Every four years, someone comes along to write a terrible piece advocating for a third party, usually basing their argument on their own idiosyncratic ideas about what's missing from U.S. politics. The only thing this ever accomplishes is to reveal how wildly out of touch with reality the writer is. This year, Jim VandeHei is out at Politico and looking for some gullible sugar daddy to underwrite his next media venture, so he’s taken a stab at this sad genre with a column called “Bring On A Third Party Candidate” at The Wall Street Journal.
VandeHei's ideas are dumb and bad, and he uses a lot of virtually meaning-free terms like “disruption” and “innovation,” all in the service of a bizarre and rather grim vision. If what you think is missing from the American political scene is a movement to further the electoral ambitions of some buzzword-spouting fascist, then this is the column for you, and also please do not come to my next birthday party.
Poor, dim Jim. He actually thinks that just because he's spent time in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, and Lincoln, Maine (both of which are white enough to sweep the Oscars), he’s somehow an authority on the needs and wants of “real America.” According to VandeHei, what Real Americans actually need is some kind of chimera stitched together from multiple strands of meritocracy, an elite Frankenstein's monster who spouts tech jargon and guzzles foreign blood.
Here is how VandeHei imagines our third-party savior:
1. The candidate has to “come from outside the political system,” but he can’t be Bernie Sanders, because Sanders might actually do something to upset the established order. Here VandeHei acknowledges that, as Sanders is fond of saying, the “system is rigged” against normal Americans. However, it’s clear that VandeHei wouldn't want his outsider to level the playing field too much. His hilarious feint at creating a more equitable society is his suggestion that this third-party candidate “take it a step further” by “[forcing] the wealthy to forfeit their entitlement benefits.” Oh, no! Not their entitlement benefits! Not a tiny portion of income they don’t notice! This is a “step further” in a world where Thomas Piketty is a best-seller?
2. He also thinks this third-party candidate should “sock it to Congress” by making lawmakers “go home after serving instead of profiting off their service.” How any president of any party would achieve this, given the separation of powers, is beyond me.
3. President Thirdy McPartyson should also force Congress to hold “months-long sessions in different sections of Normal America,” says VandeHei. You know, the same Normal America that VandeHei was just saying is so great! Except now, I guess, it's an unpleasant place where you send lawmakers in order to “sock it to them.” (Also, why should taxpayers pick up the cost of schlepping Congress all over the country?)
4. The third-party candidate has to be good at social media, for some reason. “He or she would engage voters daily on social media, with fun and flare,” writes VandeHei, evidently meaning to use “flair,” a quality never found in his writing.
5. According to VandeHei, “You draw in the 40% of people who don’t vote or big blocks of dissatisfied independents with a call to a higher purpose. In this case, the purpose is cleaning up the mess the leaders of the two parties created.” You’ll get 40 percent of the people who can vote but don’t, you say? My God, man! Dream a little bigger! Why not say your idea is so amazing that it will inspire 90 percent of the people who can vote but don’t? What’s the point of padding out your brief with uncheckable numbers pretending to be data if you’re just going to lowball yourself!
6. VandeHei makes sure to include a paragraph that can be boiled down to “do some Internet stuff”:
Use the Internet revolution for the greater good. Social media allows us to tweet our every thought, snap our every mood and Facebook our every fantasy, but it hasn’t done much to create shared purpose. We have breathtaking technology to find a ride or a date with the swipe of a screen. Those same innovators could help create a “National App” to match every kid who needs a mentor with a mentor, every person who wants to volunteer with someone or some group in need; every veteran with people and companies who want to reward his or her service with thanks, help or a job. Also, call on Silicon Valley technologist to do tours of service to bring data solutions and efficiencies to our aging governmental systems.
Right around here, I started to wonder if VandeHei maybe just forgot that this piece was about establishing a third political party.
7. VandeHei asks, “Why not recruit Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg or Sheryl Sandberg to head a third-party movement?” Well, J.V., I thought you wanted someone who understands the way “real America” works. Mark Zuckerberg has bought the four homes that surround his own Palo Alto domicile in the hopes of keeping himself at a distance from “real America.” Sheryl Sandberg runs a corporate brandwashing scheme dressed up as feminist agitprop that, as Susan Faludi notes, seems to exist to help absolve big corporations of discriminatory workplace practices against women.
Also, who is doing the “recruiting” here? Shouldn’t we interrogate their politics?
8. Silly me! It is, of course, Michael Bloomberg who's doing the recruiting, because if one writes the words "third party" in an American newspaper then one is legally obligated to work in Michael Bloomberg somehow. VandeHei's method of doing this is particularly hilarious:
Maybe we can convince Michael Bloomberg to help fund the movement with the billions he planned to spend on his own campaign -- and then recruit him to run Treasury and advise the president.
Oh, sweet fancy Moses. So, this great third party that would help “real America” overcome a “rigged system” involves using a billionaire’s money and then putting him in charge of the Treasury?
9. But I’ve left out the best part of this third-party candidate: He (or she) is going to be super-duper fascist!
Exploit the fear factor. The candidate should be from the military or immediately announce someone with modern-warfare expertise or experience as running mate. People are scared. Terrorism is today’s World War and Americans want a theory for dealing with it. President Obama has established an intriguing precedent of using drone technology and intelligence to assassinate terrorists before they strike. A third-party candidate could build on death-by-drones by outlining the type of modern weapons, troops and war powers needed to keep America safe. And make plain when he or she will use said power. Do it with very muscular language -- there is no market for nuance in the terror debate.
So basically, VandeHei’s vision of a third-party candidate is a Vladimir Putin type who's fun on Twitter and can hold court at the Aspen Ideas Festival (specifically with Ideas about how to maximize the efficiency of drone killings).
If you're going to think about third parties, the logical thing to do is find some underserved point on the political spectrum and build out from there. Right now, America lacks a conservative leaning party that eschews nativism and imagines some sort of economic platform beyond cutting taxes on the wealthy. America also lacks an authentic left-leaning party that disdains entrenched corporate power and hones its economic policies to the benefit of working-class Americans.
VandeHei, though, would build out his third party on the “thinkfluencer” class, who are currently the most overserved and privileged people on the planet, and he’d give this party the permission to toss out the Constitution wherever it saw fit. This would indeed “disrupt” the “establishment,” if by “establishment” we mean democratic norms.
Jim VandeHei is one of those people who, when he publishes his thoughts, causes the world to convulse in an audible groan. He’s riding a hot streak right now -- he recently had another vapid piece of futurecasting published at The Information, in which he decried the media’s digital “crap trap,” a thing that as CEO of Politico he did not have the smallest hand in encouraging. (Good Lord, in that piece -- ostensibly about the future of digital media -- he is still talking about “awesome desktop presentation[s]” in 2016.)
There is a German word, fremdschaemen, that means “the feeling of being ashamed on someone else’s behalf." Jim VandeHei fills me with fremdschaemen. I'm embarrassed for him, I pity him and I sincerely hope he finds some billionaire to give him money -- so long as that money is given to him with one string attached: He can never write again.
Jason Linkins edits “Eat The Press” for The Huffington Post and co-hosts the HuffPost politics podcast “So, That Happened.” Subscribe here, and listen to the latest episode below.