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."