Tuesday, December 22, 2009


Two issues have been under the radar screen lately that have been in the news in a peripheral way. Those issues are the Tea Party's new found prominence and the possibility of a third party and the vilification of the filibuster used in the Senate.

Let's begin with some history. The history of third parties in the US is checkered at best. For the most part they have been fringe movements that were like a meteor that shone brightly and then flamed out leaving little evidence of itself. Some movements have, however, been influential, if not electing a candidate, at least changing the political landscape.

The most successful third party was the Populists of the 1890s. They were concerned with securing a fair treatment for the nation's farmers, concentrated mostly in the south and the west. This was the group most negatively affected by the Gilded Age. Most of the benefits were concentrated in the north and the east and gave rise to a group popularly known as the robber barons who numbered among their group such names as John D. Rockefeller, Andrew Carnegie, Cornelius Vanderbilt, etc.

The Populists' platform featured a graduated income tax, nationalizing the railroads, telephone, telegraph, low-interest loans to farmers, and free coinage of silver. The Populists reached their zenith when their candidate, William Jennings Bryan, was co-opted by the Democrats in 1896, and 1900 to run against William McKinley for president. He lost but he and the Populists placed many of the farmer's issues into the forefront and they gave rise to their spawn, or forward thinkers, depending on your perspective, the progressives.

I offer this passage from the great history text by David M. Kennedy, Lizabeth Cohen, and Thomas A. Bailey, The American Pageant, 12th Edition, page #613 and 614:

Yet the Populists, despite their oddities, were not to be laughed away. They were leading a deadly earnest and impassioned campaign to relieve the farmers' many miseries. Smiles faded from Republican and Democratic faces alike as countless thousands of Populists began to sing "Good-bye, My Party, Good-bye." In 1892 the Populists had jolted the traditional parties by winning several congressional seats and polling more than 1 million votes for their presidential candidate, James B. Weaver. Racial divisions continued to hobble the Populists in the South, but in the West their ranks were swelling. Could the People's party now reach beyond its regional bases in agrarian America, join hands with the urban workers, and mount a successful attack on the northeastern citadels of power?

My point is that the Populists and later the Progressives certainly had a monumental effect on the country. Certainly in hindsight, they should not have been taken for granted by the Democrats and Republicans of the Gilded Age. Can the Dems and Repubs of the 21st century afford to repeat the mistake of ignoring this growing movement? Polls continue to show that dissatisfaction with both parties is growing and unless the parties begin to listen they may suffer consequences at the polls. Memo to both parties: STOP SPENDING WITH NO RESTRAINTS. STOP PRINTING WORTHLESS MONEY AND DRIVING US INTO BANKRUPTCY. START LISTENING TO YOUR CONSTITUENTS. STOP THE POWER GRAB.

As for the filibuster, let's talk. The filibuster in some form or other has been around since the Roman republic. It has always been part of legislating and probably always will. Reading Paul Krugman's column today gave me an unexpected laugh. Paul's a little upset at the filibuster of the Health Care Bill. His main rational was that it wasn't in the Constitution. That's interesting coming from a guy who doesn't let the Constitution get in the way of progligate spending when it's done in the name of job stimulus.

It's not in the Constitution is a statement that is continually thrown back at constitutional conservatives when it is used to make a point about the Health Care Bill, the almost $800 billion stimulus bill, TARP, Cash for Clunkers, seizing GMC, Chrysler, bailing out the big evil Wall Street firms, and the myriad other spending bills that those of us who are too stupid understand what's good for us are against. It's not in the Constitution. Really?

Our Founding Fathers were worried about runaway majorities and the filibuster is a brake on that. They feared a "tyranny of the majority." I would caution my friends on the left who are so put out by the filibuster, be careful what you wish for, you might just get it. With the normal ebb and flow of politics in America, you could find yourself in the minority without any kind of mechanism to make yourself heard. Arrogance can lead you to feel that your power is forever. Remember that ancient tyrants would parade their enemies in chains through the streets of their cities in order to demonstrate their power. But the wise tyrant assigned a slave to whisper in his ear during the procession, "All power is fleeting."


