3rd Party or 3rd Rail?

My friend and ORG board advisor, Micah Sifry, riffs on a Thomas Friedman column suggesting that the stage might be set for a 3rd political party. In fact, Friedman is partly riffing on Micah, quoting him in his NYTimes PayWall column. Dissatisfaction with the Dems and the GOP is not surprising. When you’ve been serially dating two people for years and can’t stand either one, your eye is sure to wander. Micah points out, citing Ross Perot in 1992,

Could it happen again?

Well, here are some harbingers. The latest USA Today/Gallup Poll shows that disatisfaction with the direction of the country is today at levels that echo the 1994 election that swung the House from Democratic into Republican hands. This November, that may mean big gains for the Democrats, but by 2007, if the country is experiencing more partisan gridlock, conditions might be ripe for an independent or third-party bid for president.

And, as Friedman writes, the two major parties are hardly demonstrating much leadership on the critical issues facing America, like our dependence of carbon-based fuels and the global warming crisis.

And while the tinder may be dry, new technology guarantees that a third-party fire would spread quickly. In 1991-92, remember, people sneered when maverick candidates like Jerry Brown and Ross Perot used 800-numbers to go around the mainstream media and connect directly with grass-roots volunteers. Not so today, in the Age of Connectedness.

Ah yes, that pesky Age of Connectedness. Not a surprising sentiment from one of Mrs. Sifry’s boys.

Bricks, Mortar or Bits?

If you had unlimited funds and support, you’d start with some idea about what it is that a political party does and how to go about building one. Micah and I have discussed this, and we agree on some basics. It’s unlikely you’d start by renting 50,000 feet of prime DC real estate and order up a bunch of Aeron chairs and cubicle modules. You’d recognize that the core of your party will be the web services it offers and the on- and off-line organizing that your web service supports.

A political party purports to be a vote delivery system. It blesses candidates and positions and convinces people to show up on election day and make a meaningful gesture. It operates a Geographic Information System (mostly on paper) to do that, since some geography is more important than others. Its workforce is mostly volunteers but knows nothing about the genius and passions and potential energy of those volunteers. Above all, a party is credited by its candidates for getting them elected, even when it doesn’t.

Any force that does those things is a 3rd (through nth) party. It only earns the third party label if it has an effect on the real parties.

Building a First Party

Why build a 3rd party when you could build the First Party? Why not imagine a hostile takeover of American politics? There’s only one force strong enough to hijack the American political system, and that’s the American people. The stage is set for open source governance, which is the only political dynamic interesting enough to work on. I’m far more intrigued by interesting large-scale problems than by fine-tuning around the margins of a broken system. So is the American electorate. So, what’s next?

Our tiny band continues to toil away on our warez. Micah has invited me to present ORGware at Personal Democracy Forum on May 15th. I’ll make a formal announcement of our political marketing strategy for 2006. Our grand vision is not so grand, really – it’s mostly driven by how late we are to the, well, party. We think we have some useful approaches to inspiring user thought and engagement and building aggressively viral sites from those raw materials. If that’s right – a BIG If – then our platform can host lots of conversations about lots of issues and lots of candidates.

Get Yer Democracy Samples Here!

Govern Early and Often. That’s the secret to successful campaigning in this Connected Age, so beloved by the Brothers Sifry. Why hound people for donations when it’s easier to hand out free Democracy Samples? Democracy in the Connected Age means a broad and deep conversation that leads directly to specific platforms and legislation. Yep, we’re talking laws and lawmakers representing the common sense of those who help craft the and wording of the laws, in large enough numbers that it shifts the political landscape (governing early and often is described in more detail near the bottom of this page).

While your opponent is out mouthing sound bites, spending expensive donations on consultants and their expensive message, try governing on line and partnering with whoever shows up. If your message is and participation is galvanizing, your support will grow, will migrate off line and will carry the day.

If your message and participation is not galvanizing, why bother? Since we won’t have time to sell ORGware for the fall, we’ll just set up sites for those candidates and issues that appeal to those with common sense. If nothing else, we’ll learn what needs the most improving, but with any luck, the site will do what any political party does – deliver votes – without the money part.

11:02:24 AM    

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