The Real “Third Rail” in American Politics

5 | By Shah Gilani

A third rail sometimes runs alongside (or between) the twin rails of a train track to provide electric power to the train.

You don’t want to step on these high-voltage rails, unless you’re game for the shock of your life, or death, as the case may be.

In politics, the “third rail” is a metaphor for an issue that’s “charged” enough that, by supporting it, you risk derailing your career.

Me, personally, I get a real charge out of political discussions, especially contentious issues.

But there’s one “third rail” in politics that no-one ever seems to want to talk about.

And I don’t understand why.

It’s not even charged. In fact, it’s more of a non-starter for most people. They don’t get electrified by it; they get indignant, as if you’re stupid if you even bring it up.

Okay, call me stupid…

To me the real “third rail” in American politics is that there is no real third party, or fourth or fifth party, for that matter.

There’s nothing in the Constitution about parties or the need for a two-party system.

There’s nothing in any of the Founding Fathers’ personal or public papers, or anything anywhere on any Revolutionary battlefield, or in the dispatches from Constitutional conventions, or ratification assemblies, or anywhere in our history that even suggests or hints at a two-party system.

In fact, in Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and Jon Jay’s Federalist Paper No. 10, we are warned that: “A zeal for different opinions concerning religion, concerning government, and many other points, as well of speculation as of practice; an attachment to different leaders ambitiously contending for pre-eminence and power; or to persons of other descriptions whose fortunes have been interesting to the human passions, have, in turn, divided mankind into parties, inflamed them with mutual animosity, and rendered them much more disposed to vex and oppress each other than to co-operate for their common good.”

The problem with a two-party system is that both parties are opposition parties all the time. There’s no room for compromise. There’s no middle ground.

This is where we are in America today.

We don’t have the fruits and balance of a divided government. We are a nation divided by two warring parties.

Federalist Paper No. 10 also warned us that:

“Enlightened statesmen will not always be at the helm. Nor, in many cases, can such an adjustment be made at all without taking into view indirect and remote considerations, which will rarely prevail over the immediate interest which one party may find in disregarding the rights of another or the good of the whole. Complaints are everywhere heard from our most considerate and virtuous citizens, equally the friends of public and private faith, and of public and personal liberty, that our governments are too unstable, that the public good is disregarded in the conflicts of rival parties, and that measures are too often decided, not according to the rules of justice and the rights of the minor party, but by the superior force of an interested and overbearing majority.”

My message today is this: Our two-party system isn’t working. It’s too divisive. It’s turned us into a nation of two opposing sides, when there aren’t just two issues we face – there are thousands.

It’s high time we send a clear message to the Republicans and Democrats that they don’t speak for all of us, and more often these days, they don’t even speak for most of us.

We need a third party to electrify the electorate.

Personally, I’m hoping Ron Paul steps out of the two-party system and becomes a third-party candidate. And I hope Ross Perot backs him.

Paul is different.

And America needs to be on a different track.


5 Responses to The Real “Third Rail” in American Politics

  1. Jonathan says:

    Even though the Constitution doesn’t mention a two-party system, the current voting system effectively leads to a two-party system. For third parties to be effective, there must be something like an “instant run-off” election system where if nobody gets a majority, then peoples’ 2nd choice counts if their 1st choice is not one of the top 2 candidates and their 2nd choice is.

    Without that, third parties just introduce a degree of randomness in the election results.

  2. chet random says:

    Excuse me? I hope Ron Paul steps out also, but for different reasons.

    Paul is anything but a consensus builder. What would happen to the environment? Let’s let oil companies drill on your watershed? How about renewable energy? No government incentives, let the market decide? I don’t think so–read HOT, FLAT, AND CROWDED (T. Friedman). Ron Paul is a polarizing candidate and Ross Perot more so. Most of the time, Paul oversimplifies complex problems: “that’s obvious: don’t fund it”.

