It is obvious that this country needs a multiparty system. The two dominant parties are hopelessly dogmatic, and on top of that, they are corrupt. Our electoral system is rigged to make it nearly impossible for another party to break in. Still, in the early 1990's, two developments offered hope.
First, after years of touting a "third way", the Democratic Leadership Council saw one of its own, Bill Clinton, elected President. Despite the Right's increasingly rabid hatred of him, he actually governed as a centrist, if not a moderate conservative. Second, the Reform Party briefly stirred things up, capturing over 20% of the popular vote in one election and placing a governer in Minnesota. Unfortunately, the Reform Party had no coherent philosophy, and its main backer proved mercurial at best. It is no longer a factor.
The people of this country long for a party that does not force them to choose the lesser of evils on almost every question. Today, you can't just practice simple tolerance--you are forced to choose between outright bigotry or heavy-handed "political correctness". You can't just want to preserve the social safety net--you are forced to choose between eviscerating the middle class, or complete fiscal stupidity (a la California). You can't favor reasonably regulated free enterprise--you have to choose between lawless, Enron-style capitalism, or being choked by "nanny government". And so on. In each of these cases, we face a continual Hobson's choice.
Worse, the Big Two do not offer platforms, but rafts of false associations. If you want to vote for free trade, it comes attached to Iraq and creationism in schools. If you want to vote for civil rights, it comes attached to government-paid "grief counselors" and Barbra Streisand.
A third party will have to be informed by certain broad and basic values. From more than a decade of conversations with people from all walks of life, I find it likely that a large majority of people in the country would buy into fiscal discipline, cultural openness, racial tolerance, a basic social safety net, and environmental responsibility. Yes, the devil is in the details, and any such debate is likely to sink into the mire of name-calling that has taken over our polity, but we have to start somewhere.
Suggestions and opinions are welcome as "comments". I will pursue this in future posts.