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Declaring Independence: The Beginning of the End of the Two-Party System Hardcover – February 5, 2008
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From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. Is the U.S. ready to elect a third-party president? Campaign consultant Schoen, who calls American politics "dangerously mired in a dysfunctional two-party system," gives the question a tentative "yes," and he is in a position to know: his firm has advised top presidential campaigns for over 30 years, and is currently helping New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg weigh his options as a potential independent candidate. Looking at the "large-scale trend that could open the door for a major third-party candidate," Schoen uses extensive polling to contend that the next election will be decided by the 35-40 percent of the electorate fed up with "partisanship and the extremist wings of either party," a group Schoen calls "Restless and Anxious Moderates." He also considers other factors bolstering a third-party effort, including the rising importance of the internet and the 24-hour news cycle, and looks back at the history of third-party candidates, especially 1992 independent presidential hopeful Ross Perot. While a third-party candidate might not win in 2008, Schoen shows, he would provide-as Perot did-an important role in shaping the political agenda, invigorating debates and encouraging consensus between the two major parties. A cagey and comprehensive look at the weaknesses, and promises, of the American political system, Schoen's analysis is as convincing as it is timely.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
About the Author
Douglas E. Schoen was a campaign consultant for more than thirty years with the firm he founded, Penn, Schoen & Berland. He lives in New York City.
Top customer reviews
Douglas Schoen is a political consultant and strategies. As such, he is able to insightfully read and interpret poll data and also outline winning strategies. The first part of his book looks at recent poll data in order to make a strong case for why people are more likely than ever to accept and vote for a candidate not Republican or Democrat. More and more people are voicing dissatisfaction with party-line-politics and registering as independents. More and more votes are up for grabs.
Also, Schoen goes through the varied and wonderful history of third party candidates, from the "know nothiing" and "dixiecrat" parties, to respetable bids by George Wallace, John Anderson, Ross Perot and Ralph Nader. Even though none of these candidates won their eleciton, Schoen points out that they all did remarkably well considering how stacked the decks were against them (decks that can be restacked thanks to emerging technology).
This brings us to the next section: Schoen's optimistic detailing of how third party candidates could do better than ever in our current climate. The internet, 24 hour news, the blogosphere, etc., are making it easier and easier to get around many of the hurdles third parties once faced. Need quick mobilization from grassroot supporters? Shoot an e-mail and post a message to your blog. Want to get good airtime? Youtube can be just as effective as CNN. Schoen points to Howard Dean and Jesse Ventura (former Minnesota Governor) as prime examples of canidates who harnessed these tools to good effect. And little did Schoen know, but republican "fringe" candidate Ron Paul would confirm all of Schoen's points by using technology in exactly these ways (even beating the one-day fundraising record of any candidate in history!)
Now, what I did not like about the book is that on several points, Schoen is simply wrong. He appeals to third parties to provide a strong middle-voice against a two party system he says that is polarized and radicalized. Of ocurse, he neglects that all the existing third parties (socialist, libertarian, constitution, etc) are located very far from the political center, and that many polls show that people percieve the two parties as too similar, rather than too different. (And let's not forget that the closest thing to a successful third party bid in '08 was Ron Paul's - far from the center, ineed.)
The other thing is that Schoen predicted that strong third party candidates could come along in '08 and use the power of this new technology to their advantage. What he forgets is that this technology could also be successfully employed by the two major parties. In fact, many will agree that the Obama campaign used the internet very effectively, helping him to win the '08 elecitn (without any strong third party showing). If anything, this weakens Schoen's case that the third parties were much more likely to employ the power of the internet before the Republicans and Democrats.
Still, Schoen's is an argument that needs to be heard. I do think he is corect that too many people vote for the Republicrats because of a "lesser of two evils" mentality ("I hate McCain so I guess I'll vote for Obama."). Were a strong third party voice to emerge, I do think that they COULD use Schoen's advice for good benefit.
Unfortunately, I guess we'll have to wait until 2012.
Call it Synchronicity or just plain coincidence, but it was only seven or eight months ago that I was discussing the field of candidates for the presidential race in 2008 with some of my fellow political junkies and I made the (at the time) bold remark that "if there was ever a time for a third-party candidate to make a successful run for the White House, 2008 could be that year because of the polarization of political thought in this country by the politicians themselves and the widespread dissatisfaction with the performance of both major political parties." I did not know that others were thinking along the same lines. I'm pleased to see that my proposition has been somewhat validated by a political professional such as Douglas Schoen. I don't feel like a such a "kook" now.
I left the Republican party myself many years ago and refused to join any other party simply because of what I perceived to be a failure of a principled response to the major issues I saw impacting our society. I could not determine a real difference between the Democrats and the Republicans when it came to actually "doing" something as opposed to simply "talking" about it. From that time on, I guess I looked on myself as an "Independent," but without an independent party to join. As close as I came during one election cycle was to think about signing up with the Libertarian party because I was impressed with its candidates at the time. Schoen informs us that independent voters now constitute the largest group of the electorate, so I don't feel so alone now. I'm finally the member of some majority for once!
This book provides the reader with an excellent general background of the third-party movements which have occurred in our history and why most of them failed. He also provides an excellent overview of the problems which any third party is going to face, including the very serious problem of getting on the ballot in the first place (and the shameful practices of both major parties in trying to prevent ballot access to other parties). The author also provides the reader with extremely helpful charts and graphs to illustrate the statistics relevant to his topic.
I think one of the most valuable chapters in the book deals with the role of the Internet in national elections and the possibilities it presents for third-party enhancement. The growth of so-called "social networking" on the Web, as well as the development of "interactive" websites and specialized websites, search engine optimization, instant video, text messaging, and, especially, the proliferation of "blogging" will undoubtedly play significant roles in making it possible for formerly unknown candidates and third parties to take their case to a large public. And to do so on the cheap, so to speak. As Schoen points out: "All these items add up to one incontrovertible conclusion. We'll have access to campaign news all the time. You'll know more than you ever did before about any potential candidate, and you'll know it sooner and in greater detail."
Deliberate or not, the timing for the publishing of "Declaring Independence" couldn't have been better. I see more enthusiasm among young people for politics and the upcoming election than I've seen in years. And I've been around more elections than I suspect Mr. Schoen has. (I can recall vividly the Truman-Dewey race from the newsreels we kids saw at the Saturday matinees.) With the sort of interest that now seems to have been generated among the young voters in our country, I would urge these young voters to read Schoen's book and consider the possibility of going from a rather dull and dingy two-party system to supporting the idea of a three- or even four-party system that could provide a broader range of candidates and solutions to the issues before us.
The author is to be congratulated for bringing this important subject to the public at this time. His book is timely, informative, provocative, and insightful. Can't ask for much more than that. Highly recommended.
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