Be­yond du­op­oly

Fringe par­ties wait for a look from vot­ers who still haven’t found what they’re look­ing for

The Washington Times Daily - - Life - BY PA­TRICK HRUBY

Never mind Novem­ber. At this point in the elec­tion cy­cle, the Amer­i­can peo­ple al­ready seem to have made their choice. None of the above. Pres­i­dent Obama’s ap­proval rat­ings have stalled be­low 50 per­cent, an omi­nous au­gur of in­cum­bent vul­ner­a­bil­ity. Re­pub­li­can vot­ers have been so about their pri­mary can­di­dates that they’ve re­sorted to play­ing Whack-a-fron­trun­ner, with each GOP con­tender — plus Don­ald Trump — pop­ping out of their hole for a de­cep­tive in­stant at the top.

Amer­i­can peo­ple: It’s time to look harder. Much, much harder. Fact is, there’s a vast uni­verse of po­lit­i­cal al­ter­na­tives out there you might not be aware of.

Take, for ex­am­ple, the Pro­hi­bi­tion Party.

The na­tion’s old­est third party, the Pro­hi­bi­tion­ists stand against the Fed­eral Re­serve Sys­tem, in fa­vor of build­ing a Mex­i­can bor­der fence and — here’s where things get in­ter­est­ing, if per­chance you en­joy the taste of beer — com­mit­ted to re­viv­ing the 18th Amend­ment. Since its 1869 found­ing, the party has run a can­di­date in ev­ery pres­i­den­tial elec­tion; four years ago, its nom­i­nee was Gene Amond­son, a min­is­ter from Washington state.

The bad news? Mr. Amond­son re­ceived 643 votes, fin­ish­ing 69,456,254 shy of Barack Obama.

The good news? Mr. Amond­son com­fort­ably sur­passed the 477 votes re­ceived by Heartquake ’08 Party can­di­date Jonathan Allen. (And yes, we also as­sumed that Heartquake ’08 was the ti­tle of a Lover­boy re­union con­cert tour. Live and learn.)

“Our goal for this elec­tion is to re­main alive for an­other year,” said Jim Hedges, sec­re­tary of the Pro­hi­bi­tion Party’s Na­tional Com­mit­tee. “We don’t need a lot of votes, but we do need to re­main vis­i­ble.”

For Mr. Hedges and other denizens of the po­lit­i­cal fringe, elec­tion sea­sons are a harsh re­minder of a fun­da­men­tal Amer­i­can po­lit­i­cal truth: De­spite its rep­re­sen­ta­tive frame­work, our na­tional gov­ern­ment is es­sen­tially a du­op­oly. Repub­li­cans and Democrats. Right and left. Mcdon­ald’s and Burger King. A bi­nary sta­tus quo. But fear not. If you’ve ever felt that Washington doesn’t care enough about de­crim­i­nal­iz­ing mar­i­juana, crim­i­nal­iz­ing to­bacco, end­ing all over­seas mil­i­tary com­mit­ments or adopt­ing a com­mu­nist eco­nomic pol­icy, don’t fret.

If you’ve ever sur­veyed the loom­ing chal­lenges fac­ing the repub­lic — high un­em­ploy­ment, higher deficits, an up­com­ing sev­enth sea­son of “Keep­ing Up With the Kar­dashi­ans” — and con­cluded that what Amer­ica needs right now is to build a base on Mars, chin up.

And if you’ve ever felt like the prob­lem with Mr. Obama is that he isn’t so­cial­ist enough, take heart.

Chances are, there’s a party just for you.

“I got peo­ple to vote for Obama in the last elec­tion by say­ing he was a so­cial­ist,” said Kevin Akin, the in­terim chair­man of the Peace and Free­dom Al­liance, the na­tional branch of the leftist, Cal­i­for­nia-based Peace and Free­dom Party. “Un­for­tu­nately, his ac­tions since tak­ing of­fice have given us very lit­tle rea­son to be­lieve that.

“When we hear Repub­li­cans call him one, it makes us roll our eyes. We want to sup­port some­one who is the real thing.” Pol­i­tics as un­usual

The Lib­er­tar­i­ans. The Greens. The Com­mu­nist Party USA. The United States Mar­i­juana Party. The Bos­ton Tea Party (not to be con­fused with the ac­tual his­tor­i­cal event, nor the gen­eral tea party po­lit­i­cal move­ment). The Jedi Party (based in Louisiana; mem­ber­ship, 12).

From the neo-nazis to the old school So­cial­ists, the Mod­ern Whigs (yes, re­ally) to what­ever Lyn­don Larouche is call­ing his fol­low­ers these days, the na­tion is home to dozens of mi­nor par­ties, each with its own po­lit­i­cal phi­los­o­phy and press­ing set of pet is­sues.

