by those highly coveted “moderates and independents” in them?

    And how are things in Louisiana these days? Their state lege appears to be as far right as ours here in AZ. Democrats there aren’t even fielding candidates for most of the statewide races coming up. That doesn’t exactly speak to the success of open primaries.

    Also, why can’t I post on this blog from AZ? There’s going to be an “open primaries” initiative on our ballot next year. It will probably pass (it’s polling well) and will have as negligible impact on our real political problems as it’s had everywhere else it’s been tried.

    Finally, my experience with independent or non-partisan or whatever you want to call them voters is that most of them* are low information and low efficacy. Not exactly admirable traits. You may think it’s the worst insult to call me partisan but I’d much rather be that than ignorant and apathetic.

    *I’m not saying that describes you.

  14. “independent of special interest” Not really, the third party will be special interest. “the benefit of all Americans” How can that be? Sounds like a naive rant. The reason we have elections is because public policies do not
    benefit all Americans. The claim by one special interest of another is always that their policies wil benefit all. Try and think of one public policy that benefits all Americans.

  15. I Can't Drive 55

    We have AZ narratives entered here? How are the fires set by illegals doing out there in desert?

  16. @ CAS – Lacking the platform of having already been elected to statewide office, Lieberman would have never had a chance. But the fact that the majority of voters in Connecticut wanted someone that neither Party would have nominated speaks to how the parties do not represent the voters, but simply their own interests (as often as not, the wingnuts to the left and to the right).

    @ Donna – so you are (respectfully!) a partisan hack. And you are opposed to a proposed system that would serve neither party. I’m not surprised. See, the funny thing is, through the wonders of Google I can see that we are probably fairly similar, politically (let’s say on the same side of the horizon) – but you are determined to serve the machine, whereas I would rather that government serve the people.

    The example is what we have in Congress right now. When two candidates are nominated by typical partisan primary voters (left-wing Democrats and right-wing Republicans), the center is abandoned. Are you not watching what is going on in Washington right now? Outside of Lousiana, there isn’t a lot of experience in wide-open primaries. Though the California recall election in which Arnold won was certainly an example of a centrist winning – though clearly name recognition meant more than anything else. The current gridlock is a result of the lack of centrists.

    Again, the David Duke thing is a 21-year-old straw man argument that has little to do with the realities of elections. Robert Byrd was a former Klansman who served in the Senate for ages. There is no point to the argument.

    The idea that partisans are more informed voters is completely elitist and anti-democratic. We could have literacy testing to vote, if you would like.

    As you well know, partisan politicians in Washington State have fought tooth-and-nail to prevent wide-open primaries. The best lessons will come from California, a State with a diverse population that reflects the diversity of the United States. I have the utmost confidence that the results will be more centrist that from closed partisan primaries. (And less apt to be ‘rigged,’ as it were, than open partisan primaries.)

    But the point isn’t always about centrists – as I believe I mentioned in my first post, if a state is extremely liberal/Democrat or extremely conservative/Republican, are you telling me that a general election in which one nominee is a partisan slam dunk and the other is a partisan sacrificial lamb – is that good for democracy? It would serve the interests of constituents far more if two general election candidates were from the same party and, for the sake of argument, shared political core values, but ran against each other based on nuance over which their constituents might actually disagree.

  17. @ Emma – I think you are right to some degree. While I would love to see a centrist party that reflected my own views better than either current one, interests would ultimately be served and splits would ultimately form.

    Without election reform, a third party stands little chance, in any case.

    • There will never be effective election or ethics reform from the Republicans and Democrats since they benefit from their ties to the special interests. A centrist third party is needed to change the political dynamic in Washington. It can be successful if enough disaffected Americans clamor for change.

      • I agree Bob but the third party is not coming from the center. It is already too crowded in there already.

        • Not even remotely true. The center of the electorate is provably (political scientists have been mapping where elected officials in Washington stand on the spectrum for years) the place on the spectrum of American political belief where there is the least amount of representation to numbers of people there… by far.

          • I am not sure where you get your “studies” but Obama has been moving to the center since Obamacare and Mitt is already there. I am sure that political scientists have no idea where the center is anyway.