Leslie Parsley said...

It's been awhile since I studied my history, so I enjoyed the section on third parties. I'm sure you're well versed in that area.

I found a very interesting piece on the history of the filibuster rules in congress but now I can't put my finger on it. This may be of interest until I can find the other - can't believe the length of the URL.


TRUTH 101 said...

Filibuster isn't going anywhere. And that's a good thing.

The gang of 14, I think that's what they were called, got together to prevent the "nuclear option" from coming to fruition during the Bush years.

I forgot who I argued tyranny of the majority with on L Comment's blog. But the filibuster can at least give the minority some leverage.

Law and Order Teacher said...

The filibuster has a long and interesting history. Krugman is right, it isn't in the Constitution. Interesting argument. I'll check out the link, thanks.

I agree. Sometimes the filibuster gives us all heartburn. At least it gives the minority a say. I was really not happy with the attempt to do away with the filibuster in the case of the Bush nominees. I didn't make me happy, but I understood it. Unlike some of my conservative brethern.

Oso said...

I really need to fill the gaps in my US history knowledge.I'd thought the Dems were the party of business with the Reps having more worker/farmer support up till the late 1890's.

But if the Dems incorporated Bryan into their party-to me that would indicate a commonality with the Populist platform.

Law and Order Teacher said...

The Dem party during the years after the Civil War really was non-existent. The only Dem president from 1868-1900 was Grover Cleveland, 1885-1889, 1893-1897. The next Dem president was Woodrow Wilson, 1913-1921.

Post Civil War the Repubs were the party of business with presidents, Grant, Hayes, Garfield, Arthur, Harrison, and McKinley.

The last two decades of the 19th century are commonly referred to as the Gilded Age, a term coined by Mark Twain in his book of the same name.

Leslie Parsley said...

I don't think Harkin is trying to kill the filibuster but rather decrease the number of votes for cloture.

Law and Order Teacher said...

I would submit you can't do that without killing the filibuster. If you have 60 votes and a good piece of legislation it should be easy to get it through. This one seems to be finding rough sledding. I wonder why? Thanks for the visit.

Will "take no prisoners" Hart said...

The fact that the 2 parties have seemingly been hijacked by their extremist elements is something that tells me that a centrist third party could feasibly emerge. Of course, that could just be wishfull thinking on my part.

Law and Order Teacher said...

I'll comment on your site. Thanks for the visit.

Will "take no prisoners" Hart said...

I see you like anything with Duke Wayne. I like anything with Montgomery Clift. We should probably kick back and watch "Red River" sometime. Now THAT is a classic.

Law and Order Teacher said...

Fair enough. Some adult beverages would also be in order. Thanks for the visit. Merry Christmas to you and yours.

Ducky's here said...

That's interesting coming from a guy who doesn't let the Constitution get in the way of profligate spending when it's done in the name of job stimulus.


You can question these levels of deficit spending as sound economics but I don't see how you can question it on a Constitutional basis.

Also remember this, high deficits prevent additional social programs and it was Saint Ronald Raygun himself who figured that out and the deficit has become a conservative tool ever since.

Ducky's here said...

A the filibuster ... grease a couple of Senators and any business interest can pretty much have their way.

Another example of why this government is incapable of sound governance or reform. We are way down the rabbit hole and it is a structural problem not a matter of Dem vs. Rep.
This government can't govern.

Law and Order Teacher said...

Thanks for the visit. I don't about being down the rabbit hole. I think the filibuster, while cumbersome at best, is a necessary brake on a runaway majority.

As the deficit, I have always said the spending that is out of control is deleterious to good government. Social programs for the most part of good money after bad. Sorry, but most of them are an exercise in bad politics and even worse government. Good day sir.