Possible Origins of a Major Third Progressive Political Party in the US

Here are a couple possible causes for how a major progresive political party could develop in the US.

It will probably take several of them.

1. The death of the Democrats.

If they really mess it up (ex. fail to leave Iraq, massive scandal), people will leave them to either join or start a new progressive alternative. (Of course people could also leave to join a centrist party - like Ross Perot's Reform party). Think Labour replacing the Liberals in the UK circa 1930. This is why the so-called possible spoiler effect of Nader and other progressive canidates can be a very good thing in the long run.

2. The success of a another third party.

A successful challenge to the Republicans by a right-wing party like the Libertarians or a conservative christian/populist party, could inspire people to break from the Democrats and also ensure that the Democrats are in the majority even if people leave (thus reducing the cost of leaving them). A succesful centrist party could shake up the political system (or it could reinforce liberals ideas that they can do good inside the Democrats, as it would case the more conservative/moderate Democrats to leave the party).

3. Electoral reform.

Very little is happening in the US on this issue, however in other countries there are often major changes made to the system of electoral representation. For instance, in Canada, two conservative provincial governments (BC and Ontario) setup groups of regular citizens to make a recommendation on reform. In 2007, an Ontario citizens commission recommended a form of proportional representation (regular people chose it with a 80% majority over alternatives), but unfortunately the Ontario people turned it down in a referendum (probably due to a lack of education/awareness).

US electoral reforms need to start in the cities - where there is a chance for proportional voting to work. Abolishing the electoral college isn't the issue. Probably you need to first focus on building progressive power/social movements in a city, and then use that power to reform the city's political system.

4. A crisis.

An ongoing bloody war, global warming, or an economic depression (possibly caused by the end of cheap energy and/or metals) are three possibilities.

Personally I think that an environmental-caused depression is going to really shake things up, sometime in the next 50-100 years.

5. A surge of social movements.

Possibly in response to a crisis. Or in response to all the every day crises (the countless number of related issues/injustices).

From an organizing perspective, I think it makes sense to focus on building social movements to the point where we have enough power to do politics effectively and without sacrificing as many principles. These other causes aren't in our control, though we can be conscious of them when choosing to vote for pro-war Democrats like Obama (Afghanistan, wants to maintain tens of thousands of US troops in Iraq, wants 50,000 more troops in the US army, and is threatening Iran).

6. A charismatic and/or rich leader.

It's a sad state of affairs, but if a relatively charismatic billionaire would run for US president - it's possible that they could kick start the process. I'm thinking: Ross Perot (or Hugo Chavez). On the other hand, Perot's impact fizzled out quickly. Charismatic leaders aren't good for grassroots democracy. A billionaire might not cut it. The Libertarians ran a billionaire for vice-president in 1980 and didn't do that well.

International Influences

Unfortunately the US is relatively immune to external influences. A small number of radicals are inspired by Hugo Chavez, Bolivia, (more in the past) the Zapatistas, or New Zealand adopting proportional representation - but these political projects are so far out of popular view that their impact is minimal.

Larger social movements that build a progressive alternative media could help US activists get inspired by foreign political transformations.