Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

What is She Thinking?

It is no secret that I am a huge fan of Peggy Noonan’s. She’s a beautiful and witty writer. She’s smart, funny, and intelligent. I think she has deep insights into the political soul of the nation and into the souls of the regular people who made the nation great. But sometimes she doesn’t seem to put her insights to the best use. Put another way, her prescriptions aren’t always the best medicines for the diseases she diagnoses. This is one of those times. While she may be right about the problems boiling beneath the surface of the Republican party--is the election of more Democrats a solution? Because I know she can’t be delusional enough to think that a third party would take off and win big. And I know that she is sensible enough to know that the time it would take to build such a third party as she describes is more time than we have to trust our security to Democrats (who would be what we got in the absence of a united Republican party).

America has a two party system for very good and very legitimate CONSTITUTIONAL reasons--even though the parties might be said to be "extra-Constitutional." The two parties still perform a constitutional function in focusing our minds on the issues of that Constitution. That’s why wierd parties (like the Greens, for example) never do well in America--they seem to be out to lunch because they disregard our system in favor of some other ideology. If an American party wants to do something that is outside of the bounds of our Constitution--they at least have to wear the window dressing of constitutionality. They have to stretch the bounds of credibility by employing the talents of "constitutional scholars" who can find "legitimacy" for their arguments in that venerable document. Fortunately for our republic, the great thing about stretching is that even if the thing stretched gets alittle mishapen, it still retains its form. We can deal with stretch marks if we keep our soul.

Discussions - 33 Comments


Peggy is a bright woman who sometimes drifts off into flakiness. While a third party may come to pass and may at some point be necessary, her analysis in this column is unimpressive. I’ll never forget the way she slopped over with praise of Paul Wellstone when he died in the plane crash. It was overdone and made me doubt the seriousness of her political commitment.

It isn’t only national security that the Democrats can’t be trusted with. It’s everything else, too. And why should we even want to trust them?

I don’t think libertarians and social conservatives could occupy the same third party, so a principled break-up of the GOP would add at least two parties, not one, to the political scene. I think this means both principled factions of the GOP are stuck with the country club sellout RINO Republicans. If we want to win elections, we’re all going to have to "stay together for the kids." That is why we have primaries - contained internecine bloodletting.

If the GOP does atomize into lots of little parties, I call dibs on the "Union of Gun-toting Tory Anarchists for Life." Since the Elephant and the Donkey are taken, we’ll go with a snarling hedgehog with an assault rifle in one arm cradling an infant. Since red (Republicans), blue (Democrats), green (Environmentalists) and yellow (Senate Republicans) are all taken taken as party colors, the hedgehog will appear on a black flag. We’ll field candidates in several rural counties, and we expect to have control of a few township trustees and a seat in the Montana legislature by 2022. This will put us at six times the current Libertarian Party rate of growth.

Julie,

Your arguments would be unpursuasive if they were fully articulated -- which they aren’t here, unfortunately.

Peggy’s point was something altogether different than "the election of more Democrats a solution?" That’s precisely the point.

As the Republican party strays farther and farther from what have been its historic roots and positions, those who hold those positions most dear should ask themselves if this party should retain their allegiance.

That absolutely does not mean turning to Democrats, whose positions are worse. I wouldn’t argue for a Third Party for Presidential elections, but I see lots of advantages for discussing other options for Congressional elections.

Your argument that there are a Constitutional basis for the current two party system is illogical as you present it and contradicted by history. (You say "constitutional," and in the next breath call it "extra-constitutional. History records many periods with multiple extant political parties, and the two today have not existed always.)

Multiple parties can just as easily focus "our minds on the issues of that Constitution." Yes, some fringe parties seem to advocate an abolition of or change to constitution or government forms, but that doesn’t logically mean a third party will ALWAYS (or even often) advocate such change.

The multiple parties that have existed in the past have always eventually settled down into two, more or less, competing interpretations of the Constitution. When a political party dies, their competing party is the one that takes over unless and until a new one emerges. It is easier to fix our party than to start a new one and the consequences for the country are less dire. For my part, (though both would inestimably bad things) I would rather lose the White House in ’08 than lose Congress in ’06. Third party threats will help only to achieve both of these things. We have not yet reached Whigdom and besides, we don’t have a ridiculous name like "Whig" either.

