An ongoing crisis at the border, a health care system in shambles and endless wars — Democrats and Republicans both struggle with finding solutions to these real, pressing problems.
Maybe it’s time to seriously consider building a third party, an organization with a fresh perspective that could break the stranglehold our two dominant parties have on our country’s politics.
This is precisely what the Movement for a People’s Party is trying to do. Started in 2018 by former supporters of Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign, the MPP is a nationwide organization creating coalitions among working people to change our nation’s trade policies, get money out of politics, and restore democracy.
For the doubters, let’s go through some of the old and tired arguments against third parties. It’s said that those outside the two-party system take votes from the so-called “viable” parties, and that those who vote for third parties are throwing their votes away.
But the fact is that, historically, third parties have been quite successful.
Our country, it’s worth remembering, didn’t start with Democrats and Republicans; George Washington didn’t belong to a party at all. It was only after his time in office that a partisan divide emerged, between the Democratic Republicans and the Federalists.
Then, it was the Whigs — yes, a third party — that emerged from among the disaffected elements of the major political forces in the 1830s. It was a party that ran candidates and won elections — including those of four presidents.
Abraham Lincoln’s successful presidential bid in 1860, as well, was part of a third party effort — that of the Republicans.
U.S. history is filled with other examples of successful third parties, such as the Populist Party, which came into being toward the end of the 20th century, spearheaded by farmers. That party’s platform — stamping out corruption in politics and reigning in corporate power — matches what many people see now as critical issues in U.S. politics.
The Populist Party and its supporters were part of the movement to create Anti-Trust legislation, including the Sherman Antitrust Act, which was passed in 1890 after years of debate, and then the Clayton and Federal Trade Commission acts.
The Populists also defended the post office and sought balanced budgets.
In Minnesota, the Farmer-Labor Party sprung into being in 1918 and eventually merged with the state’s Democrats. To this day, the full name of the Democratic Party in Minnesota is the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party.
Before this merger in 1944, the Farmer-Labor Party ran candidates in successful campaigns, winning the governorship three times, as well as putting into power many senators and representatives under that party’s banner. It created real policy with real effects, including a moratorium on farm foreclosures, relief for the unemployed, banking reform and new state forests.
A third party, as history shows, could break this gridlock by introducing new ideas, candidates, and policies. Now is the time to build that party. If we keep playing with the two options we already have, we can only lose.
Anthony Pahnke (anthonypahnke.com) is vice president of Family Farm Defenders and an assistant professor of international relations at San Francisco State University in San Francisco. This column was produced for The Progressive magazine and distributed by Tribune News Service.