In the Arena

Not a Joke

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Win McNamee / Getty Images

Protesters gather in front of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, October 9, 2013.

The New Age spiritualist Marianne Williamson is thinking of running for Congress from Los Angeles as an independent.

There will be jokes about this. She’s been a glamevangelist, with a stable of celebrities swooning over her books and lectures. She’d be running against the estimable Henry Waxman, one of the more substantive and productive members of Congress–but also a fairly strict left-liberal ┬áideologue who shows few signs of flexibility on issues where reform may be necessary, like Medicare.

But I wonder: Could Williamson be the harbinger of a wave of Independent candidacies in 2014? Are people so sick of the two existing parties that they’re ready to go shopping for something new? “We’re seeing this all over our polling,” says Peter Hart, who does surveys for NBC and the Wall Street Journal. “People are sick of the status quo: 60% believe that the entire Congress should be replaced. They’re looking for alternatives.”

I’ve been skeptical about 3rd parties in the past. The best of them–the Populists, Ross Perot (at least when it came to budgetary matters)–tend to have their hot ideas co-opted by the Democrats or Republicans. That may still be true…although we’ve seen everything else in society fragmented, niched and marketized.

It may be that we won’t see a Third Party, but a rash of Independents breaking out across the country in 2014. Depending on which way the Republicans go, I can see Libertarians running their own candidates in the next two cycles–and especially for President in 2016. I can also see, in certain circumstances, moderates breaking away from the GOP (and maybe from the currently smug, listless Democrats) in the near future. If this happens, I suspect it will happen from the bottom up. Some will be wealthy, vanity candidacies like Williamson. Others may come from the Millennial generation–especially the recent military veterans among them–who find that there’s a lot not to like about the existing parties…or from the tech world. Who knows?

I may be wrong about this; I’m always uncomfortable about making predictions. We’ve been doing this two-candidate thing for a long time, but we’ve reached a point of paralysis–a very un-American state of being–and something is going to come along and shock the system back to life.