Party On!

“All political ideas cannot and should not be channeled into the programs of our two major parties. History has amply proved the virtue of political activity by minority, dissident groups,” wrote Justice William O. Douglas. He’s quoted in the closing chapter of former Nation editor Micah L. Sifry’s Spoiling for a Fight, as Sifry takes a look forward after leading readers through a detailed account (in firsthand reporting, many times) of the experiences of modern, organized political alternatives, from Ross Perot and the Reform Party to Buchananism, Jesse Ventura, Ralph Nader and the Greens, and beyond.

“The corruption, dishonesty, and sheer ossification of the two-party duopoly are producing its antithesis: the search by millions of Americans for a meaningful alternative,” Sifry observes. It is the bloc Joe Klein in Newsweek called the “radical middle,” E.J. Dionne in the Washington Post the “anxious middle” and Sifry himself the “angry middle.” Having spent a good chunk of the past four years observing Greens from New Mexico to Maine, Sifry declares that they “are not going away–especially as long as the duopoly keeps avoiding serious issues like unbridled corporate power, environmental degradation, economic inequality, and political corruption.” Perhaps the most inspiring part of the story is in New Mexico, where Greens have drawn double-digit support three times in races for Congress.

Sifry finds at least thirty-eight third parties “active at various levels of meaningful organization,” though twenty exist in one state only. He maintains that four–the Greens, the Libertarians, the New Party and the Labor Party–have serious aspirations of reaching the broader citizenry, but three single-state parties–Minnesota’s Independence Party, Vermont’s Progressive Party and New York’s Working Families Party–“have something to say to the rest of the country” as models. He devotes much of the book to close-ups of these parties, plus the ill-fated Reform Party, interviewing strategists, discussing electoral results, analyzing the import. It’s a more comprehensive, in-the-trenches treatment of the subject than appears anywhere else. (Sifry begins his book with a ride in the elevator, election morning, with Ralph Nader; despite a philosophical affinity here, though, the book is more objective than fawning in its look at this notable third-party campaign.)