Early on in his presidency, Barack Obama, who had campaigned on the promise of bipartisanship, discovered that even Republicans who had expressed their support for him had no real intention of providing it, and were quickly turning into dogged adversaries on every issue. Over time, and as far-right extremism surged, sharp battle lines between Democrats and Republicans were drawn that left little room for compromise or centrism. The farther right the Republicans went, the father left Democrats were forced to go to counter the threat, leading to a state of perpetual impasse and culminating in the shutdown of the federal government.
All that could change as polls show the Democrats with a distinct edge in 37 of 61 GOP-controlled districts following the budget showdown, making it possible for Democrats to take the (net) 17 seats they need to control the House of Representatives in 2014. With one party in power, at least our government would function again.
However, with still a year to go till the midterms and another budget battle looming in January, this prognosis is premature. Not only could the public's mood change again but a vote against Republicans does not automatically mean a vote for Democrats. It is worth noting that 6 in 10 Americans also disapprove of the Democrats' handling of budget negotiations and 49 percent view the party unfavorably. Finally, even if the Democrats win, the GOP will continue to work against them as evidenced by the ongoing campaign against Obamacare despite the fallout from the shutdown. In other words, whatever happens, we could still remain mired in partisan gridlock indefinitely.
The United States cannot afford extremism or bitter partisanship any longer, which is why it is time for a third, and centrist, political party to enter the arena. Long considered pure fantasy, there are several reasons why it may not be far-fetched this time.
The budget showdown fiasco has left many Americans with an extreme mistrust of Washington. Ideology aside, people want a responsible and dependable government, which requires bipartisanship and moderation. The failure of our leaders to provide this has created a vacuum that a new centrist party could fill. It is arguable that the Tea Party was not a spontaneous movement but a carefully planned contrivance fueled by big money, but it succeeded because of a dormant discontent with the status quo. A new party would be the centrist version of this and would succeed for similar (though not the same) reasons.
With the midterm elections still a while off, a new platform would have sufficient time to fundraise and build momentum around centrist candidates in key races around the country. While it may be difficult to win everywhere, it is possible for them to mount serious challenges in districts where the GOP is already factionalized and under attack by the Tea Party. A good example of this is the Kentucky Senate race where incumbent Mitch McConnell will have to fend off Tea Party challenger Matt Bevin next year. This rift between the GOP and the Tea Party presents a golden opportunity for centrist candidates who are not Democrats to garner moderate as well as independent votes.
The success of political races depends heavily on funding. One reason that the GOP has been unable to restrain its extremist faction is that the faction is well-financed by wealthy contributors like the Koch Brothers. But in the wake of Washington's recent irresponsibility, another major source of funding for the GOP -- Wall Street -- is showing signs of distress. Even banking titans like Jamie Dimon, who have been staunch Republican supporters since the passing of Dodd-Frank, were so dismayed by the intransigence of the Republicans during the standoff that they have begun to question the wisdom of backing a party that could one day push our entire financial system over the edge.
While Democrats might be expecting that Wall Street will simply shift its largesse to them, it is more likely that the banking industry will simply sit out the next election cycle and refuse to fund either party. Unless, of course, there was a viable alternative -- such as a fiscally centrist party with a national vision that keeps our economic engine running smoothly, and Wall Street operating profitably, minus the dangerous politics of the GOP.
The purpose of a new party is not necessarily to create a new power center in American politics but to motivate the existing parties to move to the middle. Realistically, a third party cannot supplant the vast political machines of the Democrats and Republicans, but even with a handful of seats, it can shake things up. The power of this third party will derive from the need for Democrats and Republicans to either compete with them or to court their swing vote, both of which will require the current political establishment to eschew extremism.
Even an idea as radical as a new political party can succeed if presented with the right window of opportunity. Such a rare window has now opened for all those Americans who would like to see the nation move back towards a more stable democracy, and according to a new Gallup poll, 60 percent favor the idea of a third-party, so the only question now is: will we take advantage of this historic opportunity or continue to suffer more crises?
SANJAY SANGHOEE is a political and business commentator. He has worked at leading investment banks Lazard Freres and Dresdner, as well as at multi-billion dollar hedge fund Ramius. His opinion pieces have appeared in TIME, Bloomberg Businessweek, FORTUNE, Christian Science Monitor, and Huffington Post, and he has appeared on CNBC's 'Closing Bell', TheStreet.com, and HuffPost Live on business topics. He is also the author of two thriller novels.
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