In Tuesday’s New York Times, Matt Bai wrote about the possibility that New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg may run for president in 2012 as an independent. Bloomberg recently spoke at the launch of a new group called “No Labels” which “aspires to build a grass-roots movement for political independents and independent-minded voters of both parties” according to Bai. The group’s motto is “Not left, not right, forward.” Historically, as third parties have gained sufficient support to become nationally powerful, one of the established parties – either the Democrats or Republicans – has altered its own ideaology and co-opted the positions and the energy of the third party. Such was the case with Theodore Roosevelt’s Progressive Party, Strom Thurmon’s States’ Rights Party, Ross Perot’s Reform Party and Ralph Nader’s Green Party.
At their launch, however, all of these third party movements were modeled on the existing major parties. In this article, Bai argues that cultural changes, most notably the internet with its unsurpassed power to organize people and raise enormous sums of money without the need for an unwieldy, major party-like bureaucracy, may have created an environment favorable to the emergence of a true independent political movement in America today.
Certainly the large percentage of voters now registered as unenrolled – in 2010, 52% of all Massachusetts voters were unenrolled, in Lowell, it was 50% – suggests dissatisfaction with the traditional party structure and would seem to be a substantial constituency for a serious third party candidate. Despite Bloomberg’s denials of interest in running for President in 2012, his actions in the coming months bear watching.
The two major political parties have dominated the American political scene since 1856. Tenure that long indicates that for all its faults, our two party political system works pretty well, or at least better than any alternatives offered to date. Still, with all the economic and cultural change brought by disruptive forces such as globalization and the internet, it seems almost predictable that our politics will undergo fundamental change, as well.