In today’s New York Times ($), the Mustache of Understanding sounds the plaintive lament of the pundit class: the need for a third party.
I’m hoping for a third party. The situation is ripe for one: America is facing a challenge as big as the cold war — how we satisfy our long-term energy needs, at reasonable prices, while decreasing our dependence on oil and the bad governments that export it — and neither major party will offer a solution, because it requires sacrifice today for gain tomorrow.
Now, practically speaking, the institutional barriers to a third party in today’s political milieu are insuperable. But as always, the Mustache trusts his "gut" on this issue. And as always, his gut tells him that the American public is right on the verge of lining up behind the Mustache Plan.
Insuperable obstacles aside, does Friedman have a point? Is it true that "neither major party will offer a solution"?
Democrats recently offered a solution: the Energy 2020 plan. It doesn’t have the gas tax Friedman wants, but it’s got some of the other stuff he mentions. It’s insufficient overall and deeply misguided in some particulars, but if implemented it would certainly be a vast improvement over our current policy situation, a grossly incoherent hodgepodge mainly united by one thread: the giveaway of public money to big corporate contributors.
We know what Republicans would do on energy if they had power. They have it; they’re doing it.
The Democrats have no power to implement policy, and when a party with no power to implement policy announces a set of policy proposals, no one listens — not the press, not Friedman. But that doesn’t mean they don’t have policy proposals.
Beltway pundits strive above all else to be unpredictable, unorthodox, "outside the box." Pointing out that the current batch of Republicans running Washington is corrupt and destructive, and that the Democrats are advancing better ideas, is "partisan." It’s "shrill." Worst of all, it’s inside the box. Boooring.
Nonetheless, almost all these "pox on both their houses" stories are vapid. If one party proposes to do what you want, and the other party stands in the way, the solution is not a third party. The solution is for the second party to stop standing in the way.
(I should say: I have no particular love for the Democratic Party. I would much prefer a Party of David, which implements all the policies I favor, some of which would be classified under the current taxonomy as "liberal" and others "conservative" or "libertarian." But the current crowd of national Republicans are none of those things. It isn’t a party with an ideology or a coherent philosophy of governing. It’s a machine designed to systematically enrich the corporate class. It’s not exaggerating to say that anything would be preferable to that, including Friedman’s imaginary third party.)