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In a two party system such as ours, third parties and independent candidates can play an important role by keeping the two main parties honest. Big party machines can distract representatives from practical concerns toward hot political issues, like gun control and abortion. When this happens, the bite, or at least the bark, of these little renegades brings the Washington big-wigs back to the mundane, but vital, fiscal reality.
In 1992, then-incumbent George H. Bush was dragging his feet and the former governor from Arkansas, a candidate for a new generation, was tending ever more towards the center. Ross Perot, a billionaire from Texas, put up over $60 million out of his own pocket to run for president on a platform centered on reducing federal spending, balancing the budget and term limits.
After garnering 19 percent of the national vote in 1992, Perot's organization, "United We Stand America," created the Reform Party. Perot's showing in 1992 gained him federal funding for 1996, and his showing in 1996--exceeding the 5 percent federal funding minimum--ensured matching federal funding for the Reform Party presidential candidates in this year's election. Perot's showing in 1996 secured a place for Reform candidates on 21 states' ballots, and petitioning secured the remaining 39.
Although the only Reform Party candidate to be elected to a major political office is Minn. Gov. Jesse Ventura, a solid economic focus and a refreshing lack of politicking in the Party has forced the two traditional parties to refocus on the fundamentals of politics.
When fiscal platforms and even social platforms were becoming hypnotically indistinguishable between Democrats and Republicans, the Reform Party brought this problem into sharp focus and demanded the revitalization of these increasingly complacent juggernauts.
But these days, the Reform Party has lost its edge. Having now lost the support of its founder and its only successful candidate, the party has stopped being a whetstone to sharpen the political system. Instead, it has become another harmless fringe party on par with the Libertarians. The Reform Party needs to disband rather than go the way of groups like the NRA.
The Reform Party has performed an invaluable service to American politics. It has demanded serious consideration of more mundane political issues and opened up the nepotism of Washington society. But the Reform Party has now overstayed its welcome and should get out while its legacy is as yet only slightly tarnished.
--BENJAMIN D. GRIZZLE
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