The Third Party Waste of Time

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Oct. 4 2010 8:31 AM

The Third Party Waste of Time

I like the demolition job that Steve Benen did on Tom Friedman's umpteenth column about how anger at Washington could produce a third party movement -- led, weirdly, by friends of Tom Friedman.

[W]hat would be better than "pretty good"? A more ambitious healthcare policy that conservatives blocked; a more ambitious stimulus thatconservatives opposed; a comprehensive energy/climate package thatconservatives killed; more crack downs on Wall Street thatconservatives have vowed to fight; and an education reform agenda thatthe president has already launched.

In other words, Friedman has effectively endorsed the entirety ofPresident Obama's agenda, most of which has passed, can't pass, or hasto be severely watered down because of unprecedented Senateobstructionism. But instead of calling for reforming the legislativeprocess, or calling on Republicans to start playing a constructive rolein policymaking, or calling on voters to elect more candidates whoagree with the agenda the columnist espouses, Friedman says what we really need is an amorphous third party that will think the way he does.

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It's the Columnist Trap, making a good hook more important than a good point. But it makes you wonder why, say, endlessly banging on about filibuster reform would not be a better gimmick than endlessly banging on about third parties. I know that Democratic staffers on the Hill are frustrated with how little coverage "secret holds" and filibusters get, and are convinced that most of the country fails to understand just how badly things get ground down in the Senate. (Case in point -- several Republican ads this year attack the Democrats' total control of the Senate, which isn't actually total countrol, as the party keeps losing votes by failing to get to 60.) So why do liberal columnists muse about magical unicorn solutions instead of working over the filibuster? Is it because they think the latter subject is too obvious or dull? It isn't!

If you're a conservative columnist, I see why you don't care about this. To a point. It's very easy to say that "the founders intended the Senate to move slowly" or something, but the practical effect of endless 60-vote roadblocks is the sort of compromise that turns out awful legislation and limits the horizons of the partisans people want in office -- on judicial nominations, ambitious attempts to shrink entitlements, and so on.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. You can reach him at daveweigel@gmail.com, or tweet at him @daveweigel.