Michael Moynihan

Fire the Crackpots of Congress! (And Replace Them with New Crackpots!)

Americans are fed up with the Democrats and Republicans and want change. Except, wait, the third party candidates are a hopeless, foolish bunch of utopians with wild ideas. Michael Moynihan on why the status quo might be OK.

10.27.13 9:45 AM ET

I had never heard of Marianne Williamson before, mostly because I tend not to read books on mystical healing or attend lectures about how “love” is the “answer” to a question no one asked. But according to my more “spiritual” acquaintances (they do occasionally infiltrate my social circle) Williamson is quite well known in the wooly-headed world of New Age philosophy. Her website boasts that “six of her ten published books have been New York Times Bestsellers [sic]. Four of these have been #1 New York Times Bestsellers [sic].” A single paragraph from one of those books, she claims, “is considered an anthem for a contemporary generation of seekers.”

Williamson announced this week that she is seeking both spiritual fulfilment and the California Congressional seat currently occupied by veteran Democratic congressman Henry Waxman, promising to insert a “holistic paradigm” into the Capitol Hill debate. Her candidacy was necessary, she said, because Washington is awash in lobbyist cash and ruled by the “status quo.” Pretty standard complaints. But Williamson suggests that this poison be replaced by a “politics of love,” thus rescuing America from toxic partisanship.

On his Time magazine blog, Joe Klein argued that candidates like Williamson’s could break the hammerlock of America’s two-party system. Her campaign is “not a joke,” he wrote, and “Williamson [could] be the harbinger of a wave of Independent candidacies in 2014.” Let us hope not.

It is true that Williamson and various other independent candidates have arrived on the political scene with binders full of fresh ideas. But it's also true that they tend to be even dumber than what's currently oozing out of Congress’s two chambers.

In the clotted prose indigenous to the crystals-and-homeopathy set, Williamson offers something like a Tea Party-infused leftism: “Compassion need not, indeed should not, be considered synonymous with profligate financial expenditure,” she writes in Illuminata: Thoughts, Prayers, Rites of Passage. “It means simply a mental commitment to accept the possibility of options we have theretofore not considered. Love does not cost money. Throwing money at a problem, it is true, is not always the answer. But throwing love at a problem always is.” And Williamson so frequently invokes God that she starts sounding like Louis Gohmert strung out on good vibes.

A few recent effusions on the Arab Spring (“Israel, Palestine, Love,” “To Syria with Love”) don’t inspire much confidence either. The Middle East, Williamson says, channeling fellow Californian Jeff Spicoli, is “this most gnarly of geo-political (sic) conflicts.”

It’s tough to engage with politics this airy and substanceless. Williamson does, though, often punctuate these brainwaves with a quote from Gandhi or Martin Luther King, two interesting thinkers whose ideas are usually borrowed by those who aren’t. She has the stock quotes memorized, constantly unleashing them on her audience. Gandhi said: “The end is inherent in the means.” Einstein averred: “There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is.” Martin Luther King declared: “We have a power within us more powerful than bullets.” Lovely stuff, but someone should tell the future congresswoman that every one of these quotes is apocryphal.

If the softness of Williamson doesn’t appeal, there's always Jesse Ventura. In 1998, Ventura was elected governor of Minnesota, embarrassing a state that previously had nothing much to be embarrassed about. These days the former wrestler is making the rounds on Crossfire, The View, and Piers Morgan, debating on television issues once only muttered by people who sleep in bus stations. The former member of the Reform Party believes that his non-aligned politics could liberate Washington from the political “gangs” running the country. Like fellow 9/11 “truther” Roseanne Barr, who in 2012 attempted to capture the Green Party nomination, Ventura is now threatening to run for president on a platform that amounts to little more than throw-the-bums-out populism.

If you're interested in another crackpot desperate to upend the orthodoxy, to dislocate the criminals of capitalism and imperialism, try Cindy Sheehan, the scourge of George W. Bush and author of a recently self-published monograph honoring ex-authoritarian Hugo Chavez: she's running for governor of California as the Socialist Party’s candidate. “Of course, even though there is just a hairbreadth of difference between the two parties,” Sheehan wrote recently on her blog, “what partisans are saying is that what they really want is a One Party State.” And if you’re keeping score, she too is a 9/11 “truther.”

America, these are your third-party candidates, a cast so outraged by the atrophying of American democracy that they now demand it be replaced by various types of bizzaro utopianism.

And the time is ripe for them. According to Gallup, “60 percent of Americans say the Democratic and Republicans parties do such a poor job of representing the American people that a third major party is needed.” A recent USA Today poll, taken after the shutdown debacle, suggests that more than half of Americans want everyone in Congress ejected, possibly to be replaced by an army of non-partisan robots. A new Fox News poll captured America’s longing for a new Ross Perot, with 64 percent considering “voting for a third party presidential candidate.”

When one considers the array of ideas and sub-ideologies contained within the two major parties, one must also ask: what are we desperately missing? Who would these third parties be? If the Republican Party is in the throes of a civil war, perhaps the Tea Party wing will defect and form a Liberty Party (or some such). When the next rupture in the Democratic Party arrives, perhaps the Keith Ellison and Alan Grayson brigades will create the Henry Wallace Party. In other words, the same ideas we have now, fractured and placed under a different banner.

So why are we locked in this two party system? And is it really such a bad thing? Do we want a political discourse that is semi-coherent, truculent, and occasionally enraging to be replaced by one of conspiracy theory? Instead of thunderous House-floor pronouncements on Obama’s post-colonial vision of Albanian Marxism for America, will we be left with soothing House-floor pronouncements about the wisdom and mysticism of the Native American?

I too despise our political leaders—halfwits and charlatans all. But I despise those clamoring to replace them even more. And I welcome a flurry of third parties to the negotiating table. But if you think American politics is ugly, messy, and overly ideological now, just wait until it fractures into a dozen narrowly partisan groupsicles moaning about love and 9/11.