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The problem with third parties

Philadelphia Daily News columnist John Baer gets Third Party Fever:
WANT AN alternative to a 43-precent-job-approval president and whoever the Republican "Gong Show" offers? Fed up with Obama but afraid of the right?
Well, there's a move afoot, kicked off by a billionaire biz guy, to nominate a centrist, bipartisan ticket through a national online convention.

It's scheduled for next June, run by something called Americans Elect and open to all registered voters.

Its pitch: Pick a president, not a party. It plays to national disgust with Washington gridlock, Democratic disappointment in Obama and GOP angst over the Republican field. And it isn't a bad idea.
It's not a great idea. It would be nice to break through the Washington gridlock on occasion, yes, but electing a third party president won't do much to end that. If you're really wanting to shake things up, you've got to start electing Americans Elect candidates to Congress.

That's arguably harder to do than fielding a candidate for presidency. To run for Congress, you've actually got to develop a local constituency, and to do that you probably need to have an agenda somewhat more detailed than "those guys suck"—voters need to know, generally, what you stand for and what you'll try to get accomplished in office. And if you actually get to Congress, there's no guarantee that your presence there won't further calcify the divisions.

But Congress, not the presidency, is where the gridlock is. Third party efforts suck because they focus on the unattainable goal of hitting a home run and capturing the presidency; it skips the hard work that would really be needed to field a consistently credible alternative party.


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