      • Individuals do not support a political party unless that party represents their interests. Hence, special interests gravitate to one political pary of another. Why make an effort on behalf of a candidate unless that candidate will represent your interests? A third party would just reshuffle the deck of special interests.

        • How about citizens supporting candidates and a party because they represent their interests and want to do what’s right for the country instead doing what benefits the special interests. A centrist third party will be the party of the “moderate middle.”

          • Geez, ’44 & Mitt are already in the center. Change needs to come from the far left or heavens forbid, the Christian right/Tea Party. The problem with your theory, as I believe Emma will agree, politicians care about being reelected i.e money and not the wants of their constituency. Nature of the beast.

          • There are honest disagreements about “what is best for the country.” According to Commanger, the disgareement has always been about how much the government should do; there has been one party that wants the government to do more, and one that wants the government to do less, the names have changed but the argument remains the same. However, if you want the government to do more, you must ask, more of what and for whom? The answer to those questions are shaped by special interests.

            • Good to have you back,Emma. I watched a documentary on the tax code the other night. Everybody agrees it sucks but Washington will not change because any new system would take away some of their power. So it ain’t even about money, it is the power!

  18. I would ask everyone to please check out Governor/Ambassador Jon Huntsman.
    Though I don’t agree with him on all the issues, if indeed many people will vote for anyone this time around, doesn’t it make sense to have a sane alternative??
    If you agree, please pass this along to your networks and ask them to do the same.

  19. @CG: The Senatorial campaign of ’06 was a master stroke by Joe in that he pitted the GOP against the Democrats with himself as the only alternative. Your supposition that he would have never been able to pull it off if not an incumbent is correct. I still feel the primaries are a farce in whatever form they may undertake. Paul is favored in Iowa. Is that a true representation of the state or the position of the candidates???

  20. @CAS – well, setting aside that Iowa is a caucus, it’s not a diverse state and the caucus is closed – so it will attract the party faithful. It’s a flavor of the month event.

    I can’t express how strongly I feel that if, instead of having four people in one primary (in which 30% of the people could vote) and four people in another primary (in which another 30% of the people could vote), and putting the two winners together, we’d be better off with eight people in one primary in which 100% of the people could vote. The opinion of people who don’t automatically allign themselves with one party or the other would suddenly matter in primary season.

    What bothers me about some defending an anti-democratic system and opposing a wide-open system in which all registered voters can participate, is that they are taking a strategic gamble that they can win using the strategy. It is “I’ll sell out democracy because I have an issue to advance.”

    But when “WE” (whoever “we” are) try to game the democratic system to defeat “THEM” (no matter who “they” are), we are no better than them, And if “we” lose do we care that our values have lost, too? Or will just look for the next chance to game the political system?

  21. I guess I follow your logic which is sound. However, the variables of the low percentage of voters as well as the seemingly direct correlation with the amount of money one candidate can raise seems to doom logic over practicality. I will repeat: until money is erradicated from the system, it will remain unfair.

  22. @ CAS – I do not disagree. Even with completely campaign finance reform (however one wants to define it) I would support a wide-open single primary system.

  23. It is not only campaign finance reform that needs to be addressed; so does the issue of gerrymandering for House elections, and state elections as well.

  24. Agreed.

    In response to the comment about Governor/Ambassador Jon Huntsman, no,he is not a turncoat or anything of that sort.

    He is a very intelligent, serious, ethical, generous, kind person who has some fabulous ideas if people would just take 5 or 10 minutes to read up on him.

    Some people want anyone but “44”;
    and so we need good alternatives.

    I like Huntsman.

    He has some very creative “out of the box” ideas that would solve a lot of our problems, and he deserves a second, or possibly first look by voters.

    This is a very important election, and whether we get a good president via 2 parties, or 3 parties, isn’t as important as who we get; and can they break the gridlock?

  25. @ Cherie – do you have an opinion on the actual subject of the thread, or are you just using it as an opportunity to campaign for John Huntsman? Do you support an anti-abortion amendment to the U.S. Constutition, like John Huntsman?

