This Tuesday marks the end of South Carolina’s latest political tragicomedy as voters select someone to fill Tim Scott’s vacant seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. Through it all, the 2013 First District race gave us everything fans of train wrecks and fiascoes could possibly desire. If nothing else, it put the Palmetto State back in the national spotlight, and once again, for all the wrong reasons.
On the Republican side, a huge field of primary candidates narrowed to Mark Sanford, whose political comeback caused pundits to speak reverently of the forgiving nature of the electorate. The comeback was short-lived, though, short-circuited by Sanford’s sociopathic weirdness. For the Democrats, a smaller field was dominated by a political unknown, Elizabeth Colbert Busch. Colbert Busch spent the primary saying little except that she wanted to be taken seriously and not just as somebody with a famous brother, all the while holding several fundraisers with him. She also devoted a considerable amount of energy trying her best to sound just like a Republican, and she largely succeeded.
At the tail end of this entire political circus act is Eugene Platt, the Green Party’s First District candidate. Platt is not going to win this election. In fact, he probably won’t even get a double-digit percentage of votes. Neither of these things is his fault. It also isn’t the fault of an unsympathetic media or an electoral system rigged to favor the two political parties — or, if you prefer, the two sides of the single political party running the country. The fault lies with the Green Party itself for failing to understand basic politics or to take reasonable steps to get their party taken seriously.
According to their website, the Green Party holds only 133 elected positions in the entire country right now (one of those, in fact, is Mr. Platt). Now, this seems like an excellent record for a political party that has only been around since 1991. However, compared to another populist third party in American history, the Socialist Party, it’s paltry at best.
Between 1901 and 1912, the Socialist Party of America managed to put close to 2,000 American Socialists in elected office, including two members to the U.S. House of Representatives. In 1912, the Socialist candidate for president of the United States, Eugene V. Debs, even received six percent of the popular vote. That might not sound impressive to you, but consider that in 2012 the Libertarian candidate for president received less than one percent of votes.
This is not about ideology, though, or comparing centuries-old vote totals and numbers of office holders. The point is that American Socialists mobilized to win elections beginning on a local level and continued leveraging their success until they could legitimately claim to be near the level of the larger, established national parties.
The Green Party’s attempts at becoming a national party first are a farce. After all, only in the movies does someone receive a bachelor’s degree in business administration and then, through a series of comedic mishaps, become CEO of a multinational business the next week. Yet, this is the approach to politics that the Green Party has taken for two decades. Instead of focusing their time and money on winning local elections and building up a base of support, they squander what precious resources they have by putting up a fight against the entrenched forces of American oligarchy.
In the end, probably less than 30 percent of the electorate will even come out to vote next Tuesday. This is not a failure of civics, but it should be an object lesson to the Green Party and any other group truly concerned about American politics. Polls regularly indicate that anywhere from 40 to 60 percent of Americans do not believe that either the Democrats or Republicans represent their best interests. Roughly this same percentage does not vote, even in presidential elections. Withdrawing in disgust is not the same as apathy, or so the saying goes.
Third parties would do well to find these people and learn to speak to them directly instead of this continued nonsense of crying foul when they’re left out of debates and relegated to the last paragraph of news stories. If the Green Party, or any third party, wishes to be taken seriously, they need to step up and win local elections and show people that they can govern, and not just be a political footnote.