Is the veneer cracking? Is the ground shifting? Are the two major parties unwittingly collaborating in bringing forth a third party? Are they slitting their own throats?
If you were in the audience of a lecture delivered by New School professor Richard Wolff in NYC this past week, you could only agree with his pronouncement: both parties are on shaky ground and that a third party emergence is inevitable.
In his talk, "Capitalism and Deepening Inequality," Dr. Wolff -- freshly off a highly-applauded interview on the Bill Maher show -- laid out five flaws for each established party. Each are "riding the tiger" they feel they have tamed.
Five Republican flaws -- all found in carefully constructed constituencies
The Rich. They are clearly positioned as the party of the rich (no kidding), but the problem lies in the fact that they are too few in number to matter. For all their money, they still only comprise one percent of the population. No matter how artfully Gerry-rigged the electoral district, the rich will not outvote anyone.
So, what to do? Create a hegemony. Use the money to create the numbers. For example?
The Military. Lots of votes there, and members of the military have generally voted Republican. Wolff describes their tacit understanding as,"You vote for us, and we'll watch out for you."
Sure enough, the Republicans approve nearly every request the Pentagon makes -- regardless of the price tag or even if the appropriation makes sense. In appreciation, the military often through no-bid contracts, buy their toys and materiel largely from Republican-geared manufacturers or service providers. These businesses -- you guessed it -- contribute overwhelmingly to the Republican party.
Oh frabjous joy! Money, and voters too.
On reflection, this supplies funding, voters and business support, but still not in voting numbers large enough to move the needle. Now, what?
The Fringe. Find people with non-mainstream causes and celebrate them. You folk want a gun in every home? Every school? Every place of business? Every child's crib? We celebrate your exercise of the second amendment. Now, vote for us.
The party gets lots of noise and attention from that quarter, but their numbers are small and "open carry" doesn't work at polling places. Now, what?
Churches. Republicans fall over themselves to let churches know that they love them. All of them. Especially the mega-churches. This is an important and mighty constituency -- especially in the South. The larger the congregation, the more fire-and-brimstone-conservative the ministry, the more the votes line up.
Libertarians and Tea-Party Folk. Another powerful voting block, though uneasy. They do agree that government is the enemy, for the need to eliminate taxes, and on the importance of a strong military. Red meat. Solidly in the Red Camp.
The five flaws in the Democratic Party base
Big Business (aka "The Rich"). However they deplore Big Business and Banks in public, Democrats line up to accept their money offstage. Money is the mother's milk of politics, and Democrats are just as good at milking as their friends across the aisle.
This is mutually beneficial, the rich cover their bets and Dems get bankrolled. Still, not enough votes there. Next!
The Poor. Thanks to the Wall-Street-generated recession, banksters and predatory lenders, the Dems now have a lot of poor folk. Some of them even vote. Just convince them that you are your friend, as you have for decades, and their votes are yours.
Unions. Stalwart voters of straight Democratic tickets. Remind them that you are the party of FDR. More importantly, point out that your opponents are the party of What's-His-Name, Romney. That will scare up votes.
Women Voters. Thanks to the perception, right or wrong, that Republicans are declaring war on them -- this group is as close to a lock as you can imagine. As the professor put it, "Not because the Democrats are so great, but because the Republicans are so awful!"
Minorities. Of all sorts. Blacks, gays, Hispanics, etc. Here again, the greatest sales force driving minorities to vote Democratic... are the Republicans. As one wag put it some time ago, "A black voting for a Republican is like a chicken voting for Colonel Sanders."
So, Both Parties Have Five Major Faults. Why Third-Party Fears?
As professor Wolff describes it, these ten constituencies will fade away like a morning fog when they wake up to how they are (not) being served and are actually being used by the parties.
The Republican's hegemony strength is based on teetering alliances.
Although they will likely retain Big Business and its privately-owned U.S. Chamber of Commerce, they risk losing the small business owners.
Forget taxes and government paperwork, they have identified the real enemy as Big Business and the way that it controls the market. When Walmart moves in, local businesses fade or disappear. Giant automakers move production offshore to shave a penny or two off costs, and voila! An entire city goes bankrupt.
The religious may begin to notice that, once elected, Republican words do not always match Republican actions. "Family values" touted on congressional floors seem to turn into a parade of the seven deadly sins, if muckraking newspaper articles are to be believed.
More worrisome church-goers might even ask, "How would Jesus vote?"
The gun nuts will just as soon shoot a Republican as a Democrat -- which may happen if the NRA gets their way in their campaign to see that the blind are allowed to own guns. But, people sporting heavy artillery are not popular among Americans. They don't just turn off Democrats, they turn off mainstream Republicans as well.
There is evidence that the military is not exactly a source of dependable support. Although officers tend to be Republican, the rank and file reflect the general population and vote for Dems.. Not good.
Heaven only knows the damage caused by the Republican flirtation with the Tea Party and Libertarians. Both are thorns in the side and both run candidates in direct challenge to the Republican establishment... and win. It would appear, however, that neither can run a candidate that will pick up voters outside the party faithful.
The Democrats have similar, but different woes.
The poor hear Democratic promises to alleviate their condition, year after year. With the notable (and appreciated) exception of Obamacare, little has changed for these folk. But, with Republican-imposed voter ID and other restrictions, and that these voters might not even have enough gas to get to the polls, this constituency is problematical.
In the 2012 election, unions delivered Ohio, Wisconsin and Nevada, such is their power. But someday, the Unions may also get tired of hearing promises that are also not kept and legislation introduced they see as detrimental.
Even if the Dems can keep unions on the farm, their numbers are decreasing yearly. Union membership has declined to eight percent of the general population; 12 percent if you included government unions. This is a waning, if still vocal, power.
Nor can Dems take women for granted.
Even minorities are not easily counted on. Conservative think tanks grind out paper after paper to show Republican leadership how to capture this audience. Now and then they even make speeches about a "bigger tent." Who knows who might wander in?
The real problem for Dems is that younger and better educated people are becoming more progressive and less inclined to vote for traditional democratic, business-as-usual candidates. Ergo, Liz Warren will be chosen over Hilary Clinton. You got a problem with that? Yes, you have a problem with that.
As for big business, just associating with them -- much less taking money from them -- is a sure way to lose those sitting on the fence. The money is sweet, but the aftertaste may become quite sour. As for the rich, neither party own them. They pick and choose where their money goes, always getting millions in benefits for the pitiful change they pay out to candidates of both parties.
Since they own the businesses, they will get favorable regulations. Since they own banks, they will be allowed to escape trial for wrongdoing. Since they own the Fed, they print the money. Politics is just the house-run casino used to spread around this money.
An updated Will Rogers quote today would read: "We have the best government that (their) money can buy."
"Perhaps it is time for a third party," professor Wolff intones to his audience. "And, don't think that this is impossible. Look to Greece."
The point is well taken. Prior to 2008, Greece was a solid, two-party country. The party names were different (and unpronounceable), but basically represented liberal and conservative viewpoints. They played musical chairs in the government, but basically took turns doing the same thing to the electorate that we are familiar with in the U.S. - the lied to them and sided with the business and the elite.
Greek voters, who once stood outside the parliament and shouted "Thieves - Traitors" are now assembling behind a new, left-wing party called Syriza. So many so, that this party will likely be filling up the majority of those seats in parliament. On the agenda: anti-systemic promises that go so far as to call for renouncing all foreign debt and returning Greece to a representative Democracy.
Their motto: "Greece can do better than capitalism."
Makes one wonder. Can America do better than Republicans and Democrats?