John Anderson, R.I.P.

John Anderson died Sunday night at the ripe old age of 95.  A Republican Representative from Illinois, he pursued a quixotic quest for the presidency in 1980, losing in the Republican primaries and then running as an independent against incumbent President Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan.  Anderson did well in the polls for a while but ultimately lost, getting only a little over 6 percent of the popular vote while Ronald Reagan achieved an electoral college landslide.

04-john-anderson-w710-h473I was one of the 6 percent.  I voted for Anderson because I thought President Carter was totally in over his head and Ronald Reagan was potentially dangerous.  In contrast to those two, Anderson seemed like a sober, sensible alternative who would be fiscally prudent, careful yet firm in his foreign policy, and capable of dealing with the many challenges that the United States faced in the world, whether it was the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan or the taking of hostages in Iran.  Even when it became clear that Anderson wouldn’t win, I still thought it was worth voting for somebody who I believed would actually be a good President, rather than settling for the lesser of two evils between the two major party candidates.

At the time, I thought that maybe the number of votes for Anderson might cause the major parties to change their ways and nominate better candidates in the future, or encourage others to run as third parties.  I’m sure the Ross Perot voters in 1992 felt the same way.  But of course, it didn’t happen.  Instead, the Jimmy Carter supporters blamed Anderson for Carter’s loss, reasoning that he was drawing votes away that would have gone to the incumbent President if Anderson hadn’t been in the race.  It’s a classic example of how politicians are wired to always blame somebody or something else for failure, rather than looking at their own deficiencies, shortcomings, and bad decisions.

Reading about Anderson’s death made me remember what it felt like in America in 1980, with an economy that seemed totally inert and helplessly in the grip of high inflation, high interest rates, and high unemployment, the continuing national humiliation of the Iranian hostage crisis, with newscasters ticking off each day in which the hostages remained captive, an apparently rejuvenated Soviet Union ready to challenge a seemingly weak United States everywhere on the world stage . . . and a President who seemed fundamentally incapable of dealing with those problems.  As a graduating college student with a journalism degree, I wondered how I would find a job when newspapers were closing left and right and nobody seemed to be hiring.  It was a dismal, scary period — in its own way, every bit as scary as the 2009 recession.

In those grim times, voting for John Anderson made a lot of sense to me.  I still think he would have made a good President.

The Third-Party Deficit

I haven’t written about politics for a while because it’s just too depressing.  Now that the recent primary results make it increasingly look like we are in fact going to see an election in which Hillary Clinton leads the Democratic ticket and Donald Trump carries the Republican banner, I can only ask, where the hell are the viable third-party options?

deez-nutsWith choices like those that apparently are going to be provided by the two major parties, you’d think this might be the year when America starts to look more like Europe, and third parties could fill the awesome void that now looms before us.  Well, forget it.  There’s no sign that any one of those down-ballot parties that you see on your presidential ballot every fourth November — the Libertarian Party, the Green Party, the Constitution Party, etc. — has been taking advantage of the opportunity that 2016 presents by raising more money, drawing more supporters, or gaining media attention about their candidates, policies, or platforms.  Does anyone have any idea, for example, who might be the leading contenders for the Libertarian Party nomination, or even how or when the Green Party will pick its candidate?

(In case you’re curious, the Libertarian Party’s convention is next month in Florida, and you can see the names and pictures of the people “currently recognized by the Libertarian Party” as potential candidates here.  The Green Party, on the other hand, has recognized five candidates identified here and will hold its nominating convention in August in Houston, Texas.  I’m sure the press coverage of both conventions will be epic.)

Don’t hold your breath that one of the other “parties” might actually nominate a meaningful candidate who could attract enough support in the polls to participate in debates come fall or offer a plausible alternative to Clinton and Trump.  That leaves the issue of whether we might have a quixotic bid by some relatively well-known figure.  It’s happened in my adult lifetime, with Ross Perot and Ralph Nader, and I’ve even voted for a third-party candidate for President before, when I voted for John Anderson in 1980.  We may still see a rogue Republican who can’t stomach Trump or a Democrat who loathes Clinton’s Wall Street ties, of course, but right now the only buzz seems to be about an effort to draft a former Marine Corps general I’ve never heard of before.  And the problem is that, without an established party apparatus, it’s not very likely that a third-party candidate can even get the signatures necessary to appear on the presidential ballot in every state, much less mount a credible campaign.

So if, like many of us, you think the looming choice for President will present us with the worst choice in a lifetime, don’t just blame the Rs and the Ds — blame the little guys, too.  No one is offering us credible alternatives.