    • Hi Chris
      I have been skimming the stream of conversation, as my stepson just underwent emergency surgery about an hour ago.
      All o.k.

      fyi it is Jon (not John) Huntsman
      and no, I have not been campaigning for him

      As I said, I don’t agree with Governor/Ambassador Huntsman on all the issues; not sure it is necessary to get into what I do and don’t believe in.
      Can share that I am currently a registered democrat, and have also registered as a republican depending on the primary and what I felt I needed to vote for or against.

      Basically I’d say I’m an independent.

      I think that rather than get bogged down in labels, and specific social issues which I do consider extremely important and tend to not want to impose my values on others (i.e. I don’t eat meat but I will prepare it for others)…
      when it comes to world peace/safety I feel these issues by necessity have to over-ride some of the others; because if Iran drops the bomb on us we will all be very dead, whether we are pro-life or pro-choice, or pro-gay marriage or gay unions or not or for or against marriage altogether, believe in some higher power, or not, or are agnostic blah blah blah

      Jon Huntsman has an amazing world view, and has experience both nationally and internationally, and again, I just ask that people check him out and decide for yourselves; and if you like what you read and hear ask your networks to do the same.

      Hope this is helpful.

      Now back to my family.

  26. Huntsman seems to be just another Mormon billionaire (as opposed to Romney, he inherited it). High school dropout who made it to Penn. GOP Washington cronie under Reagan/Bush & Bush and somehow got a nod from Obama. Being a Governor of a state of 2.8 million may impress New Hampshire but the Mormon bit is gonna knock him out in the South. Plus, he has a personality like a red haired stepchild and delivered Palin’s nomination speech. UG! Whose next??

    • Hi Sheila
      thanks for your comments.

      Where to start?
      I don’t believe in voting by prognostication;
      people should vote for whom they want, not for whom they think will win;
      this is not gambling.

      As for being a Mormon; so what?

      Yes, the Governor/Ambassador’s father made billions but the family is beyond altruistic. What is wrong with that?

      Dropping out of High School to play in a band;
      I think it’s cool.

      Let’s remember a lot of folks dropped out of school;
      Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, and Steve Jobs, just to name a few.

      o,k. full disclosure, I went to Penn too
      (just one more reason to like Huntsman)

      Huntsman was asked to nominate his party’s vice presidential candidate, which he did.
      He “somehow got a nod from Obama” because he was the best person for the job of ambassador to China…nothing at all to do with cronyism for any of his appointments.

      And unless you actually haven’t been paying attention, Governor/Ambassador Jon Huntsman in addition to being truly brilliant and well-informed [which perhaps makes it difficult for some people to follow his thoughts] has an amazing sense of humor, as does his family… “call me crazy”

  27. No problem with the Mormon thing at all. But the South will and that will hurt him in the primaries. His background is impressive, no doubt. But after watching two GOP debates (Vegas and D.C.), I see no charisma in Huntsman at all. Seems plastic. The country wants a take-charge guy, almost a bully if you will, to set things straight. Now. I think that was the initial appeal of a Cain and now Newt. But I see it as Romney-Christie v. Obama-Clinton?

    • Thanks for your perspectives, Sheila.

      I would not worry about the South, or any other place.
      I just wish people would vote for the person they think can do the best job, and not worry about what anyone else is doing in terms of vote casting.

      Also, I would not be overly concerned about personality.

      Look at Huntsman’s record in Utah;
      what he actually did. “Actions speak louder than words.”
      And he was re-elected by close to 80%!!
      Unheard of.

      And how many candidates get kudos from the Wall Street Journal for their economic plan, and from the New York Times as the best [only?] candidate who can beat Barack Obama (not that that is my goal either, just that it is for many people so we need a viable candidate should that happen).
      Governor/Ambassador Jon Huntsman is that person. Plus he has been endorsed by at least 3 New Hampshire papers thus far.

      Also, most polls are of republican voters there, and don’t include the independents, who are voting for Huntsman in large measure (when not voting for Ron [biased] Paul).

      By the way, I do feel that Huntsman has stood up to every candidate on various issues. And recall his comment to “Don” Trump (also a Penn guy, but don’t tell anyone) that he (Huntsman) would not kiss Don Trump’s ring or any other part of his anatomy.

