Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Time for a Third Party Candidate? II: Automatic Defeat?

Is a third party candidate guaranteed to go down in defeat? That is a serious question, especially in social justice. One of the characteristics of the act of social justice is that it must be effective. We are not permitted to carry out an act just to prove how virtuous we are, especially if, by doing something else, we have at least the possibility of doing something good rather than preening ourselves and accepting God's congratulations on not being like those other people.

We saw in yesterday's posting, however, that a third party candidate does not automatically go down in defeat. Any candidate with a halfway decent platform is viable, especially today, when candidates backed by enormous amounts of money vie to see how much it costs to say as little as possible of any value.

The only reason that we can find for the fixed belief that third party candidates are not viable is in the campaign of the last viable third party candidate in the United States. That was Theodore Roosevelt. Exactly a century ago, Theodore ("Teddy" was a nickname reserved for family and close friends) gave both Republicans and Democrats a salutary lesson and the scare of their lives. This was to such good effect that both parties continue (in their own way) to denigrate or excoriate the accomplishments of one of the most remarkable men in American history.

The problem with that is we have no Theodore Roosevelt today. Neither do we have a true Progressive Party, which today is simply another form of socialism — ironic, in that the Progressive Party took over the job when the Populist Party became too socialist, and the Republicans went reactionary in response to the influence of Aldrich and Taft's betrayal of the progressive cause.

Wilson only won the election by adopting progressive reforms, especially the income tax and the Federal Reserve, taking support from Roosevelt. That's right — an income tax and a central bank run on the banking principle to replace the National Bank System run on the currency principle were populist demands since the Panic of 1893.

Republican legend has it that Roosevelt threw the election to Wilson by splitting the G.O.P. Nothing could be further from the truth. Taft and Aldrich drove the progressives from the Republican Party years before Roosevelt was persuaded to run — which he resisted doing as long as there was hope that the Republicans wouldn't all go reactionary. If anything, it was the reactionary "Old Guard" of the Republican Party that handed the election to Wilson by abandoning the party's progressive accomplishments and driving out the moderates and progressives.

To regain the moderate and progressive Democrats, Wilson abandoned his capitalist support base (that was going to Taft in any event) and adopted the progressive platform in all but name. Wilson was aided not a little by the support of William Jennings Bryan, whom Wilson persuaded to endorse him in return for a place in the government. The help of "The Great Commoner" was essential to garner popular support for Wilson, whose "aristocratic" (i.e., elitist) tendencies and support for capitalism were well known, and whose career as an academic was vaguely sinister to ordinary people who were becoming tired of the crazy theories coming, then as now, out of academia. The "absent minded professor" might be a figure of fun, especially in early 20th century science fiction, but someone to keep out of "real life."

Ironically, Bryan (consistent with his growing pacifism) supported Wilson over Roosevelt in large measure because of Roosevelt's "Big Stick" policy, perceived as unnecessarily aggressive and imperialistic. Bryan later resigned as Secretary of State because Wilson gave in to war pressure — where Roosevelt had won the Nobel Peace Prize for his successful efforts to bring a halt to the Russo-Japanese War and get the combatants to the bargaining table.


During the peace negotiations following the Armistice, Wilson allowed himself to be overborne by the other Allies, something it is difficult to imagine happening to Theodore Roosevelt. Consequently, "the Peace" merely laid the foundation for the Second World War — and also established a hitherto unknown economist by the name of John Maynard Keynes as a leading figure.  This led to the adoption of "chartalism" (now known as "Modern Monetary Theory") virtually worldwide within the space of a generation.

Taft never had a real chance at reelection, for which he was heartily grateful. Taft viewed his term as president as an unending nightmare and a personal betrayal of his friend Roosevelt. He seems to have tried to make up for it as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, and even his opponents said of him that, for someone who made such a substandard president, he made wise and just decisions while on the bench.

Both the Federal Reserve Act of 1913 and the 16th Amendment were considered populist triumphs. They never would have been enacted without the active support of Representative Carter Glass (later of "Glass-Steagall" fame) and William Jennings Bryan when it looked as if Wilson was starting to cave in to the same power centers that had corrupted Taft.

It was only later, when the need to finance the U.S. entry into World War I without raising taxes and the New Deal (a deliberate corruption by FDR of TR's "Square Deal") led to hijacking the Federal Reserve and the income tax to implement the Keynesian theories directly at odds with both institutions, resulting in the gross abuse of both we see today.

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