Sunday, April 17, 2005

Top 10 Reasons the Times Is Wrong

The Times editorial page got it mostly* wrong in its analysis of the state's third parties. Cross-endorsement is good for New York and good for democracy. Here's why:

1. The best response to the Independence Party is to defeat it politically, not legally. The Times is right to have a problem with the vastly disproportionate amount of power Lenora Fulani has through the ballot line she controls. But defeating the Independence Party politically, by exposing its dearth of values and its spectacle of corruption is preferable and less threatening to First Amendment values. Liberal Party R.I.P.

2. Effective third parties are the most effective way to actually fix Albany. The Times editorial page (when it deigns to discuss state issues) is fixated on the need to repair the 'dysfunction' of state politics. In fact, third parties (like guess who) have been the most potent force in starting to break the logjam of dysfunctionality that the Times rails against. By cleaving the legislature's conspiracy of stasis in 2004, the WFP was responsible for both forcing an increase in the state minimum wage and the first step towards meaningful reform of the Rockefeller drug laws.

3. The power of third parties with a distinctive political perspective to cross-endorse solves the "spoiler" problem. Does the Times really prefer a Naderite universe? The ability of a third party -- conservative or progressive -- to offer a way for citizens unhappy with some aspect of the Democratic or Republican parties to still cast a meaningful vote. Voting on the Conservative line for Bush in 2004, for example, or for Kerry on the WFP line, sends politicians an important message without wasting a vote.

4. Cross-endorsing third parties are the best way to enfranchise minority views. Short of proportional representation, which the Times has not supported, cross-endorsement is the most effective mechanism within the American tradition of ensuring that minority perspectives are heard. Winner-take all elections, the American model, discourage (even silence) minority opinions. The ability of potent third parties forces major parties to consider and negotiate with groups that would otherwise be voiceless.

5. The absence of cross-endorsement cements the power of the two-party system. Given the entrenched power of the two major parties and the concentration of wealth and power supporting the status quo, it's VERY difficult for a new political party to grow without building relationships with an existing party. Cross-endorsement permits this. Prohibiting cross-endorsement virtually guarantees that the two-party status quo will never be upset.

6. The Times' argument places it on the wrong side of history (Part I). The movement to abolish political party cross-endorsements around the turn of the century comes from Wall Street special interests, terrified at the potency of the alliance between agrarian and industrial labor movements with progressive forces.

7. The Times' argument places it on the wrong side of history (Part II). The United States is virtually alone among mature democracies in the persistence of its two-party system. Nearly every advanced democracy in the world enjoys the diversity of debate among more than two major political parties. The ability to build multi-party coalitions is a key to the strength of these pluralistic systems. The prohibition on cross-endorsement (the rule in nearly every other state) has retarded the advancement of robust democracy in the U.S.

8. The Times' argument about "party shells" has as much relevance to the State Democratic and Republican parties. The state's most organized political party is actually the WFP -- with more staff and infrastructure than any other party in the state.

9. The biggest problem with political parties -- corruption and patronage -- is not particular to cross-endorsing third parties. Unchecked, unaccountable centers of power tend to become corrupt. Agreed. That's the story of the Liberal Party in New York. But it's also the story of the Republican Party in Nassau County and the Tweed-era Democratic Party in New York City. That's not a problem that's cured by eliminating cross-endorsement. In fact, third parties are one of the best mechanisms available for insurgents to reform corrupt major parties.

10. One voter's ballot "clutter" is another voter's choice. The Times complains about "pretend political parties cluttering the ballot." That's all well and good if you're 100% happy with the 'choice' offered between the Republican and Democratic parties. And you're secure enough in the arrogance of your own opinion to make that determination for every one of your fellow citizens (ah, the power of the printing press). But if you're not that happy, or not that secure, that clutter represents additional voices and additional choices for your neighbors.

Agree? Send a letter to the editor of the Times by e-mailing letters@nytimes.com.


* Mostly wrong because they're right that pols could stop kow-towing to kooky Fulani.

[Comment on this post by clicking on "COMMENTS" below]

5 comments:

Blair Goodman said...

Great summery Alex. The corporare interests the times represents can't win politically so...

Anonymous said...

Way to go! This is exactly right, and why we need fusion. No more wasted votes!

The Times argues that because a particular third party is corrupt, dysfuncitonal and run by cultists, we should get rid of all of them. Well, the Washington Times is corrupt, dysfunctional and run by a cult of loonies--should we repeal the First Amendment?

Anonymous said...

exactly right.

I would add also, that even if fusion by its nature allows parties likes the independence party to rise (though I think that if the media informed the electorare better about third parties this would not be inherent), I fail to see what damage they do to the political system.

Yes, The Independence Party, like the Liberals before them, exchanged their ballot for jobs and other kickbacks, but are never able to really change public policy all that much. And of course, any problems with fusion are outweighed by the potential for increased represenation that fusion parties provide.

To be sure, Bloomberg's use of Fulani is disgusting, but the blame lies on him, not the system itself.
I think NY voters will understand what is happening, Bloomberg will certainly lose some ground because of this, so will the Independence Party.

Anonymous said...

In fact, third parties (like guess who) have been the most potent force in starting to break the logjam of dysfunctionality that the Times rails against.

like when they endorse 18 year incumbents (nick spano) rather than refor democrats (andrea stewart-cousins) costing the reformer the election....

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