      Speaking of reality tv, politics isn’t that.
      And we actually will be affected by the “survivor” of this contest.
      We need to take it seriously.

  28. Cherie Quan asked me to post this — it’s an email she received.

    Together we are challenging one of the most entrenched systems in the world by taking the power to pick the president out of the parties’ hands and putting it back into our hands where it belongs.

    It’s a truly monumental change to be part of.

    And to succeed, we need your energy and commitment as a volunteer
    Delegate Leader. Please go to:

    Already, over 300,000 of us have signed up to participate in the nation’s first-ever online presidential nominating convention through Americans Elect. Incredible!

    Simultaneously, over 2,500 have also volunteered to be “Delegate Leaders,” stepping up to help spread the word on college campuses and in our neighborhoods.

    Today we’re asking you to join us as a Delegate Leader as well. With your participation, we’ll be able to reach and mobilize new delegates in every community nationwide — ensuring that no voice is left unheard.

    When you sign up, you’ll get information and materials from an AE Regional Director, who will connect you with other leaders in your area and help get you started. And in January, you’ll be able to attend a regional Delegate Leader training event, to learn more about organizing and recruiting AE delegates.

    So please sign up as a Delegate Leader today.

    The time for Americans Elect has come, but it will take all of us acting together to make it real.

    If you’re reading this, you are already making history as a delegate. We sincerely hope you’ll join us as a Delegate Leader as well.

    Thank you for all you’re doing,
    Kellen Arno
    Americans Elect Field Director

  29. Thanks Dan.

    I thought this email might be of interest and germane to the 3rd party conversation. I’m not planning on signing up as a delegate leader at this time. fyi Christine Todd Whitman already endorsed Huntsman for the Americans Elect third party candidate.

  30. Third party? Why not a fourth and and a fifth? The issues will remain the same and the math does not change just because the name of the party does. Until one of these embryionic efforts produces more than empty rhetoric, say a substantive program for dealing with any of the major issues, they will remain irrelevant but amusing; sort of like a Saturday morning cartoon. Simply declaring that you are in the middle of the road and want policies than benefit “everyone” is merely evidence of intellectual sloth.

    • Just a figure of speech. There are dozens of parties, two majors, a handful of minors and a bunch of fringe and super small ones. All third party really means is a party that is aspiring to be a third major.

      • Every one of these minor parties has an appeal until they articulate any specific policy. Once thay take a position, they tend to become much less appealing. There are few votes in the so called middle ground, because the electorate is not motivated to vote by tepid policies. Moreover, I have yet to see anyone define a middle ground position on any major policy issue, have you?

  31. Hi Emma
    I agree. It’s not about how many political parties there are, it’s about electing a competent, intelligent, ethical person who perhaps above all else, is a problem solver. And I think blogs like these are excellent in promoting important discussions. Thanks to everyone for your thoughtful comments.

  32. Americans Elect does not disclose their donors.
    Arno Political Consultants? A history of dirty tricks, falsified signatures, and clients including the NRA.
    This is not a 3rd party – it’s the folks who couldn’t make it to the top of the food chain in the party of their choice, running the same game on a dissatisfied electorate.
    Huntsman is running for President as a Republican, with a platform consistent with Republican values. Does he have “default” positions that will make him more electable as a 3rd party candidate if/when he fails to win the Republican nomination?
    A TRUE 3rd party would be a welcome change, but I see no chance of success until campaign reform, lobbyist influence and term limits are addressed.
    ….and pigs fly!

    • Americans Elect isn’t a party. All it does it offer a platform for people to decide on a candidate, who then gets ballot access in all 50 states. Then it literally, by law, can’t interact with that campaign, so the influence of lobbyists and whatnot just doesn’t hold any merit. It is worrisome that they don’t disclose donor info, but sadly that’s the name of the game right now.

      So far they’ve done what they said they were going to do. Until that changes, or if some wingnut ends up taking the nomination, I’m a supporter of the cause, if not every aspect of the organization pushing the cause.

    • Like you, I have a lot more of the questions than the answers.

      Americans Elect is an interesting concept, and in ethical hands could be a real force; I haven’t researched them…seems like you have.

      But since you brought him up, I do hope Jon Huntsman gets the nod.

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