These third-party or independent projects usually have three characteristics in common, with one exception to be noted below. First, the people stoking these initiatives are rarely outsiders—typically, they are the very people for whom the existing political system has been most lucrative. They are lobbyists, fundraisers, political consultants. If there is, as is often alleged, a continuous cocktail party that runs the country from Georgetown salons, this is it. No Labels, for example, was founded by Nancy Jacobson, a legendary Democratic fundraiser, co-founder also of the Democratic think tank Third Way, and a Georgetown doyenne whose husband, Mark Penn, masterminded Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign and runs the third-largest public relations firm in the world.
In other words, if NY City Mayor Michael Bloomberg runs, lots of consultants will get very rich.
the second characteristic of these imaginary third parties or independent candidacies is that they invariably invoke a banal litany from the business world to explain how they will break the “duopoly” of party politics. Since no one does that rap better than New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, let’s turn it over to the master: “What Amazon.com did to books, what the blogosphere did to newspapers, what the iPod did to music, what drugstore.com did to pharmacies, Americans Elect plans to do to the two-party duopoly that has dominated American political life—remove the barriers to real competition, flatten the incumbents and let the people in.”
So Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman and Bloomberg will flatten the incumbents? As Mark Schmitt notes, they are the incumbents!
Third, these efforts are always deliberately vague about policy. While alluding to various sensible goals like clean energy, there’s really just one policy problem that they get passionate about and foresee the imaginary president solving: the federal deficit.
If there was ever any evidence that these "centrist" third parties are nothing more than a Beltway fantasy, this is it. First of all, you already have an entire Republican Party pretending to care about nothing more than deficits (so long as it doesn't get in the way of a tax cut for Paris Hilton). Then you have half the Democratic Party pushing a destructive policy of austerity, and a president who is similarly obsessed with deficit cutting.
Really, the problem with our nation isn't enough focus on the deficit—it's too much focus on the deficit. But it's telling that for deficit-obsessed insiders (everyone must suffer pain, except their friends!), they believe that the issue is a ticket to national excitement and relevance.
It's not, which is why they must go through charades like this one to pretend to be grassroots-y.
Here’s Politico’s Allen again, with executive editor Jim VandeHei, explaining their online primary: “Voters have watched first George W. Bush and then Barack Obama promise to reach out to the other party—then not only fail spectacularly at bipartisanship but make the city’s divisions even deeper.” But the failure here was not principally Obama’s. Nor was it entirely the fault of congressional Republicans. It was the system as it has evolved, a system with too many veto points and too much entrenched power, and one in which money carries too much weight. It’s a system that can be reformed, in ways large and small, but a third party or independent candidacy, absent other reforms, won’t do a thing to the system. And the fact that many of the leading advocates for a third party or independent candidate are so deeply embedded in the system, and are its winners, should make us all even more skeptical about the fantasy.
Atrios has another reason to be skeptical.