A Third Party Wouldn't Save Us From Political Gridlock

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The problem is not our parties, but us. A Congress split in three would only promote more deadlock.Among the many lessons of the gratuitous debt crisis one seems obvious: divided government too easily devolves into dysfunctional government. So count me out of efforts to create a strong third party: I suspect that increasing the divisiveness -- splintering Congress into three formal parties instead of two -- would only increase the dysfunction. In fact, we already have, in effect, a third party president, as unresponsive to concerns of the democratic base as much as he's at odds with Republicans; and you might attribute the 2010 right wing take-over of the House, and resultant dysfunction, partly to his failure to articulate and defend Democratic populism. 

Besides, liberals complain repeatedly, we don't quite have a second party. The complaint is hyperbole: there are clear differences between Congressional Democrats and Republicans on economic and social issues. But, like a lot of hyperboles, it's partly true: Democrats have not pursued their policy preferences as doggedly and effectively as Republicans, (which is how we ended up with the Bush/Obama tax cuts and a chasm between rich and poor;) and the parties are generally united in their hostility or indifference to civil liberty and their reflexive support for the national security state.

But perhaps the greatest fallacy of the third party movement is the unspoken, perhaps unacknowledged, underlying assumption that members of a third party would be more informed, intelligent, and rational and less self-interested and demagogic than members of the first and second parties. What if the problem isn't the two party system but the flawed human beings who would also participate, as voters and candidates, in a three party system? What if the problem, in part, is us?

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Image credit: Larry Downing/Reuters
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Wendy Kaminer is an author, lawyer, and civil libertarian. She is the author of I'm Dysfunctional, You're Dysfunctional, and a past recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship. More

Wendy Kaminer is a lawyer and social critic who has been a contributing editor of The Atlantic since 1991. She writes about law, liberty, feminism, religion and popular culture and has written eight books, including Worst InstinctsFree for All; Sleeping with Extra-Terrestrials; and I'm Dysfunctional, You're Dysfunctional. Kaminer worked as a staff attorney in the New York Legal Aid Society and in the New York City Mayor's Office and was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1993. She is a renowned contrarian who has tackled the issues of censorship and pornography, feminism, pop psychology, gender roles and identities, crime and the criminal-justice system, and gun control. Her articles and reviews have appeared in The Atlantic, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Newsweek, The American Prospect, Dissent, The Nation, The Wilson Quarterly, Free Inquiry, and spiked-online.com. Her commentaries have aired on National Public Radio. She serves on the board of the Bill of Rights Defense Committee, the advisory boards of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education and the Secular Coalition for America, and is a member of the Massachusetts State Advisory Committee to the U.S. Civil Rights Commission.

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