Thursday, December 22, 2011

A third party you can disregard: Americans Elect

I opened a conversation last week about third-party candidates, and lately it seems that everyone else is catching on (and catching up). Today's lesson is that there is one third-party movement to be avoided, and it's Americans Elect. First, some background.

Americans Elect is a collection of Republicans, Democrats and independents who say they are frustrated with the polarization that has caused U.S. politics to seize up and are looking for a unity ticket that would help the political process run more smoothly and responsively.

“It’s going to happen,” said Mark McKinnon, the Austin-based strategist who crafted the George W. Bush message in 2000 and 2004, but backed Barack Obama in 2008. “The system is completely paralyzed, and people have lost confidence in all the institutions of government and the political parties. And things are getting worse.”

McKinnon also is one of the founders of No Labels, a centrist organization that seeks to nurture the “politics of problem solving” and to create space so lawmakers can work with counterparts across the aisle.

No surprise; they want good old Dr. No. (Everybody wants that racist gasbag, except for those Americans of all political persuasions with the slightest remaining sanity).

The name most frequently connected to a third-party presidential effort is no centrist: It’s Ron Paul, the libertarian congressman from Texas.

Paul insists he has no intention of running for president as a third-party candidate. Now seeking the Republican nomination, he was the Libertarian Party candidate in 1988.

Talking to Fox News’ Sean Hannity last week, however, he seemed to leave the door slightly ajar.

“I don’t like absolutes — I don’t like to say: ‘I absolutely will never do such and such’ — so I am just avoiding the absolute,” Paul said.

George Will ain't buyin' it -- and is scared shitless.

So, assume three things. That Obama is weaker in 2012 than he was when winning just 53 percent of the vote in 2008. That Paul could win between 5 percent and 7 percent of the vote nationally (much less than the 18 percent that a recent NBC-Wall Street Journal poll showed were prepared to vote for Paul as an independent). And that at least 80 percent of Paul’s votes would come at the expense of the Republican nominee.

That link is worth reading start to finish; however let's move past this digression to Paul and return to Americans Elect.

What Americans Elect has done is fashion a new twist to the quadrennial quest for a credible third-party contender. Instead of an outside party, it has crafted a parallel nominating process: a nonpartisan online convention. Anyone with a valid ID and an Internet hookup is eligible to become a “delegate,” and candidates can either register by completing a questionnaire or be drafted by popular support. Through a series of online ballots, the slate of contenders will be whittled down to six in April, and then to a single winner in June. In keeping with the group’s shibboleths, the nominee must tap a member of a different party as a running mate, forming a “unity ticket” that will occupy the chasm in the political center.

For a political start-up, Americans Elect has Establishment-grade cash and credentials. Its roster is dotted with veterans of Washington warfare, both Democrats and Republicans, who have grown weary of both parties’ penchant for pandering to their fringes. Schoen recently authored a column that cast Occupy Wall Street as a “radical” uprising that was “dangerously out of touch” with American values. Another adviser, Mark McKinnon, served as George W. Bush’s media strategist but declined to reprise the role in 2008 out of respect for Obama. Also on the group’s board are a battery of business executives; Dennis Blair, Obama’s former Director of National Intelligence; and Christine Todd Whitman, the moderate former Republican governor of New Jersey. A framed column by New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, which predicted that the group would do to politics “what did to books,” hangs in the hallway of its airy 10th-floor suite, from which you can glimpse a sliver of the White House three blocks down Pennsylvania Avenue.

And there's the problem with AE: moneyed power brokers are behind the movement. And in the spirit of this cycle's Super PACs and Citizens United, you don't get to know who they are.

The dingbats behind “Americans Elect,” a shadowy centrist third-party effort to get an Internet petition onto actual presidential ballots, refuse to reveal who’s funding their efforts, because their donors are very worried that someone might call them dingbats.

That’s what reporters on an Americans Elect press call learned today, according to Dave Weigel. When Politico’s Ken Vogel began asking difficult questions about why the group hides its donors, a spokesperson said it was because of “fear of retribution.”

Americans Elect COO (and son of the group’s chairman) Elliot Ackerman explained what this “retribution” might look like:

But hang on: What sort of retribution were we talking about? “My father, Peter Ackerman,” offered the group’s COO Elliot Ackerman. “He’s been mischaracterized in the press frequently.”

Sragow wasn’t about to let this suggestion fly — this idea that working with AE wasn’t dangerous. “Don’t suggest that there is no retribution,” he said. “Nobody who’s spent 10 minutes in politics could think that.” He’d been vilified for participating in the group. He’d been attacked and insulted. “Fortunately, in this country, we don’t use molotov cocktails literally,” he said. “We use them figuratively.”

So! Random unknown billionaires will fix our politics by paying an unknown third-party candidate’s way onto our ballots, but we must never know who did this or why, because someone might “mischaracterize” them, with figurative Molotov cocktails. Yes, that makes perfect sense.

As with every other link here: follow it, read the whole thing, and follow the links there.

Now if this does sound like your bag, then just know that besides Ron Paul you'll likely have 'man of the people' choices like Michael Bloomberg and Donald Trump to pick from.

The only way you'd be wasting your vote on a third-party candidate is if you paid any attention at all to whatever Americans Elect comes up with.

1 comment:

Katy Anders said...

Great links! I am a fierce advocate of third parties.

They've been responsible for many of the best ideas ever to percolate up through the political system and become law.

But here's the thing: third parties are almost ALWAYS most effective on a local level.

Fake third party movements - the Reform Party, the Constitution Party, various and assorted cults of personality masquerading as parties - are doomed to fail.

Trump? Paul? Bloomberg? These guys don't seem to be the solution to the problem of the big parties.