    With 7 billion people on this planet, we need creative solutions to complex issues that aren’t going away anytime soon. I applaud your insights, and this article is no exception, up to your last four sentences. We need a brilliant leader with a global vision and a comprehensive historical understanding the influence of the inhabitants of the earth, and of science and technology (the critical tools of change) to run, no to lead this country. That’s not Ron Paul.

    He would provide a good counter-point and I welcome that.

  3. Geoff Thomas says:

    I would like to support your contention of the inadequacies of the two party system, – in Australia we also have basically a 2 party system and likewise in our constitution is no mention or requirement of parties at all.
    In fact I suspect that parties are not compatible with the true functioning of democratic Government, they are really survivors of the pre-democratic systems, – old ghosts still walking, and doing much harm.
    A third party is a good start in terms of reducing the absolute power of only two parties. and reducing the galloping polarisation we are now experiencing,aided and abetted by media conglomerates pushing a particular party and accompanying attitude sets.
    Long term perhaps parties may need to be made illegal or severely restricted.

  4. Vic Campbell says:

    You lost me on that one. I thought you had some pretty good thinking skills — and you do — so I like to read what you are thinking. BUT ….

    Two parties are inevtiable given the electoral arrangement required for the maintenance of the Republic. We know the founders were appalled by the idea of a popular vote for president and thus the concept of a senate to balance the popular house. Likewise the selection of a President depends on “winner takes all” state electoral votes.The current arrangement will simply always flow to two parties dominating the final selection. But think about it, in the end — no matter how many parties there are – the last vote will be between a winner and a loser – so it eventually winds up between two parties anyway.

    THIRD PARTIES in the Presidential elections ALWAYS destroy votes for the next best choice of the third party voter. In a PRESIDENTIAL election a logical voter (in our current system) would vote for his least worst choice of the two major parties. His third party vote for his third party candidate would not be a wasted vote but a negative vote for his next best choice (a postive vote for his most worst choice).

    THERE IS a solution to bring third parties more into the full debate (Presidential elections) but it will require a tweak to the general election process. This would be the AUTOMATIC RECOUNT voting process (used in some European countries) in which every voter is given a choice to vote for his FAVORITE CANDIDATE and also casts a second choice vote on the same ballot. This way third party candidates would hold sway in a debate and also have potential to move to the winner’s slot – though likely the second choice vote would go to one of the major two parties to settle the winner of the electoral votes in a state. It is a start though. And as you have noted – it is indeed a third rail. To make this change in election processes would take far more courage than I think our Congress can muster.

    So we are stuck with the Two Party domninance at the national level. Meanwhile, third parties can make progress at state levels where the critical (Republic maintaining) elements of electoral voting systems are NOT required. And thinking people can continue to promote the concept of “First and Second Choice” with automatic recounts for Presidential elecitons at the state electoral level.
    I also have a theory about the effectiveness of our congress. It involves the margin of votes in the majority for both houses. There has not been a SOLID margin for both houses in many years now except for Obama’s first two years. These “low margins” leave a frustrated president and frustrated congress and poor results with legislation in any direction until a “tipping point” happens and strenght through margins is restored to one side or the other.

    Sucks – but that is what we have. I think we woud be much better off if YOU would just take over the country and run it – or even if I would take over the country and run it. Sadly, we will have to put up with lesser mortals in congress and the presidency for a good deal longer.

  5. John Duggar says:

    You support a Ron Paul third party because he’s differerent? Bernie Sanders is different too, but that doesn’t make him any kind of third party candidate. While Paul may be out in front for challenging the Fed’s massive errors, he is way behind on working towards any of the regulatory reforms that you have addressed in the last few months. In fact, he’s said nothing I’ve heard about the damage caused by the financial industry. His ideas about our very complex economy appear to be a short set of ridiculous simplifications that amount to 19th century, backwoods laissez-faire. Ross Perot was the only credible third party candidate in the last 50 years, but he just dropped out after he lost. Why don’t you find another one like him to support–only not so eccentric, and someone willing to hang in there an fight for reforms over the long-term instead of just feed his own ego?
    Thanks for the great newsletter!,

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *