A friend engaged me in a political discussion earlier this week. He said, “We are overdue for the creation of a third political party.” His lament related to his strong feeling that the Republicans, influenced by the Tea Party faction, have been pulled strongly to the right. The Democrats, in contrast, influenced by Senators Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, have moved strongly to the left. Those who take a moderate center position are left with no party and no leadership.
I was reminded of a William Butler Yeats poem called “The Second Coming,” that was written back in 1919 and has often been quoted. Thus, the following:
“Things fall apart, the center cannot hold.
More anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocents is drowned.
The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity.”
If ever there was a time when “the center cannot hold,” and “the worst are full of passionate intensity,” it is now. We seem to have no middle ground. Everywhere we see the extremes. The “passionate intensity” of radio talk show hosts suggesting the use of violence on those with whom we disagree, tell us to act on our most base instincts. Even our president suggested that campaign protesters should be attacked. “That’s it, hit him in the face.”
When Yeats wrote “The blood-dimmed tide is loosed,” could he have envisioned the mayhem that has been unleashed on several elementary schools across the country? Could he have foreseen the tragedy of events in many of our cities?
Congressmen and Senators have been elected after having committed that they would not compromise on political issues. (That, despite the fact that the very definition of politics includes the word, “compromise.”) That has led to the least productive Congress in history each of the past three sessions. The answer to why nothing of substance gets through Congress is easy to assess. Those who represent the extremes in political philosophy refuse to compromise to the middle. So, nothing gets done. The result is that the public’s rating of congress is the lowest of all time, and with good reason.
So, would a third political party with a middle of the road philosophy win elections? History tells us the answer to that question is, “No.” A third party candidate has only won the presidency once in history. Think hard and you will remember who that third party candidate was. In the 1850s the Republican Party was that third political party. It was organized in 1854. Abraham Lincoln won the election of 1860 as a Republican, a third party candidate. No third party candidate has placed closer to the top than third in a presidential race since. Still, if it happened once, it could happen again.
We are long overdue for “the best” of Yeat’s poem to regain their convictions. Our tendency is to refer often to “they” in Washington D.C. In truth, the key word is “we.” We get who we vote for. Several things should be on the list we use to evaluate a candidate for office but “character” should top that list.
“If we are to survive as a democracy governed by the ballot and not the bullet, we had better act fast to regain our footing. If we don’t the ‘anarchy’ foreseen by Yeats in his poem of 1919 will leave us without the moral and political climate to lead the country, much less the world, in the century ahead.” The signs tell us we are approaching that precipice.
I am indebted to a friend, John Stringer Rainey (now deceased), for the closing quotation above. He shaped my thinking on this subject with an article he wrote for the South Carolina State Newspaper in February 2011.