Could a Viable Third Party Emerge in the U.S.? (September 1, 2009)
Japan's recent election boosted a new party into national power by a landslide. Could that happen in the U.S.?
Japan's voting public recently tossed out the sclerotic, entrenched Powers That Be (the Liberal Democratic Party, LDP) in favor of the upstart Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ). Given the lock on power maintained by the LDP, Japan was essentially a one-party state for the past five decades. Other than a brief dalliance with another party in 1993 (and only in the Upper House of the Diet), the Japanese public continued empowering the same old party hacks and the same old alliances of rural constituencies, the construction industry, global exporters, zombie banks/ insurers and government ministries.
And the public's reward was economic stagnation and devolution for the past 20 years. Japan is an extremely conservative, traditional culture--don't let the wild youth fashions fool you. Patience and forebearance are national virtues, and it took two decades of malfeasance, corruption, incompetence and abject failure to wear through the public's conservative bias for the status quo.
After all, hadn't the LDP alliance delivered decades of growth that had become the envy of the global economy? Hadn't Japan, with only 125 million citizens, become the second largest economy in the world?
But like political Elites everywhere, perhaps the LDP was delighted to take credit for a trend which had little enough to do with their leadership abilities and everything to do with Japan's cultural capital: a reverence for education, an obsession with quality, an appetite for hard work and a keen awareness of Japan's modest natural resources.
It was not the LDP's strengths which created the 30-year boom but its weaknesses which created the 20-year "lost decades." Structural flaws in governance abound in Japan, and it would take a deep understanding of the structure of Japanese society and history to explicate them all. I will summarize just two: due to way districts are weighted, rural voters hold outsized sway over their far more numerous urban kin. Secondly, the dominance of crony capitalism and State collusion is not some malignant aberration which replaced a golden, purer version of free-market capitalism: Japanese "capitalism" was always founded on the marriage of crony capitalism and State ministries.
Financially, Japan's banking system is opaque and its corporate shareholders hold little power; collusion and cronyism reign supreme. Add these factors together and you have the pefect setup for Elite over-reach.
As the structural flaws in this cronyism and State management eroded the underlying economy, the status quo engaged in simulacrum "reforms" which left all the Power Elite players firmly in command. Safely in charge, they proceeded to squander 20 years hiding their incompetence, collusion, corruption and applying duct tape to the structure as it slowly came apart.
The parallels to the U.S. are not trivial, but deep. Here in the U.S., crony capitalism collusion with State Elites (the Fed and Treasury, the executive branch, toothless regulatory agencies captured by Wall Street and political hacks, etc.) has duct-taped together a structurally flawed economy by expanding debt and expanding the class of debt-serfs to carry that debt: stupendous mortgages, consumer debt, student loans and of course all the public debt, which debt-serfs and their children will pay for as taxpayers.
A few years after Japan's property and stock bubbles burst in 1990, a collapse which devastated the wealth of the average household, the Japanese public elected an alternative leadership in 1993. But it was all for nought; the "reformers" were still firmly controlled by the Old Elite and their "reforms" were so shallow and meek that literally nothing changed. The Old Guard was reluctantly swept back into office--what alternative was there?
It took 15 years for a new party to coalesce around three groups: disaffected politicos from the LDP, consumer advocates and young activists willing to investigate the corruption and gross incompetence which was rife in the corporate-government Elites. This is an unstable gathering of forces; if each group focuses on its differences with its allies rather than the common ground, the new party could collapse into ineffectuality.
Regardless, the status quo has been dealt the first body-blow of a long struggle to free Japan from the iron grip of a failed Elite of crony-capitalists and Central State managers.
Here in the U.S., young reformers gathered behind Barrack Obama, seeing in this young leader a future of "change." But alas, the Obama administration is so riddled with Wall Street Elites and their lackeys that "change" has been less than empty: Obama's administration has given the rentier-financial Elites they could possibly want, and masked the reality behind simulacrum "reforms" and various special-interest giveaways masked as "stimulus."
Perhaps Obama's election will parallel the failed Japanese attempt at true reform in 1993. Does anyone really believe either the Democrats or Republicans are capable of real reform? How could they, when each is beholden to the Power Elites?