Case in point No. 1: Green Party pres­i­den­tial pri­mary con­tender Roseanne Barr — yep, that Roseanne Barr — is for sin­gle-payer health care, elim­i­nat­ing cor­po­rate per­son­hood, jail­ing Wall Street mis­cre­ants, re­in­stat­ing the GlassStea­gall Act, get­ting rid of the Elec­toral Col­lege and treat­ing non­vi­o­lent drug

abusers in­stead of jail­ing them. An­nounc­ing her can­di­dacy on “The Tonight Show,” she said that she would not run as ei­ther a Re­pub­li­can or Demo­crat be­cause both par­ties “suck and they’re both a bunch of criminals.”

Case in point No. 2: Mr. Larouche is for con­struct­ing the afore­men­tioned Mar­tian out­post, which he con­sid­ers a moral im­per­a­tive, and for end­ing the tyranny of Mr. Obama, whom he in­sists is nei­ther So­cial­ist, Marx­ist nor Kenyan neo-anti-colo­nial­ist, but rather the brain­washed pup­pet of the Bri­tish Em­pire — and who knew the Bri­tish still had an em­pire?

Case in point No. 3: The New York Ci­ty­based Rent is 2 Damn High Party — founded by karate ex­pert and Viet­nam War veteran Jimmy Mcmillan, who has run for mayor three times and re­ceived 40,000 votes in the state’s 2010 gu­ber­na­to­rial elec­tion — is in­al­ter­ably op­posed to, well, rent be­ing too damn high.

De­spite their dif­fer­ences, al­ter­na­tive par­ties have one thing in com­mon: They’re mostly marginal­ized, the lin­gerie foot­ball game counter-pro­grammed op­po­site half­time of the two-party Su­per Bowl.

Ac­cord­ingly, po­lit­i­cal life is dif­fer­ent on the fringe.

Con­sider Bill Ham­mond. Four years ago, the Colorado res­i­dent and Unity Party na­tional chair­man ran for Congress. Criss­cross­ing his dis­trict in a hy­brid SUV to col­lect the 800 sig­na­tures re­quired to ap­pear on the elec­toral bal­lot, knock­ing on doors in 37 com­mu­ni­ties, he found him­self prac­tic­ing lit­eral re­tail pol­i­tics — stand­ing out­side gro­cery stores stump­ing for a bal­anced fed­eral bud­get and re­plac­ing in­come tax with a car­bon tax.

En­dur­ing rain, cold and count­less funny looks, Mr. Ham­mond even­tu­ally col­lected 1,245 sig­na­tures, 899 of them valid. His hard­won ad­vice? If you don’t have a Las Ve­gas casino-own­ing bil­lion­aire fill­ing the cof­fers of your su­per PAC, it helps to have a friendly dog.

“I have a 60-pound white boxer named Jack,” Mr. Ham­mond said. “He was a great as­set, a nice ice­breaker. One morn­ing at a farmer’s mar­ket, I left him in my truck. I wasn’t get­ting any sig­na­tures. I had to go back and get him.

“The other thing I learned gath­er­ing sig­na­tures was to al­ways make sure the page you show has at least two sig­na­tures al­ready. If some­body sees a blank page, they ask why. That’s the first hur­dle. I al­ways made sure one of my friends would sign the top page.”

Amer­i­can elec­tions fol­low the Golden Rule: He who has the gold, rules. While the Democrats and Repub­li­cans are ex­pected to spend more than $6 bil­lion on the up­com­ing elec­tions, car­pet-bomb­ing the air­waves with slick tele­vi­sion ads, third par­ties get by with the equiv­a­lent of couch cush­ion spare change.

In 2008, Mr. Obama’s cam­paign spent just more than $760 mil­lion, about $11 per vote; John Mccain’s cam­paign spent about $358 mil­lion, roughly $6 per vote. By con­trast, Con­sti­tu­tion Party can­di­date Chuck Bald­win spent just $234,000, about $1.17 per vote — and alas, pres­i­den­tial pol­i­tics is not “Money­ball.”

And the Pro­hi­bi­tion Party’s to­tal 2012 bud­get? About $7,000. Which ac­cord­ing to on­line blue book val­ues, won’t even get you a used 2010 Toy­ota Camry.

“I’m sure we’ll spend some tens of thou­sands of dol­lars this year,” said Mr. Akin, the Peace and Free­dom Party chair. “But in po­lit­i­cal terms, we have no money. We have the back­ing of ab­so­lutely no mil­lion­aires, let alone bil­lion­aires. That makes it very dif­fi­cult for us

“We do have vol­un­teer la­bor. And we have the ad­van­tage of putting things on the Web for free, just like ev­ery­body else. We may spend eight bucks for a do­main name.”

