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Friday, August 18, 2006 - Page updated at 12:04 PM


Ryan Blethen / Times editorial columnist

Shooting holes in the two-party wall

Remember the invisibility of being a kid at the dinner table with adults? How partway through dinner the courage would come to say something in response to the grown-up conversation? How the adults did what adults do best, a patronizing pat on the head?

Welcome to American politics where the adults are played by the two major parties and fervent supporters.

The role of the na´ve kid is played by, well, everybody else who does not fit into the rigid lines drawn by the Democrats and Republicans.

We folks in the middle prefer to choose from a political buffet. A little bit of environmentalism, a dash of tax relief, a side of civil rights and a dessert of accountability smothered with liberty sauce. (Can anybody tell me what happened to the menu item limiting the size of government?)

Republicans and Democrats have engaged in a self-serving, catty existence since the 2000 presidential election. All this partisan bickering might just pave the way for change. Nothing major, but there are signs of life outside the confines of the Beltway and state capitals.

The push comes not only from the political fringe but also from insiders. Two great examples are Unity08 and

Unity08's goal is to give people another option for the 2008 presidential election by nominating a bipartisan ticket. Unity08 organizers, which include Hamilton Jordan, President Jimmy Carter's former chief of staff, and Angus King, who as an independent served two terms as Maine's governor from 1995 to 2003, are not going to bother wasting sacks of cash on a convention either. That will happen in true modern fashion via the Internet. is an online political networking site that was created by political insiders such as Mark McKinnon, who directed President George Bush's advertising campaigns, and Joe Lockhart, President Bill Clinton's former press secretary. The idea behind the site is to provide a place where regular folk, politicians and business leaders can talk about issues in a non-charged format.

Chip Smith, a former adviser to Al Gore and co-founder, said the politically diverse group wanted to introduce some nuance in the black-and-white void left by partisan politics.

"People are looking for a different kind of conversation," Smith said.

Washington voters can listen to Aaron Dixon, the Green Party candidate for Senate, and Bruce Guthrie, the Libertarian candidate, for a different conversation on the campaign trail.

Dixon, best known as co-founder of the Black Panther Party in Seattle, has staked his campaign on the Iraq war and the need for the U.S. to leave. Guthrie not only wants out of Iraq, but would push to reduce the number of soldiers stationed abroad. Rather refreshing after listening to Sen. Maria Cantwell's murky position on the war and Republican candidate Mike McGavik's meek wish to not discuss the topic until the troops come home.

Dixon's anti-war message might not carry him to Washington, D.C., but if he can generate enough interest, his candidacy could have an impact.

"That is something we want to come out of this campaign, is to have a political machine in place to start electing people to local offices throughout the state," Dixon said, with framed pictures of his days as a Black Panther hanging on the wall behind him during an interview at his campaign headquarters.

I asked John Gastil, associate professor in the department of communications at the University of Washington, if a third party has a chance in this country.

"It is just exceedingly hard for a third party," he said. "The best hope you have is situational and independent."

In other words, under the current system, a third party has a chance only if there is a hugely important topic that can carry a dynamic candidate who is most likely very wealthy.

As bleak as politics have become, there is hope. The system can be eroded if the Libertarian and Green parties can build a credible local record and base. Technology and a thirst for real choice could also shoot holes in the two-party wall.

"This might fizzle out and not amount to anything or it might change American history." King said about Unity08. "This is big stuff."

Ryan Blethen's column appears regularly on editorial pages of The Times. His e-mail address is

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