Longtime members of the Libertarian Party – and even more so, former members of the LP who long ago dropped out – know that third parties in America face enormous obstacles.
• They don’t have the name recognition or automatic respect granted to the two major parties.
• Fundraising is onerous and burdened by restrictive regulations that are designed by the incumbents for their benefit.
• Third party candidates, like all nonincumbents, have none of the perks of office, such as franking privilege, that make reelection easier.
• As a third party, one has to fight against the entrenched interests of both other parties.
But now I realize there is one party that could routinely run and win, facing none of these obstacles. And it seems to be forming. It’s called the Incumbent Party.
Its major candidate this year will be formerly Democratic Sen. Joseph Lieberman. Although losing by four percentage points in the Democratic primary, Senator Lieberman – given his name recognition, incumbent status, and appeal to Republicans – is already ahead in Connecticut polls by 12% in a three-way race (Quinnipiac opinion poll, Aug. 17).
As an incumbent, he has all the perks of office at his disposal, even running as an independent. Because all incumbents find it generally in their interest to support incumbent reelection, the national Republican Party is not supporting the Republican candidate for Connecticut’s senate race. And I expect that national Democratic figures will back Lieberman, even campaign for him, against the official Democratic candidate in the state, Ned Lamont.
The Incumbent Party avoids almost all of the problems that face traditional third parties. They have name recognition and the respect automatically granted to officeholders. Rais- ing money is much easier for an incumbent. As of July 19, Lieberman had coffers of almost $3.5 million and Lamont only $350,000.
All of the perks of the Senate are available to Lieberman, including friendly fellow senators making campaign pitches for him. President Bush has indicated he won’t take sides in a race between Lieberman and a Republican, which admittedly is the least he could do after publicly bussing him on the lips.
Members of the Incumbent Party don’t have to fight against the entrenched interests of the major parties. They embrace the entrenched interests of the major parties.
It seems the Incumbent Party has all the benefits that traditional third parties fail to achieve. The only thing it lacks is the desire to change the system in any way whatsoever.