Main­stream ex­po­sure is sim­i­larly hard to come by. Dur­ing the 2006 Alabama gu­ber­na­to­rial race, glib and quick-wit­ted Lib­er­tar­ian can­di­date Loretta Nall wasn’t al­lowed to par­tic­i­pate in de­bates; dur­ing the cur­rent GOP pri­mary, on the other hand, ce­ment­tongued Texas gov­er­nor Rick Perry was. Re­peat­edly.

“It was un­fair to not in­clude me, and it’s hard to over­come not be­ing on the stage with the other con­tenders,” Ms. Nall said. “Dur­ing de­bates, I would live blog an­swers to the ques­tions. It’s hard to be taken se­ri­ously when you can’t get your mes­sage out.”

To es­cape the me­dia invisibility cloak that typ­i­cally en­velopes mi­nor party can­di­dates, Ms. Nall re­lied on two unique as­sets: hu­mor and cleav­age. Af­ter a lo­cal news­pa­per printed and sub­se­quently apol­o­gized for a photo that showed the buxom Ms. Nall in much of her glory, the can­di­date was of­fended — that is, un­til she de­cided to use the in­ci­dent to her ad­van­tage.

Ms. Nall wrote a let­ter to the ed­i­tor of the news­pa­per, thank­ing him for “in­tro­duc­ing the twins to the peo­ple of Alabama.” The founder and for­mer head of the U.S. Mar­i­juana Party, she also be­gan sell­ing T-shirts and mar­i­juana stash boxes fea­tur­ing a photo of her in a dress with a plung­ing neck­line, as well as pic­tures of her Re­pub­li­can and Demo­cratic op­po­nents.

Be­low Ms. Nall’s im­age, a caption read, “more of these boobs”; be­low an im­age of her op­po­nents, a sec­ond caption read, “and less of these boobs.” The clever pitch be­came a na­tional news story, with Ms. Nall ap­pear­ing on Fox News and MSNBC to dis­cuss her cleav­age — as well as her plat­form of le­gal­iz­ing mar­i­juana, op­pos­ing the Pa­triot Act, ex­tend­ing tax cred­its for pri­vate and home school­ing and with­draw­ing the Alabama Na­tional Guard from Iraq.

“They wanted to fo­cus on anatomy, all right, we’ll fo­cus on boobs,” Ms. Nall said. “But not mine. I had fun with it, but it was a se­ri­ous cam­paign for me. And I got more na­tional at­ten­tion than all of my op­po­nents com­bined.

“If you make peo­ple laugh, they’ll re­mem­ber you. And if they re­mem­ber you, they might pay at­ten­tion to what you’re say­ing.” To­tally stacked

In the sub­se­quent elec­tion, how­ever, Ms. Nall re­ceived just 235 write-in votes — far short of the 718,327 votes amassed by Re­pub­li­can win­ner Bob Ri­ley.

“I love a chal­lenge,” Ms. Nall said. “Noth­ing worth hav­ing is easy to get. But the deck is to­tally stacked against you.”

For politi­cians out­side Amer­ica’s ma­jor par­ties, it has al­ways been thus. In 1789, Thomas Jef­fer­son echoed the sen­ti­ments of fel­low founders James Madi­son and Ge­orge Washington, call­ing po­lit­i­cal par­ties an “av­enue to tyranny.”

Four years later, Mr. Jef­fer­son was the leader of the Demo­cratic Repub­li­cans, a counter to the Fed­er­al­ist Party.

The rea­son? Mr. Jef­fer­son was prin­ci­pled, but no fool. In Amer­ica, two-party rule is the rule, thanks largely to our elec­toral sys­tem.

In na­tions with pro­por­tional rep­re­sen­ta­tion — that is, the num­ber of leg­isla­tive seats won by a party is pro­por­tional to their per­cent­age of the pop­u­lar vote — third par­ties thrive. On the other hand, Amer­i­can win­ner-take-all vot­ing en­cour­ages the for­ma­tion of two large, het­ero­ge­neous par­ties while lim­it­ing the abil­ity of smaller, more eclec­tic par­ties to com­pete.

To wit: A vic­to­ri­ous party gains self-sus­tain­ing power and pres­tige. A sec­ond-place party can po­si­tion it­self as a cred­i­ble al­ter­na­tive for the next elec­tion. And a third­place party is pretty much out of luck.

In 1992, Re­form Party pres­i­den­tial can­di­date H. Ross Perot ran one of the most suc­cess­ful third-party cam­paigns in Amer­i­can his­tory, cap­tur­ing 19 per­cent of the pop­u­lar vote. His re­ward? Zero elec­toral votes.

“It’s nowhere writ­ten in the Con­sti­tu­tion that there is a two-party sys­tem or that the Democrats and Repub­li­cans have to be those two par­ties,” said Mr. Ham­mond, the Unity Party chair­man. “But with the Elec­toral Col­lege and win­ner-take-all sys­tem, there will al­ways be a pull to two ma­jor par­ties. That’s how you win the pres­i­dency.”