Third parties in the U.S. have typically been centered around one individual's ambitions to bypass the usual Power Elites (Teddy Roosevelt, Ross Perot, et al.) or "safety valve" movements such as the Socialist Party which were quickly co-opted by one of the existing parties.
Nonetheless, on rare occasions, political parties do arise and replace imploding older Elites: the Republicans replaced the Whigs, for instance. Is it possible that the grand failure and fundamental corruption/collusion of both the Democratic and Republican parties could lead to the rise of a new political party in the U.S.?
Again, Japan offers some interesting parallels.
The leader of the new party which just gained power had quit the LDP back in 1993. Are there any politicos in the current Republicrats who have the courage and conviction to realise the parties are hopelessly compromised and corrupt? If so, we will know it when they quit the parties and accept political exile as the only way forward.
Could the young activists who worked so hard to back Obama accept that he is just another tool of the Power Elite? Perhaps after another two years of disappointment, some might be willing to accept the reality that the only differences between the parties is who tailors their suits (if that--maybe they use the same tailors, too).
Could a group of Americans finally realise that the political and corporate/financial Power Elites will never enact fundamental reform of the system which enriches them so mightily? Could this group--shall we call them "consumer activists"?--seek to form a new party which places the interests of households, consumers and wage earners above those of the rentier-financial/party Power Elites?
I think the Democratic Party of Japan offers a working template for the development of a viable new national party and thus national progress. As long as the average American voter (the 40% who bother voting) keeps re-electing the sclerotic parasitic Demopublicans (Tweedledum wears a blue suit, Tweedledee wears gray) then "change" will continue to be a simulacrum: phony, shallow, a sham presented by the organs of propaganda (the mass media) for the consumption of a credulous public.
Here's a wild thought: since the two failed parties each take about 20% of the potential voting pool (only 40% vote in the U.S.), then if even 30% of the U.S. public roused themselves from the sofa and voted for a new party, that party would sweep into power. The failed, corrupt Republicrats could each get their 20% and then be soundly trounced by the new party's candidate who drew 30%. (About 70% of eligible Japanese voters turned out for this election--an interesting contrast with apathetic, passive U.S. citizens.)
Here are the key ingredients of a viable new party:
1. The usual suspects which fund the Old Guard must not find a new home: that would be the unions and all the other Power Elites: the investment banks, the pharmaceuticals, the "Defense" industry, the trial lawyers, etc. Their money and their participation must be politely rejected lest they co-opt and thus destroy the new party.
2. A few break-away Old School politicians who could provide credible leadership while the party grew.
3. Consumer advocates--middle-class citizens of all ages who are tired of being lied to and manipulated, tired of being ripped off, etc.
4. Young activists who are willing to devote their energies to investigating and exposing all that the political and corporate/banking Elites strive to keep obscured and secret. When the corruption, cronyism and collusion have been exposed, year after year after year, then eventually the general public--poorer, more insecure and frustrated than ever--will finally let go of the comforting illusion that they share any real interests with either of the two corrupt parties of collusion.
5. Insiders willing to expose the machinery of collusion and cronyism. The Status Quo will move rapidly and violently to suppress whistleblowers, but without these courageous citiznes then the full extent of the rot cannot be exposed.
If these parts slowly self-assemble, a viable national party could become possible. We should note that it took 15 years for the process to reach critical mass in Japan; there were many half-starts and disappointments along the way.
As I read the blatherings, obfuscations and rationalizations of the existing political class, it seems to me the most honest voices tend to be Republicans who are not Power Players. These are the few who openly note that the Status Quo is about to crash into demographic shoals and financial over-reach. I would like to hear some Democrats speak openly about the unsustainability of entitlements, Empire and debt, but I haven't heard any. Maybe they exist, but if so they keep a very low profile. Only when politicos quit their party can their credentials be stamped.
Based on this anecdotal evidence, I would anticipate the break-aways who could found a third party, or lend their weight to one, would be disaffected Republicans, those few sick of the lies, collusion and baggage of the current Elites.
Yes, I understand Japan is a parlimentary system and the U.S. is not. But the key idea here is that the formation of a new national party follows a certain track regardless of the political system.
If the U.S. voters are in a hurry, perhaps a new party could take power in, say, 2020. Interestingly, that aligns with the 80-year cycle proposed in The Fourth Turning .
There are numerous forces converging which suggest a radical transformation lies ahead. Here are a few titles for your consideration:
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