Noonan nailed one thing. Partisan rancor has increased, as the dissimilarities between the parties has decreased. All of the things the two sides could disagree about civilly, they no longer disagree on! Only polarizing issues (pace, abortion) differentiate the current platforms.

While I’ll agree that many third parties do not have Constituional Legitimacy to their respective "beliefs", the same can be said for both the Republicans and Democrats.

Assuming that there’s no massive catostrophe in the next 2 years, by the time 2008 arrives, Republicans will have held the White House 70% of the previous 40 years. While Conservatives rail (rightly so) against the policies of FDR and LBJ, 28 years of Republican Leadership has shoved us further in the direction we’re supposed to despise -- both morally and legally (READ: Constitutionally) -- Bigger Government.

WM:

I believe that the Gahana (suburb of Columbus) city council is controlled by Libertarians, or it was a few years ago. I do not live in Gahana, so I do not know much about them, but the city is still standing so they must be doing ok.

Your argument is quite persuasive, and so is David Frisk’s comment about Peggy Noonan’s brilliance sometimes degenerating into flakiness.

Ideological conservatives are a minority. Libertarians, social conservatives, and other groups within the conservative coalition are each minorities within minorities. People who- as Ms. Noonan suggests some do- worry about runaway government spending on a daily basis are perhaps the smallest minority of all.

American government- or, for that matter, democratic government of any kind- works by coalitions and alliances. Those Western nations which have multiple parties tend to have governments that are unstable and often comic (if you think the Greens are a "weird" party, recall that at one point a member of the Italian parliament were elected by a party called "Friends of the Moon"). To abandon the Republican Party- an even larger coalition, capable of challenging the Democrats in national elections- for an atomized assortment of tiny, ideologically pure political sects would be simply to hand permanent control of the nation’s government over to the liberals.

Instead of a third party, whether in presidential or congressional elections, why not just contest the primaries?

Havign weighed in here, I want to say I remain unpursuaded by Juli’s rebuttal.

"The multiple parties that have existed in the past have always eventually settled down into two, more or less, competing interpretations of the Constitution."

I would argue that the differences between Dems and GOP have almost nothing to do with the Constitution (outside of occasional, insincere histrionics). I still do not buy in to your thesis, nor do I see evidence for it. Social policy, National Security, lots of divides, Constitutional I don’t see...

For my part, (though both would inestimably bad things) I would rather lose the White House in ’08 than lose Congress in ’06.

I take the exact opposite view. President is the Command and Chief, and controls our military in GWOT. Thus critical to keep in serious hands. On the other hand, I would argue that traditional Republican positions were more effectively advanced with a divided Congress and/or divide between Executive and Congress, party wise.

(With perhaps Judicial appointments being borderline, as the gang of 14 avoidance of the "nuclear option" has been part of getting us two conservatives on the court.)

I’m beginning to think divided government gets us more oversight and restraint.

Shawn-
You are right on. The Republicans do not show any sign of leadership. So many of us have been on a bandwagon since 1994, giving the Republicans everything, house, senate, presidency, yet what do we really have to show for it? Is the government really smaller? Why am I to take someone seriously in 2008 when they say they are going to change DC? This party has failed to execute, and left many conservatives wondering what to do next. Many of us have started to reach the conclusion of Peggy Noonan. Hopefully, the GOP leadership will realize that it is alienating its base, and will act quickly, if not, I fear the worse.

Julie- for too long, most of us have bought into the Hugh Hewitt approach of "any republican is better than any democrat". That thinking has brought our current mess upon us. Sorry, but enough is enough.

John

Sorry, I forgot the paragraph stuff again...

Shawn- You are right on. The Republicans do not show any sign of leadership. So many of us have been on a bandwagon since 1994, giving the Republicans everything, house, senate, presidency, yet what do we really have to show for it? Is the government really smaller? Why am I to take someone seriously in 2008 when they say they are going to change DC?

