As election day approaches this Tuesday, I find myself in my usual pattern in the last week before an election. I’ve already done my research and marked my sample ballot: my unalterable voting guide for this Tuesday.  Regardless of any last minute revelations (which this close to election day are always B.S.), I won’t change my mind.

I am favoring DVD’s and Netflix streams… anything to avoid live or recorded shows from commercial TV which contain the inevitable mudslinging commercials by the candidates.  It’s always predictable that this will happen, and it’s the most disgusting part of the American political process to me. Quite frankly, if the candidates presented this material to me in a interview for getting the job, I would throw their resume in the trash. This is one time where the ability to fast-forward past commercials really makes a DVR priceless.

And what of the Tea Party this year?  Of all the third parties that have come and gone, and still exist, the Tea Party’s rise has been the most amazing.  The Tea Party candidates have actually been able to hold their own in some primary elections, defeating candidates considered quite strong.  But I see a familiar pattern in American politics emerging, one which has neutered many third parties in the past, and is endangering the Tea Party as well.  That pattern is absorption.

My high school history teacher spent two entire days in his class on understanding why third parties have only ever played an indirect role in America.  This is not the role they play in other countries.  In Germany, for example, there are a number of parties which are regularly elected to office: Christian Democratic Union, Free Democratic Party, Christian Socialist Union, The Green Party, and a few others.  After an election occurs, each party usually has a set of votes, and one will have a plurality.  It is rare when one party gets a majority.  As a result, the various parties will begin negotiations with each other to see if, together, they can find enough common ground to create a majority by combining their efforts.  They actually get an incentive to cooperate!  And an announcement follows of a coalition of two or three parties together, which will form the majority.

This method has its problems, but it has one big advantage.  Since the majority power is a coalition of parties, any one party in the coalition can break the coalition at any time, and vote its own way during their term of service.  In other words, the party can keep its identity and power structure. So there is a vested interest in each party to understand and meet the needs of each party participating to maintain power.

In America, it has always been hard for third parties to get elected.  When a third party’s cause becomes popular, one or both of the two major parties (Republican and Democrat) reaches out and negotiates with the third party to get their support in exchange for taking on their cause.  The problem occurs after the election: while the third party will have had influence on either the Democratic or Republican parties for support of their cause, the third party has no real representation in Congress or the Senate.  Therefore, if the third party feels their promises or cause are not being represented as promised, there is no recourse–other than to hope that the cause will survive for 2 to 4 years until the next election.  And if the cause does survive, it’s enthusiasm is usually watered down.  This is how the Republican and Democratic parties have become entrenched over the years, and any promise of “change” from either entrenched party is frankly… a joke.

So it’s time the people of the United States took third parties seriously as independent parties, not just as catalysts to bring change to the big two parties. To understand the effect this would have, imagine if the Tea Party gained 20 seats in the Senate, and the Republicans and Democrats each held 40.  If the Tea Party and the Republicans formed a coalition, and the Republicans stopped supporting the causes of the Tea Party, the Tea Party could change to supporting the Democrats or, at a minimum, join the Democrats in voting down the Republicans.  The pressure to keep in touch with the needs represented by other political parties would be real and constant, and it wouldn’t wait until the next election.  How much more attentive would the two existing parties be to members of a party they could not envelope under their control.

For years, in fact decades, I have been listening to people blindly advocating that voting for a third party is wasting a vote.  If recent history teaches us anything, it is that voting for the existing parties, either Republican or Democrat, is the real wasted vote.  As long as the two parties can do or say the minimum to subdue or silence the third party candidates from obtaining an actual seat in a governing body, their power base remains unaltered, they can drop or dilute the promised support for the third party’s causes… and the same chronic, destructive patterns of government will continue.