For most of his life, Ron Fournier worked as a journalist for a string of news organizations, including Associated Press, Atlantic Magazine, National Journal and Crain’s Detroit Business. He recently left the Fourth Estate to join the Detroit-based public relations and lobbying firm of Truscott Rossman.
One of his clients is an organization called United America. It is composed of unaffiliated voters who believe the time is ripe for the rise of independent candidates as a serious challenge to the Republican and Democratic parties.
Two hundred “independent leaders” met in out west to strategize their assault on the two-party system. Got me scratching my head. If they are independent of partisan political affiliation, who do these leaders lead? It is a little like assembling anarchists to form a government.
Fournier scored some public relations exposure with an opinion piece in the Washington Post. He correctly noted that “a viable third party is as rare as a horned horse.” Hey! That could be the third-party symbol. Republicans have the powerful and noble elephant, the Democrats are asses (sorry, could not resist) and the independents could have the never seen mythical unicorn. But I digress.
Fournier goes on to say that the collection of independents represents “a rare-but-real creature in American politics that can systematically dismantle the status quo.” Is that so? The last time a new “creature” successfully challenged and upended the status quo it was the launching of the Republican Party in 1856. Since then, America has been a two-party system and the Republicans and Democrats have been the parties.
According to Fournier, IF – that’s a big if – independents can “be corralled into controlling coalitions in legislatures across the country, including the U.S. Senate, they could find a powerful leverage point to break the partisan fever.” Fournier must be a lot more intelligent than me since I have no idea what this statement even means. I am guessing that IF – again the big “if” – you get enough so-called independents to form a group, a party, you could exert influence. Well, duh!
Who are all those independents in “legislatures across the country” who can be “corralled into controlling coalitions?” There are not a sufficient number of independents in ALL the state legislature to fill even one small corral. Even those two supposedly unaligned independents in the United States Senate have already corralled with the Democrats.
Fournier bases his belief that independents can coalesce into an organized force because there are more of them than registered Republicans or Democrats. His statement may be technically true, but his analysis is terminally flawed. First of all, there are a lot of people who are not registered but are loyal to one of the two major parties. Second, the true independent is as elusive as that unicorn. Most independents lean Republican or Democrat. They vote those leanings even when there is an independent or third-party candidate on the ballot. In other words, not officially signing up with one of the two major parties does not mean a person is independent of them.
To challenge the two parties, you have to get organized and pledge fealty to that organization. Suddenly, you are no longer an independent movement but a third party – and we all know how well they do.
Fournier is correct about one thing. He says that the current system has been rigged by the two parties, making ballot access for third party and independent candidacies akin to the labors of Hercules. But, it is not just the rigging. There is a reason why two parties are the most successful political vehicles in a republic. That is because the political continuum has only two poles – with anarchy on the right and one-person rule on the left. America operates a bit right-of-center on that continuum, ignoring the extremes on either end. Republicans represent limited government and Democrats represent strong central government. It is really no more complicated than that.
Since there are only two philosophic poles, independents and third parties have to attach parasitically to one side or the other. Ironically, to the extent that they do have an influence in an election, they generally work against the party and philosophy they purport to represent because they siphon off votes. There is little doubt that the left-leaning Ralph Nader cost Democrat Al Gore the presidency in 2000 by taking votes away from the Vice President in key electoral states. Ross Perot’s conservative challenge took votes from George H. W. Bush and enabled the more liberal Bill Clinton to move into the White House.
Despite the extreme unlikeliness that independents can rise above their occasional short-term victories, Fournier suggests that the time for the rise of the independents has come. “Nov. 6 could be independents’ day,” he boldly concluded.
Does he realize that the 2018 election is just a month and a few days away? Most candidates who will appear on the ballots are already selected, and there are not a lot of independents among them.
It is very possible – maybe likely – that Fournier’s opinion piece in the Washington Post was written merely to please a client and will have little meaning in the political universe. Hmmm. If that is the case, why I am bothering to respond? And why are you still reading? Next time we can share something more meaningful.