I have Libertarian friends who think Ron Paul has a chance at the GOP nomination… My intuition is that they are engaging in wishful thinking. My best guess is Romney will take it, but I’m hoping for Cain, for 2 reasons:
- It would be kind of awesome to have 2 black candidates for President of the United States; and
- I like the idea of Obama going up against McCain and then Cain… it would confuse future schoolchildren.
But should my guess prove correct, and Paul lose the Republican nomination, where would that leave him? He’s garnered quite a lot of support in some polls, and that might encourage him enough to consider splitting off again to run as an independent. After all, he is 76 years old, and may not have that many more chances to run (though he’s pretty spry), so he may as well throw it all in the ring for 2012. (Why independent and not Libertarian? He’s already got the Libertarian vote, and independent status might get him a few people who wouldn’t vote strict Libertarian… it’s a safer label.)
I would love this.
It would split the conservative vote between the Republican nominee (let’s say Romney) and Paul, and hand another term to Obama. It’s not that I think Obama is perfect, far from it; he’s too conservative or moderate for my taste, and I don’t like his persisting in these ridiculous wars, failing to revoke the expansion of Presidential powers, re-signing the PATRIOT act, failing to hold banks accountable, and many other weak moves. But I still support him in general, and I think he’s doing a pretty good job under very trying circumstances not of his making. I support Obama’s jobs bill, and raising taxes on millionaires; I even support him raising taxes on me, and I’m solidly middle class. And I think we need another Obama term to see his efforts really bear fruit, and to give the economy a chance to recover.
But that’s not what excites me about the idea of a Ron Paul schism from the GOP. With his seeming popularity among an increasing number of people, and the coming ugly break-up of the Tea Party and Republicans, and similar disillusionment on the left, it might increase the dissatisfaction with our two-party duopoly, and pave the way for voting reform where it is easier for multiple parties to credibly run for President.
The current system is a crock, where no matter if a Republican or a Democrat wins, the Republicans and Democrats win, and both parties have too much incentive to keep this convenient arrangement that neither will work to reform it, and neither will stray too far from the policies of the other. This race to the bottom is driving us away from real issues and further and further to the right (which is not right).
The simple fact of the matter is that a country of over 300,000,000 people must by necessity have more than 2 opinions on any given subject, so 2 parties can’t really represent their views with any degree of accuracy or subtlety. So, as a result, the “national dialog” consists of hand-picked non-topics that are blown out of proportion by the media, because that’s the only thing that the established parties will discuss. We need more diversity of voices in Washington; for that, I appreciate Ron Paul actually having the nerve to say things that push the boundaries of what Republican voters might want to hear (even if I think his particular stances are nonsensical sophistry or cynical manipulations).
And worse yet, this false black-or-white, uncompromising, your-team-vs-my-team bullshit isn’t just wasting our time and money, it’s actively driving a wedge between Americans, radically polarizing us into knee-jerk offense and defense, resulting in a fruitless stalemate. When I talk one-on-one to self-identifying Republicans, and get past the rhetoric to the real issues and real values, I usually find we think fairly similarly… we mostly disagree on execution of those ideas, and on personalities of the politicians; but I know that once we leave that personal, human conversation, the media machine will hammer at us relentlessly until we forget that point of similarity and solidarity. We too easily devolve into slogans and talking points, reaction against the banality of the opposing politicians’ public statements and stances.
We need more than two political parties, to baffle that echo chamber. We need new voices diverging and disagreeing, then coming to compromise, then pushing new ideas into the political arena, and that won’t happen when it’s just two talking heads shouting each other down. But right now, it takes a tremendous effort and a fortune to try to get on the ballot in each state; state-controlled ballot access means that even if a third party could get enough momentum and campaign donations to have a real shot, they blow that money and energy just trying to get on the ballot, while the Democrat and Republican candidates use their money to influence voters directly. This is only one of many reasons why “States’ Rights” advocates are dangerously naive; issues like this, which affect national elections, should be decided at the federal level.
Of course, lowering the bar for additional parties to be on the ballot, as difficult as it might be, is only one step. Even when they are there, the best they can do is deflect votes from one of the other candidates, as Nader did from Gore in 2000, and as I hope Paul does from Romney in 2012 (though honestly, I think could just barely live with Romney as President… just not Paul, Cain, Sanctimonious, Perry, or that one lady with the creepy crazy eyes… no, no, the other one).
What we would also need is the ability for people to make real and direct choices in who they want as President (and for Congress)… not simply pick the lesser of two evils, but rank them according to how well that candidate matches their own preferences, how well each candidate represents that voter’s views. This is nothing new… we’re one of the last first-world nations that still uses the first-past-the-post, winner-takes-all ballot system, when what we need is a more sophisticated ranked voting system, where if your first choice of candidate doesn’t have enough votes to win, your vote is counted instead for your next choice, then on down the line, until one candidate is the candidate that the most people can live with. Then, an alternative party candidate might actually stand a chance of winning… and even if they didn’t, it would disrupt the carefully-controlled unequilibrium that the duopoly enjoys, so we could at least hear those new voices.
But could this happen? Could a national referendum on voting reform actually bloom? Well, I can imagine a scenario where it might. Obama is limited to one more term, and I have a feeling that he’s going to be more aggressive during his last term… he has less to lose. So, he could well support such an effort, on the basis that if a Republican wins in 2016, they will try to dismantle his reforms… so he’s better off trying to widen the field, on the chance that a it would yield a less clear “mandate” for destroying what he had built just to score one more point in political pong.
Right now, the duopoly strategy against us is winning: they divide and conquer. It’s a proven principle that we need to apply the in reverse: we need to divide ourselves into many parties, so we can conquer them.