Reading various comments on attempts by religious right and neocons to steal the momentum of the Tea Party movement for their "vision" of the Republican party, as well as reading the organized hatchet jobs on Ayn Rand in the mainstream media (eg, New Criterion), I continue to wonder (as I have for decades without firm resolution) if there isn't value in a true third party. Is the Republican Party beyond redemption? I bring this up despite the inevitable criticism that a third party can't do anything except steal votes that keeps democrat statists in power. Yet, if the religicons keep hold of the Republicans, is that any better?
Until the Tea Party movement, I'd accepted the fact that a third party mainly takes votes from one party's candidates--Republicans, usually--giving advantage to the other party in most elections. In that context, a third party is destructive (unless the Republican candidates are worse).
After Massachusetts, I'm not so sure. If a third party came along today and was very selective about where it ran (always pick your battles so you don't look weak), I wonder if it could be quite successful and influential in shaping the course of politics in this country, even if it only won a few members office in Congress in the near term.
In locales with a large population of independents, I think a third party with a platform constructed to appeal to rational voters who uphold secular government and freedom could draw votes from both Republican and Democratic candidates representing the status quo. I've noticed for some time that neither party represents significant numbers of people today.
That's partly what the Tea Party is a reaction against. Who represents the patriotic, gun-toting guy who wants to get rich and doesn't want to be taxed to death for global welfare programs, but who doesn't think religion belongs in government, has nothing against hard-working immigrants who want to be Americans, and thinks it's nobody else's damned business what a woman does with her body?
Steve Bailey is running here in Colorado as a Republican, and I know nothing of his chances--he's got Left-Wing Boulder in his district, I think. But I never in a million years would have thought a Republican could have taken Ted Kennedy's seat, and certainly not so decisively.
My lack of knowledge of the details of politics makes me highly unqualified to have an opinion, but that's never stopped me before, so I'll say: I think a secular third party (the Tea Party) could do well in targeted places fed up with big government and religion and bad schools and anti-U.S. bashing and any number of other things. Maybe selected districts in California qualify. That would be an excellent counterattack against the neo-religicons trying to subvert the Tea Party message, because it would do an end-run around all their flacks controlling the primary and caucus process. (Remember, that's how the religious conservatives grabbed the Republican Party in the first place.)
I think our opponents are missing the point that when the independents (as in Massachusetts) outnumber the main parties and pull equal numbers from either party in an election, an independent can win. So better to create a party for the independent and give him an intellectual message and a coherent platform to attract like-minded candidates and voters. Better than making him the odd man out in a party of losers.
P.S.: See http://messenger.yahoo.com/features/emoticons/ for explanation of that title.