For years, I have been an advocate of third-party politics. In high school, I was backing the Libertarians. Post-high school, I was backing the Independent American Party of Nevada. When I moved to Utah, I joined up with the Constitution Party. Through this, I have served as a county chairman in two counties for a collective time of about two years, run for office three separate times, and done more evangelizing for third parties than all but a handful of people that I have known.
So why am I ready to call it quits on third parties?
What kick-started my faith in third parties was the utter failure of the Republican or Democratic parties to truly represent me. I'm best described as a paleo-conservative. I believe in a very limited government. I believe in local control of government functions, leaving those with the most power closest and most accountable to their constituents. I believe that the inherit goodness of people is a powerful force is righting the wrongs of the world if we'll just stay out of the way and let it happen. I believe that if government concentrates on its core functions, it can end up solving a lot of our problems.
What I have observed is that neither of the two major parties represents what I believe. The Republican Party has been on a rampage of disastrous "borrow and spend" economics with the rationale that it's no big deal so long as we are reducing the ratio of debt to gross national product, constantly enlarge the very government programs that they are supposedly trying to eliminate. The foreign policy runs counter to my belief that if we leave other people alone, they might be inclined to leave us alone too. This doesn't even get into all of the internal party backstabbing I hear about.
The Democrats don't do much of a better job in my book either. They are constantly telling us that we're too stupid, selfish and sedentary to do thing for ourselves, never giving us the opportunity to stand on our feet or fall on our face through our own efforts. Their version of foreign policy hasn't been better than the Republicans except that it now consists of "we don't know what we want to do, but it's not what the Republicans are doing." Many of them embrace same-gender marriage and on-demand abortion, things my faith will not allow me to permit.
There are those rare individuals who shine in spite of their party. Rep. Ron Paul of Texas is often the lone voice of dissent in the U.S. House, often the only one to be reminding lawmakers that laws ought to be in line with the Constitution, not political expediency. Pete Ashdown, for all of my differences with him, is looking like a very good alternative to Sen. Orrin Hatch and has actually been using a collaborative Wiki to help him shape his policy and positions through collective input. The problem is that at some point these men are or will be asked to go against every promise they have made to support the party line on some vote or another. They have a hard choice: renege on their word and support the party or stick to their guns and potentially be alienating those that used to support them. I've come to realize that men who choose the former are not bad men. They are trying to make the best of a bad choice, often because they think that just one or two compromises on some of their issues can lead to getting much greater things accomplished.
That's not really my style, though. I think an elected official should be weighing the needs of their constituents against his own personal convictions and then doing what feels like the right thing regardless of what the party says. It's not politically practical, but if just a few lawmakers would do so, it would be. Otherwise major parties would have a very hard time convincing people to run for office.
This explains why, before I could vote, I decided to go with the third party route. The disintegration of my faith in third parties came much faster than that.
Part of the problems with third parties is that they tend to think too big. They think that with a great platform on federal and national issues, candidates can sweep up and take over everything from President of the United States to City Clerk. This flies in the face of hundreds of years of observation that politics is local. If you're running for City Council, Larry Jones doesn't really care what you happen to think about the U.S. Constitution, foreign policy, or the spending habits of the federal government. He wants to know what you're going to do about the potholes on Daisy Drive, the graffiti in Central Park, and the property tax hike enacted by the last guy to pay for a soccer stadium. Do you know why? Because the first list isn't something you can change or fix as a City Council member but the second list is.
In addition to not properly identifying the constituency and addressing their needs, many third party activists are fond of using hyperbole, expounding upon outlandish theories, and debating minutiae in great detail. I hate to break it to you, but the crazy homeless dude on the street corner sounds more coherent than you do. Calling President Bush a war-monger doesn't make you look sane, nor does calling for his immediate impeachment. Talking about 9/11 conspiracy theories isn't going to help your case either, nor is a long and rambling tirade about how Federal Reserve Notes aren't "real" money. Regardless of the truth or untruth of what you are saying, it just isn't going to get the average person feeling like they can put much stock in you.
These last two paragraphs can apply just as easily to the Libertarians or Greens as they can to the Constitution Party. The nail in the coffin, however, is exclusive to the Constitution Party and is my chief reason for leaving.
The Constitution Party has a platform that, more-or-less, I can agree with. It violates the principles of "keep it local" and "keep it sane", though I can work my way around that. No, the largest problem is the zealotry surrounding the abortion plank. The CP's blank on abortion is probably the most stringent of any party in the nation, forbidding any and all abortions for any reason. That's all fine and dandy. There should be room for someone like me who believes that elective abortions shouldn't be legal but believes that there are extreme circumstances under which it is a legitimate medical procedure that should be able to be prescribed by a doctor. That's also in line with statements issued by my church.
How silly my thinking. Thanks to the efforts of anti-Mormon Protestant extremists within the party, a resolution was passed several years ago that forbade any party support for a candidate who did not strictly adhere to the abortion plank of the national platform. It threatened any state party with a differing platform or that offered support to such a candidate with being disaffiliated from the national party. This was a provision that wasn't being very widely enforced when a candidate was a "99%" person like me. As a result, I enjoyed being able to run for office three times without that hanging over my head.
It has come to a point now, though, that I do not presume to have that same protection afforded to me in the future. The Nevada party was strong enough to stand up to it and openly defy it as the lunacy tha
t it is, but the Utah party is not that strong. It can give me no such guarantees. The state chairman can't even see fit to conjure up a reply to an e-mail sent over six weeks ago. I can appreciate that it's a busy campaign season and all, but when a seasoned vet says "hey, I'm thinking about calling it quits", you can't just ignore it and hope it goes away. I will not run for a party that will not support my candidacy.
I've already found that I can't trust the Republicans or Democrats, and all of the third parties are too crazy for me to want to be associated with them. As a result, I'm going to be changing my voter registration to non-partisan before the deadline for the general election. It'll be hard to run for office as an independent in some ways, but in others it will be very liberating.