Please suspend your skepticism for a couple of minutes to consider that Bernie Sanders’ campaign for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination has managed to create, intentionally or not, the possibility of achieving the holy grail of progressive US politics: a third political party independent of the Democrats and Republicans.
A new, independently financed political party could make Sanders’ call for “political revolution” and his claim that he is trying to build a movement more than a dream boldly proclaimed by an inspiring, if not quixotic, leader. It could deliberately seek to unify our currently fragmented movement cultures and operate as a vehicle for the substantive promise of Sanders’ “political revolution”: deep institutional and cultural reform. Doing so, it could begin to fulfill our country’s lofty aspirations: a society truly ruled by the people with meaningful input available to everyone, absent discrimination on any basis — race, gender, sexuality, nationality or religion.
Most importantly, perhaps, an independently financed party could seek to define this broad policy platform, not primarily through the input of elite power brokers funneled through the corporate-financed media and think tank complex, but with the input of grassroots leaders already engaged in building such a society.
Painting in broad strokes, this platform could include forms of political and economic participatory democracy and pluralist institutions capable of bringing our society’s investment of its wealth under democratic control. Our economy could be designed not simply to produce more wealth in the aggregate, but also to meet the material needs of all of our people within our planet’s natural limits. And by beginning to move beyond our hyper-competitive culture, where we compete for bountiful resources artificially made scarce by wealth inequality, we can finally acknowledge and materially redress — yes, through reparations — our society’s historic discrimination on the basis of race, gender and sexual orientation.
The Two-Party Political Monopoly
At their core, political parties are fundraising and marketing mechanisms. Over the years, the Democrats and Republicans have achieved fundraising economies of scale that have effectively barred the entry of any would-be competitors. Their collective fundraising monopoly — combined, they spent $7 billion during the 2012 election cycle — has allowed them to dominate the political discourse by financing campaigns, reaping brand recognition from the political advertising that accompanies campaigns, and thereby establishing their legitimacy as the parties who run candidates and do the governing of our country. US politics, especially at the national level, simply does not exist independent of the two parties.
Today’s two parties, like any actors in our market society, are responsive to their investors. Only 0.4 percent of US citizens — a little over 1 million people — gave $200 or more during the 2012 cycle. These contributions amounted to just over 60 percent of the money spent during the 2012 election cycle. Around 28 percent of the 2012 cycle money came from around 30,000 people — 1 percent of 1 percent of the over 300 million people living in our society.
The two-party reliance on the wealthy — especially the very, very wealthy — has effectively disenfranchised large portions, perhaps even a majority, of our society. About half of our society has zero net assets: They don’t have any money lying around to “pay to play” in our democracy. They are politically invisible, effectively without democratic input.