This party has failed to execute, and left many conservatives wondering what to do next.

Many of us have started to reach the conclusion of Peggy Noonan. Hopefully, the GOP leadership will realize that it is alienating its base, and will act quickly, if not, I fear the worse.

Julie- for too long, most of us have bought into the Hugh Hewitt approach of "any republican is better than any democrat". That thinking has brought our current mess upon us.

Sorry, but enough is enough.

John

(With perhaps Judicial appointments being borderline!!!!! Are you serious? Obviously not. The difference between Republicans and Democrats is the difference between Samuel Alito on the Court or Ruth Bader Ginsberg. I’m no shill for Hugh Hewitt but he’s a smart guy about politics and he’s right about this. Conservatives have to get political. But Conservatives will never win anything with this kind of "political" thinking. Do you honestly think that because you are right about the issues and your understanding of the Constitution that everyone is just going to bow down before you and your superior intellect? Shall you be our philosopher king? And if you don’t get your way in this democratic republic of ours will you simply pitch a fit and go home? How’s that been working for you for the last 50 years? We may have had GOP control of the Presidency for 70% of the last 40 years--but we’ve not had Congress very long. And we’ve got a generation of politicians used to being losers. Further, we’ve got a culture and an education system that has been so corrupted by the minions of the left that you can’t really expect what you think you expect. How do we teach patience and prudence to the juvenile wing of the Conservative movement? This is going to take a lifetime--not an election.

I don’t recall the Constitution endorsing a two party system, or an any party system. Ross Perot got 19% of the vote in 92 as a crotchety old man. In 2008 voters will likely hate both parties. A strong third party could be built on the issue of immigration and maybe pick up a few other disconcerteds. With a young, energetic candidate, why not??? Perot was over half way to winning. Its not impossible...the GOP was once the "third party"

A strong third party could be built on the issue of immigration and maybe pick up a few other disconcerteds. With a young, energetic candidate, why not??? Perot was over half way to winning.

YOU ANSWERED YOUR OWN QUESTION!!! Perot got Clinton elected. Who would a "young energetic candidate who ran on the issue of immigration" draw voters from? Moonbats? Far leftoid Dems? The contest would be between the new party candidate and the Republican candidate...for second place, as it was in ’92.

I have predicted for over a couple of years now that the Libertarian party will, eventually, and I mean over the course of the next 40-50 years, abandon their whacky ideas and gain strength, as the only truly conservative party, in the process. I have also been predicting for those past couple of years that the party of Jay Rockefeller, John Murtha, Albert alGore, et al, will continue to prove it is not to be trusted and will grow weaker over those 40-50 years as others of that party ask themselves the questions Zell Miller asked at the RNC.

The rise of the "Libertards" however, will not come until the Republican party has established clear dominance over the Democratic party.

Now, before you all start calling me a crack-pot, remember, I, a prosecutor, predicted the O.J. jury would take less than 8 hours to acquit.

Oh. And by the way, if the Dems win in ’08, I take it all back.

The most important election is the NEXT election, so, Julie, what do you propose? Punishing the failing Republicans just cedes power to the misbegotten Dems. Voting FOR the failure gives us....failures. Let’s speak to this practical and urgent issue instead of spooning out pabulum about the sanctity of the two-party system.
These are not normal times. There is no Loyal Opposition. Our Republic is in peril.

Response to #9:

National security trumps everything.
On this score, the Dems have simply disqualified themselves.

I think the major problem is symbolic. For years the Republican rank-and-file has had faith in the GOP. Many actions of the party have undermined that faith, and for the first time millions are questioning the party. It’s a form of social capital that simply can’t be recovered...at least not in time periods shorter than decades.

The GOP leadership has been exceptionally foolish...they have squandered something that is invaluable. I’ll never trust this generation of ’leaders’ again, and I’m not alone.

If all politics are local, perhaps a 3rd party that is bottom up and still supports the Republicans on the top end is a way to go.

Agreed if BUT ONLY IF this 3rd party can vote in Republican primaries. Otherwise conservatives of this new party would be stuck in every election with the candidates put up by "centerists" and "rinos."

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