Spoiling for a Fight: Third-Party Politics in America

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Overview

More Americans now identify as political independents than as either Democrats or Republicans. Tired of the two-party gridlock, the pandering, and the lack of vision, they've turned in increasing numbers to independent and third-party candidates. In 1998, for the first time in decades, a third-party candidate who was not a refugee from one of the two major parties, Jesse Ventura, won election to state-wide office, as the governor of Minnesota. In 2000, the public was riveted by the Reform Party's implosion over Patrick Buchanan's presidential candidacy and by Ralph Nader's Green Party run, which infuriated many Democrats but energized hundreds of thousands of disaffected voters in stadium-sized super-rallies.What are the prospects for new third-party efforts? Combining the close-in, personal reporting and learned analysis one can only get by covering this beat for years, Micah L. Sifry's. Spoiling for a Fight exposes both the unfair obstacles and the viable opportunities facing today's leading independent parties. Third-party candidates continue be denied a fighting chance by discriminatory ballot access, unequal campaign financing, winner-take-all races, and derisive media coverage. Yet, after years of grassroots organizing, third parties are making major inroads. At the local level, efforts like Chicago's New Party and New York's Working Families Party have upset urban political machines while gaining positions on county councils and school boards. Third-party activists are true believers in democracy, and if America's closed two-party system is ever to be reformed, it will be thanks to their efforts
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Editorial Reviews

David Corn
No one knows third-party politics like Micah Sifry. Spoiling for a Fights delves deeply into the real story of today's outside-the-box politics and the threat posed by third parties to the stuck-in-the-muck two-party system. The past, present and future of America's third-parties: it's all here. —The Nation
Arianna Huffington
Both sobering and empowering. Whether you like Ross Perot, Jesse Ventura and Ralph Nader or want to wring their necks, you've got to read this book.
Newsday
[A] commanding survey of third parties...Sifry demonstrates a remarkable political fluency....His portrayals of the Nader campaign and of Jesse Ventura's upset victory in the 1998 Minnesota gubernatorial election are among the most subtle and incisive accounts I've seen...In a more politically developed country, Sifry's reporting would be the gold standard of contemporary journalism.
Publishers Weekly
[W]ith intelligence, a massive array of facts and a sly wit. Sifry presents a vivid tapestry of the problems faced by, as well the enormous potential promise of, alternative political parties...[He] presents a balanced, important and enlightened new way to think through the political process.
Publishers Weekly
Focusing, to a large degree, on Ralph Nader's highly publicized but unsuccessful bit for the presidency, Sifry, a former editor at the Nation, charts the history and potential of third-party politics in the United States. Arguing with intelligence, a massive array of facts and a sly wit, Sifry claims that our two-party system is a "duopoly" that decisively dictates national politics through control of federal money and does not reflect the views or needs of many Americans. Casting a wide political and sociological net, he explicates the rise of "I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it anymore politics;" explains how third-party candidates can circumvent the lack of federal funding (Ross Perot and his Reform Party had other sources of funding), and a party's lack of profile (Jesse Ventura's American Reform Party relied on the former wrestler's name recognition and an appeal to a working-class constituency). Sifry also documents how alternative groups such as the Green Party or the Working Families Party can work through their constituents' differences to find common goals. In this debut book, Sifry presents a vivid tapestry of the problems faced by, as well as the enormous potential promise of, alternative political parties. Always optimistic, Sifry is never na ve (he details with precision how the Gore campaign countered Nader's popularity by addressing issues raised by the latter without ever integrating them into the Democratic platform) and presents a balanced, important and enlightened new way to think through the political process. (Feb.) Forecast: Sifry's study is a bit too dense for most general readers, who will more likely turn to Ralph Nader's own Crashing the Party (Forecasts, Dec. 17, 2001). Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
For anyone interested in learning about alternatives to the two major American parties, this book is definitely worth reading. Sifry, currently a senior analyst with Public Campaign, a nonprofit election reform group, writes with compassion, if not always balance, about the voter's need for more electoral choices. He chronicles the development of Ross Perot's Reform Party, including Jesse Ventura's successful organization in Minnesota, Ralph Nader's Green Party, and the Working Families Party in New York State. The stories are enriched with quotes and insights from candidates and key players. However, the author fails to explain the drawbacks associated with changes in electoral laws that would permit small parties to win office (i.e., a parliamentary-type system), namely, multiparty coalitional governments, more extremist candidates (some of whom would gain office, as in Switzerland, Austria, and Israel), and further fragmentation of the American electorate. Still, Sifry's work dovetails nicely with Gordon S. Black and Benjamin Black's The Politics of American Discontent (LJ 4/15/94) and is also more readable than that book. Should the reader seek a more balanced and analytical account, Steven J. Rosentone and others' Third Parties in America (Princeton Univ., 1996. 2d ed.) is a classic. Recommended for all public and academic libraries. Thomas J. Baldino, Wilkes Univ., Wilkes-Barre, PA Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780415931427
  • Publisher: Taylor & Francis
  • Publication date: 2/28/2002
  • Pages: 384
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 1.40 (d)

Meet the Author

Micah L. Sifry, formerly an editor at The Nation, is Senior Analyst at Public Campaign, a nonpartisan election finance reform group. He is co-editor of the The Gulf War Reader, and his work has appeared in the New York Times, The Nation, The American Prospect, The Progressive, Salon, Wired and Tikkun.
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Table of Contents

Author's Note and Acknowledgments
Introduction 1
Sect. I Challenging the Duopoly
1 The People Want More Democracy 19
2 The Moment Is Ripe 43
Sect. II Organizing the Angry Middle
3 Mad as Hell, Used and Abused 65
4 The Rise (and Fall) of the Reform Party 85
5 Getting Past Perot 110
Sect. III Organizing the Left
6 Compost Rotten Politics 145
7 Nader's Gamble 175
8 The Duopoly Strikes Back 199
Sect. IV Organizing from the Bottom Up
9 A Safe Way Out of the Box? 223
10 The Little Third Party That Could 258
Sect. V The Future
11 The Prospects for America's Third Parties 279
Notes 311
Index 355
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