Monday, October 5, 2009

Discussing Duopoly: An Argument For Infiltration

I wrote the other day about challenging the two-party system of electing our governmental representatives. My interest in the subject was piqued by W.E. Messamore's post at the Humble Libertarian asking whether libertarians should work within the two-party system, or whether we should work harder at strengthening a true third party. My response was that I felt we could do both. Specifically, I mentioned that "I see no reason that we cannot infiltrate BOTH parties, WHILE growing a third party that stands ready to inherit the crumbling pieces of a failing major party."

I was rebutted both in the comments, and in a subsequent post by Damon Eris of the blog, Poli-Tea. Damon focuses very hard on arguing against our current duopoly. He feels, very rightly in my opinion (which I will elaborate on at another time), that our current system detracts from our values of freedom and liberty. To my statement that I see no reason why we cannot do both, Damon responded unfavorably:

One reason might be limited resources. However, as I've noted before, the argument in favor of infiltrating the duopoly parties refutes itself: infiltration shares many of the drawbacks of a third party or independent effort and has none of the advantages; one moment, the would-be infiltrator plainly states that the Republican and Democratic Parties are hostile to the very idea of liberty itself, and then urges that we join up with them in the next; if it is better to work within an existing party than to build a new one from scratch, there are any number of already-existing third parties that would be a better vehicle for political reform than either of the duopoly parties etc.

I would like to respond to Damon's first point first. He claims that infiltration shares many of the drawbacks of a third party independent effort, but has none of the advantages. I disagree. First and foremost, for a libertarian to win the hearts and minds of a republican district by working within the Republican Party, he/she is immediately capable of accessing the resources (read: money) of the Republican Party. To be sure, there is more money available if said libertarian-Republican candidate is going to be competitive in the race, but such will be the case for any Republican Party candidate. If it's a 100% of the time Democratic constituency, it likely makes little difference, since the GOP rarely funds any candidate heavily that it deems cannot at least compete. However, in either the competitive case, or the losing case, the access to re$ource$ being higher presents the opportunity to the would-be candidate to educate the people of the district on libertarian values, moreso than does running from an outside party. Furthermore, the opportunity presents itself to have a larger campaign staff than one might otherwise assemble, thereby bringing more libertarian-minded people into the fold of the major party.

Damon's statement that infiltration shares many of the drawbacks of a third-party effort is also slightly off in my opinion. The majority view of third parties in general remains that they are full of cranks who bring nothing of substance to the table. When discussing liberty and freedom, however, this is truly not the case. Federal level libertarian candidates in the upcoming elections, for example, include the likes of Peter Schiff and Rand Paul, who offer some of the most intriguing ideas to the political spectrum. Both are running for the Republican nominations, rather than for third-party nominations, wherein they would most assuredly be horrendously marginalized. Winning the Republican nominations would find these two high profile libertarian minds running strong races, with GOP funding to back their messages of sound money, liberty, freedom and integrity. Running on a third party ticket, meanwhile, would find them "fighting the good fight," expending enormous time and energy merely to be heard at all.

Responding to Poli-Tea's post "Infiltration or Independence," commenter Samuel Wilson offers the following observation about the argument I've just made:

The infiltrationists act on a belief that the major parties can be converted into exclusive ideological parties that can ignore the imperative to practice "big tent" politics in order to win national elections. They're encouraged in their belief by histories that teach them that it's been done before: by conservatives within the Republican party in 1964, 1980 and arguably in 1994, and by progressives within the Democratic party in 1972. The fallacy is the identification of parties with men: Republicans with Goldwater, Reagan or Gingrich; Democrats with McGovern. Infiltrationists will declare victory if they nominate the right person without acknowledging the structural imperatives that will compromise any victory

Wilson's commentary seems to me to be backwards. He claims that infiltrationists act on a belief that the major parties can be converted into exclusive ideological parties. It seems to me that this is exactly what the people attempting to create prominent third parties are out to do. Where would conservatism have gone had Goldwater and Reagan broken off into new, more ideologically pure parties? Likely nowhere. Where would progressivism have gone under the banner of a McGovern-led third party? Likely alongside Teddy Roosevelt's Progressive "Bull Moose" Party compartment in the dustbin of history.

Wilson incorrectly posits that "infiltrationists will declare victory if they nominate the right person without acknowledging the structural imperatives that will compromise any victory." He claims that we make the mistake of identifying parties with men. The problem with this statement is again, that the premise is backwards. Voters identify with political philosophy. Men have political philosophies. Parties do not. Parties assume the political philosophies of the men that comprise them. When the men with the most attractive political philosophies are chosen to lead the parties, we find great swings in the historical attitude of their corresponding political movements. This is why we remember McGovern, Goldwater and Reagan. They all stood for their political philosophies, and brought their respective parites with them. This is why we do not remember Republicans from 1994. They did not stand for a political philosophy. They argued specifically against what was going poorly. We have been entrenched in a vicious cycle of the political "anti" ever since, culminating in the election of Barack Obama, who was so anti, that people actually thought they were finally voting for something again.

When men and women with sound, attractive political philosophies begin coming to the forefront, and infiltrating the major parties, once again giving people something to vote for, rather than against, we will find the parties moving again more toward respectability. Pragmatism for infiltration seems paramount for moving the country forward in a realistic manner. While fragmentation appears attractive, infiltration practiced by men and women of principle will get the job done much more quickly.


  1. "They all stood for their political philosophies, and brought their respective parites with them."

    The problem with the two-party system, as I see it, is that this is true only rhetorically, which was the point I was trying to make regarding the "sad legacy of Ronald Reagan" in the 'subsequent post' link above. Arguably, the parties followed them rhetorically, with sound bites and slogans, but never actually follow through and put the philosophy into practice. It is a bait and switch. Good discussion, Paul. Hopefully I'll get a chance to respond in detail in the next day or so.

  2. I think you may want to look largely at a lot of the compromises Reagan made under his "big tent" approach. It wasn't so much bait & switch, as it was wanting to keep people on his side, I think. That said, I am one to look far more negatively at how much the government grew because of Reagan. The Laffer Curve, for instance, proved how more money came in via tax revenue from Reagan's policies, but Reagan was never a good steward with all the extra revenue. Think of the position we COULD be in if he had worked to promote responsible federal savings, instead of helping to create a culture of defecit spending!

  3. Hey Paul, I just put up my detailed response at Poli-Tea: