The Counter-Intelligence Of Third Party Movements
On October 25, 2011, 5:16 PM by Savannah Cox
Rich in ideals but lacking in ideas, how the rise of anti-partisan movements undermine their own goals.
As the American presidential election looms in the not-so distant future, political polarization has thrust formerly functioning parties into the depths of dysfunction and replaced them with vengeful factions that are fueled only by the other’s failure. It is not about fixing the economy anymore; it is about fixing the stage for the next election. While our economic fate may have already been sealed due to the political paralysis that has dominated the legislative scene, its exacerbation or amelioration hinges on the results of the 2012 Presidential election.
Heterogeneous and drawing from a panoply of activist groups, the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) movement has gained formidable power since its inception in mid-September. Despite Obama’s efforts to identify with OWS and mimic their fervor in his stump speeches, gravity has pulled the Obama Administration from campaign ambitions and dragged down Obama’s popularity in the polls. The fear, as John Nichols so aptly stated in a column in The Nation, is that the “movement might well develop into a virtual primary challenge for Obama.”
Because of Obama’s limited powers to enact the changes the OWSers so adamantly demand, bipartisan disenchantment and manifested outrage concerning current problems have largely distracted the left from how much worse things could be in the future. Thus, the stage is set for the emergence of appealing third party candidates at a juncture of extreme uncertainty. If history is to serve as any kind of guide, casting votes to emergent third parties leads only to the opposite of what political break-aways want.
1844 marked one of these pivotal Presidential elections. Largely divided on the issue of slavery, a sect of northern abolitionists did not seek to gradually abolish slavery; they demanded it then and there. With roots in the Second Great Awakening scene in New York, the Liberty Party canvassed the city and used then-modern media like the printing press to champion their cause throughout the state. Analogous to the Occupy Wall Street movement, Liberty Party members were often subject to violence throughout their work.
Despite being dubbed the “Great Compromiser” by many and an “ideal man” by future president Abraham Lincoln, the Liberty Party was disenchanted with Whig Henry Clay’s moderate stance on slavery. To them, he was not active or vehement enough in abolishing slavery in spite of the inconvenient reality that the executive branch at the time had little constitutional power to combat the issue directly. Thus the Liberty Party’s unrealistic goals of immediacy resulted in a significant vote for James Birney, which, as many speculate, cost Clay the state of New York and the election as a whole.
By voting directly against Henry Clay, the Liberty Party indirectly voted for a man whose ideals were the antitheses of their own. These individuals instead cast their ballots for James K. Polk, a pro-slavery expansionist who sought to annex Texas as a slave state even if it meant manipulating grounds for war, as was the case in the Mexican-American War. In his later years, Civil War hero and President Ulysses S. Grant called it “one of the most unjust wars ever waged by a stronger nation” and also “[followed] the bad example of European monarchies.” As a consequence, there was no immediate end to slavery, but rather a seemingly boundless extension to the West via his argument to extend the Missouri Compromise line to the Pacific Ocean and territory gained from the Mexican-American War. Polk’s policy of expansion at whatever the cost did not result in the mending of sectional schisms but the promulgation of policies that would eventually lead the nation to Civil War.
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