November 8, 2005 > What about the 'other' parties?
What about the 'other' parties?
by Todd Griffin
Have you ever wondered what the Peace and Freedom party is really all about, or what the "Greenies" believe? Most of us have a reasonable notion of the Democratic and Republican philosophies. While the vast majority of our elected officials represent one of these parties, we have a multi-party system in the United States. In fact, there are more than 100 "third parties" with millions of registered members. Here are brief overviews of a few of these minor parties and their "party lines."
American Independent Party
The AIP should not be confused with candidates who run as "Independents" and are not affiliated with any political party. The AIP was founded by Governor George Wallace of Alabama, who defected from the Democrats to run for president in 1968. Amidst a climate of racial violence and the struggle for civil rights, Wallace ran on a platform centered on racial segregation. He carried 14 percent of the popular vote and five southern states. The AIP fielded presidential candidates in several subsequent elections, but none garnered more than about one percent of the popular vote. In recent elections the platform has emphasized tax reduction and Christian family values. The AIP is now affiliated with the Constitution party in California. The New American Independent Party, formed in 2004, claims no affiliation with the AIP.
Communist Party USA
The CPUSA has been in existence since the 1920s. It was essentially a front organization for the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, until the dissolution of the USSR in 1991, and was largely funded by the Soviets until then. No CPUSA candidate has even been a serious contender at the national level, though William Foster managed a fourth place finish in the presidential election of 1932. Today, the party remains active in promoting its "anti-capitalist" and anti-corporate policies, focused on redistributing wealth from the corporations and the rich to the poor and middle-class. It strongly supports labor unions and has endorsed several pro-labor Democratic candidates in recent years.
The CP is a relatively new party, founded in 1999 as a coalition of several smaller parties and political factions, including the American Independent Party and the U.S. Taxpayers Party. It embraces a Christian-oriented platform, representing the "religious right." The CP is staunchly opposed to abortion, taxes, gun control, and gay rights, and supports prayer and related religious observances in schools and other governmental bodies. The 2004 CP presidential candidate, Michael A. Peroutka, placed fifth, and the party expects to continue fielding candidates both locally and nationally.
The GP is best known for its two-time presidential candidate consumer-advocate Ralph Nader. Nader won a fourth-place finish in the 1996 election, behind Ross Perot. He finished third in 2000, with nearly three million votes, amidst criticism from Democratic leaders that he was damaging Al Gore's campaign against George Bush by soliciting support from Democratic voters. The GP's left-leaning platform is based on environmentalism, feminism, and pacifism, and includes a strong anti-corporate message. Despite Nader's repeated candidacy, the GP remains somewhat loosely organized at the national level, billing itself as a "federation of state Green parties," but it does have strong local groups in many areas, including California. The Green Party is often confused with the Greens/Green Party USA, which is a smaller, more extreme environmentalist organization. To further confuse the situation, "the Greens" or "the Greenies" are terms sometimes used to refer to one party or the other, or to both collectively.
The Libertarian philosophy revolves around the concept of personal freedom: less government, lower taxes, and the legalization of "victimless" crimes, such as drug use and prostitution. Founded in 1971, the LP claims to be the largest third party in terms of membership and office holders. There are more than 100 Libertarians holding public office at the local level, and the LP, with affiliates in all 50 states, routinely places candidates on ballots across the country. Its best showings in presidential elections were third-place finishes in 1984 and 1988. LP presidential candidates have finished fourth or fifth in each subsequent election. In recent years, the LP has been weakened by defections to the Republican Party. The most notable example is 1988 LP presidential candidate Ron Paul, who is now a Republican congressman.
Natural Law Party
The NLP was based on the teachings of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, and enjoyed brief popularity in the 1990s. It advocated Transcendental Meditation and other New Age approaches to addressing the problems of the country and the world. After finishing seventh in the presidential elections of 1996 and 2000, it unsuccessfully attempted to control or influence some of the more established third parties before closing its doors in 2004. Some NLP adherents still operate independently and field candidates at local and state levels.
Peace & Freedom Party
Members and supporters of the PFP include hard-line Communists as well as a broad collection of left-wing sympathizers, ranging from relatively moderate to radically extreme. The party has put forward some notable presidential candidates, including Black Panther Eldridge Cleaver (1968) and author Dr. Benjamin Spock (1972). The party was formed in the 1960s, in opposition to the Vietnam War, and has been in decline since the 1970s. However, the PFP is still very active in California, where it places candidates on the ballot for a broad range of state and local offices.
Ross Perot formed the RP in 1995 as a vehicle from which to mount his second presidential run. His largely self-funded 1996 candidacy achieved a very respectable third place finish, with over eight million votes. Composed almost entirely of Perot followers, the party platform was one of moderate conservatism. But in 2000, Pat Buchanan won a legal battle to gain control of the party, and turned it further to the right. Using the RP's matching funds as a springboard, Buchanan won a fourth place finish in his 2000 presidential bid. Following the election, Buchanan abandoned the party, which fell into some disarray. It endorsed Independent Ralph Nader in 2004. The RP has been revived somewhat recently, with a more centrist platform stressing governmental ethics and fiscal responsibility.
Socialist Party USA
The SPUSA is a left-wing, anti-Communist, pro-labor party with a rich history in American politics. Unlike many parties promoting Socialism, the SPUSA espouses a pacifistic approach of electoral change, rather than violent protest or revolution. Founded in 1900, it was a significant force in national politics in the early decades of the 20th century, before being relegated to a very minor third party as a result of internal dissension and splintering. The SPUSA has made a weak comeback in recent decades, and placed a presidential candidate on the 2000 ballot.
Socialist Workers Party
Though the SWP dates back to the 1930s, it currently promotes a Marxist Communist platform modeled on Castro's Cuba. Its politics are radical and militant. The party has fielded candidates in every presidential election since the 1940s, and continues to appear on ballots at state and local levels in California and many other states. The SWP is not limited to U.S. politics; it is closely affiliated with the SWP in the UK and socialist movements worldwide.
The following sources were used in the preparation of this article; they will provide more information to the interested reader.
American Independent Party- www.aipca.org
Communist Party USA- www.cpusa.org
Constitution Party- www.constitutionparty.com
Green Party- www.gp.org
The Greens/Green Party USA- www.greenparty.org
Libertarian Party- www.lp.org
Natural Law Party- www.natural-law.org
New American Independent Party- www.newamericanindependent.com
Reform Party- www.reformparty.org
Socialist Party USA- http://sp-usa.org
Socialist Workers Party- www.themilitant.com
General Information on Political Parties- www.politics1.com
Election Results- www.washingtonpost.com; www.cnn.com