The most third par­ties typ­i­cally can hope for is to play the role of vote-split­ting spoiler. In 1912, Theodore Roo­sevelt’s Bull Moose Party di­vided the Re­pub­li­can vote and put Woodrow Wil­son in the White House; in 1992, Mr. Perot likely tipped the elec­tion to Demo­crat Bill Clin­ton; in the ul­tr­a­close 2000 elec­tion, Ralph Nader prob­a­bly did the same for Re­pub­li­can win­ner Ge­orge W. Bush.

In 1892, the Peo­ple’s Party de­fied the odds and pulled off one of the most suc­cess­ful third-party chal­lenges in Amer­i­can his­tory, win­ning four states and 11 con­gres­sional seats. Four years later, they were co-opted by the Democrats, en­dors­ing nom­i­nee Wil­liam Jen­nings Bryan. Even when third par­ties win, they lose. “When I told my fam­ily I was run­ning as Unity Party can­di­date, my fa­ther sup­ported me,” Mr. Ham­mond said. “The rest were like, ‘Good luck with that.’ They’re mem­bers of the ma­jor par­ties.

“A lot of peo­ple are not go­ing to vote for a third-party can­di­date be­cause they don’t think we can win. But you know, one day that can change. I’m in this for the long haul. Once you cross that thresh­old where peo­ple think you can win, it’s an en­tirely new ball­game.” Plant­ing seeds

Ms. Nall was un­der no such il­lu­sions. She knew she couldn’t win. Win­ning wasn’t the point of her can­di­dacy. Change was.

In­spired to en­ter pol­i­tics af­ter a 2002 po­lice he­li­copter raid on her house and sub­se­quent ar­rest for misdemeanor mar­i­juana pos­ses­sion — Ms. Nall main­tains her in­no­cence — she be­gan her cam­paign to end mar­i­juana pro­hi­bi­tion by at­tempt­ing to per­suade her own fam­ily, a “very long line of deeply Chris­tian, hard core Repub­li­cans.”

The drug war, she ar­gued, is a colos­sal fail­ure — over­crowd­ing pris­ons, ex­pand­ing the size of gov­ern­ment, in­fring­ing on civil lib­er­ties, split­ting up fam­i­lies, drain­ing the trea­sury.

“Be­ing able to turn them on and around on drug pol­icy was prob­a­bly the big­gest chal­lenge I faced,” Ms. Nall said. “But they got it. If it had been a Demo­crat propos­ing the same thing, they would have just said, ‘Oh, that son of an [ex­ple­tive] is crazy.’ They have a prej­u­dice against the other team. It’s like foot­ball.

“When I first started do­ing this, an ar­ti­cle would come out in the pa­per about mar­i­juana le­gal­iza­tion, and 99 per­cent of the com­ments would be neg­a­tive. Now, 80 per­cent of the com­ments are pos­i­tive. I feel like the gu­ber­na­to­rial cam­paign helped. It planted seeds.” Ms. Nall laughed. “No pun in­tended,” she said. Third par­ties are the idea lab of Amer­i­can pol­i­tics. Once upon a time, women’s suf­frage was a fringe no­tion. So was the min­i­mum wage. Third par­ties made both hap­pen.

Twenty years ago, a pres­i­den­tial can­di­date propos­ing the elim­i­na­tion of Amer­ica’s over­seas mil­i­tary bases — all of them — would have been laughed off the stage as a crack­pot; to­day, that same can­di­date is GOP con­tender Rep. Ron Paul, who once ran for pres­i­dent as a Lib­er­tar­ian.

“It’s like Steve Jobs said about Ap­ple prod­ucts,” Mr. Ham­mond said. “Peo­ple don’t al­ways know what they want un­til you show them. Right now, you get the choices that the Repub­li­cans and Democrats show you. But nei­ther party is set in stone.”

Mr. Ham­mond has a point: In the 1830s and 1840s, the Democrats and Whigs dom­i­nated na­tional pol­i­tics — that is un­til the emer­gence of a third party, one op­posed to slav­ery, a once-fringe group that won the pres­i­dency in 1860 be­hind a prairie lawyer from Illi­nois. They called them­selves Repub­li­cans.



The New York City-based Rent is 2 Damn High Party — founded by karate ex­pert and Viet­nam War veteran Jimmy Mcmillan, who has run for mayor three times and re­ceived 40,000 votes in the state’s 2010 gu­ber­na­to­rial elec­tion — is in­al­ter­ably op­posed to, well, rent be­ing too damn high.

Ac­tivist Loretta Nall, founder of the U.S. Mar­i­juana Party, says it was un­fair to not in­clude her in the de­bates. “[I]t’s hard to over­come not be­ing on the stage with the other con­tenders,” she says.

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