Bring On The Third Party Candidates!

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg fields questions at a press conference during his visit to the 311 call center in New York, Wednesday, June 20, 2007. A day after quitting the Republican Party and registering as unaffiliated, Bloomberg continued to send mixed signals about his intentions, discussing both his mayoral term and vowing to address the major issues facing the country.
AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews
Sunday Morning commentator Barbara Lippert says third party candidates for president have an important role to play: they make the campaigns interesting.

American history is filled with third party candidates for the Oval Office — colorful, sometimes crazy, always entertaining. Teddy Roosevelt's Bull Moose Party may have sounded macho, but it was the first to support women's rights.

Sure, some, like Strom Thurmond's Dixiecrats were openly segregationist, but others, like Ross Perot's Reform Party changed history in 1992. We all laughed at Perot's pie charts. But when he siphoned off 19 percent of the vote, and Clinton won without a majority, Republicans were not amused.

Fast-forward eight years. Ralph Nader led the Green Party and the Democrats saw red. At the time, Nader claimed the two major tickets were indistinguishable. Well, we can certainly tell them apart now.

Third-party candidates don't win, but — for better or worse — they can have a powerful impact on elections. Often, like Jimmy Stewart in "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington," the independents rail against corruption and the dangers of the status quo. Others take a more entertaining route. When comedienne Gracie Allen announced her 1940 presidential ambitions as a Surprise Party candidate, she offered more than ditzy charm. She helped lift Depression-era spirits.

These days, there are 10 Republicans and eight Democrats in the race (so far). And that doesn't count Unity '08, the new online effort to draft a bipartisan ticket. They love Michael Bloomberg - and why not? He's never met a party he didn't like. Or join.

But so what? Election years are always entertaining - and especially in the age of YouTube. OK, so the independent candidate never wins. But he's not there to win — he's there to shake things up. And secretly, isn't that what we all want?