Panel: Third political party unlikely to emerge in US unless it fights power with power

Until there is a third party of moderates, political polarization between Republicans and Democrats will not stop, according to the “Can the Center Hold?” panel at The Texas Tribune Festival. 

Former United States Sens. Bill Bradley and Kay Bailey Hutchison; Jon Huntsman, former U.S. ambassador to China and former Utah governor; former U.S. Trade Rep. Ron Kirk; and Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed came to this consensus at the 2014 Texas Tribune Festival.

Evan Smith, the CEO and editor-in-chief of The Texas Tribune, moderated a panel called “Can the Center Hold?”

Smith said that the panel was chosen well because it showcased former US Senators, politicians who had experience an older Capitol Hill generation and were continuing their careers (Huntsman and Kirk) and someone newer to government power (Reed).

“How’d we get here? What’s the situation like right now?” Smith asked for his first questions.

Bradley explained two reasons for the current state of Capitol Hill.

“The role of money dramatically increased. Money dominates the process. You don’t have to fear general election; you fear primary election,” Bradley said. “(Second) there’s polarization due to the gerrymandering.”

Kirk did not necessarily agree that polarization in government escalated over time.

“It may be marginally worse, but because of social media, you didn’t know it was worse (back then),” Kirk said. “You didn’t hear every insult…unless you were sitting on the floor of the Senate.”

Kirk did not talk about social media’s positive role with transparency, but of social media aiding villains.

“My first State of the Union…what I most remember…it was the only time of the U.S. Congress a member of Congress stood up during the President’s speech and called him a liar. The angrier you are and the meaner you are, people seem to reward that,” Kirk said.

The next morning, Kirk said the congressman told peers that he made $1 million on the internet.

“The process of governing is polluted. The question today is ‘What does the opportunity cost?’” Bradley said.

Smith later pointed a question at Huntsman which addressed the level of pollution at governor level—a level which is a partisan office.

“As governor, there’s not a more liberating place in the world. You’re judged day-in and day-out and if it doesn’t happen, you’re tossed out of office. This is called problem solving. You’ve got to make things happen.” Huntsman said.

Huntsman explained that congressmen do not have a problem-solving mentality and it stops progress.

Kirk agreed that voters “expect us to solve (problems) or you get rid of us. That isn’t happening in Washington.”

The most talked-about solution to Washington’s stagnation was a third party.

“We need a third party. If you had a third party, we’d all be in it. Every other mature democracy in the world has hundreds of parties,” Kirk said.

Smith asked Bradley if he could get elected running as a third party or no-labels candidate.

“The money difference is too great. The whole political apparatus is controlled by the FEC (Federal Election Commission), which is half Democrat, half Republican. They would take a third-party candidate for president and smash them,” Bradley said.

Bradley then suggested that, instead of a third presidential party, there be a third congressional party.

“You will never defeat power except by power,” Bradley said.