Friday, December 23, 2011

Big Problems with Our Two-Party System

Where a Two-Party System Can Function Well.  In any country where there is a two-party system, these parties represent opposing ideologies. Otherwise, there wouldn't be a perceived need for two parties. However, as long as there is sufficient overlap in their positions where they can find some common ground between them, and as long as both parties have the best interests of the country and its people at heart, the two-party system can function well.

Advantages. In a two-party system, voters are exposed to only two different ideologies and it is relatively easy to contrast their platforms and positions against their own beliefs and goals. It tends to be an “either/or” situation which simplifies the decision-making process. When there are multiple parties, it is more difficult to assess their comparative differences and to decide for whom one might choose to vote. When a two-party system has been established for a long time, the party positions are well known to, and generally understood by, the electorate.

Two-Party System Needs Centrists.  Two-party systems are supposed to encourage political parties to focus on the areas of overlap in their positions with one another and to cooperate in enacting legislation that promotes those positions for the good for the country. This should result in a form of centrism where the two parties overlap on common ground. When this is true, it can promote stability and and progress, resulting in greater satisfaction among voters.

"The Loyal Opposition."   In those areas where there is disagreement, there used to be a concept known as “the loyal opposition.” This term reflects the fact that the electorate put a particular person in power to govern for the good of the people. Out of respect for the electorate, the party not in power may defer to the will of the voters and compromise with the party in power for the common good. The greater the margin of victory for the ruling party, the greater would be the cooperation of the minority party.

But What Happened?  However, as reported in the New York Times in 2009:

... in the partisan politics of recent decades, another view developed, advanced by Congressional leaders like Newt Gingrich, the former House speaker, that the minority party has the right, even obligation, to stick to its ideological principles.”

Result: Democracy Threatened.  Thus it is that we see most of the advantages of a two-party system slip from the grasp of democracy and democracy itself is in the stranglehold of what has become a two-party political duopoly.

Disadvantages. The spirit of bi-partisanship has been virtually cast aside. Whenever there are vestiges of such cooperation, it is frequently for the good of the two parties involved as much as it is the good of the American people as a whole.

Two-Party System at Its Worst.  The loyal opposition has evolved into a royal pain, as it fails repeatedly (and even refuses) to find common ground with the party in power and expresses a firm stance against anything that might smack of cooperation with the other party. The situation today has gotten so out of hand that the Republican Party has vowed that they will take any action necessary to see that the sitting president will be a one-term president. The result is a Congress that passes relatively meaningless legislation such as declaring pizza to be a vegetable and reaffirming “In God We Trust” as the national motto, while risking deadlock, lowered credit ratings, and threats of shutting down the government. That is not doing the will of the people who put them in office, but is totally self-serving.

Where Are the Moderates? The greatest areas of cooperation in the past have rested with the more moderate (or centrist} members of each party. However, CBS News recently reported that research has found that the number of moderate Senators has fallen steadily from 60 in 1982 down to 36 in 1994, to 9 in 2002, and to zero now. That leaves virtually no area of overlap between the two parties and little chance of bi-partisan support or compromise.

How Extreme Can You Be? Competition between the two parties had devolved into a rivalry for control, and each views their opposing party as the enemy who must be contained or beaten. Candidates frequently campaign not on what they can do for the country, but on how different they are from their competitors. Among the present Republican candidates for president, we have experienced a great rivalry as to which candidate is the most extreme in their conservatism as though that is a virtue, when it is more likely to become a vice that will disenfranchise all Americans who are not of the same ideology.

Enmity Breeds Contempt. Over time, this enmity between – and sometimes even within – the parties grows into bitterness and hatred. Neither party wants to cooperate with the other party, particularly the one that controls the White House, lest they be seen as cooperating with the enemy and collaborating in accomplishments might be seen as those of the party in power at the time. Distortion, baiting, and and name calling have become the norm, but compromise has become a dirty word.

And the Contempt Spreads. These negative sentiments are accepted and espoused by the close followers and strong supporters of the two parties. They are even encouraged by the parties themselves. Some media coverage has become strongly biased toward one political ideology and against the other. Eventually, this poisons and polarizes our country and its people, resulting in a central government that is divided against itself. This opposition itself becomes paramount, the will of the people is subverted, and the country suffers immensely as a direct result.

Impact on Democracy. It is these political parties that make the rules – who can run for elective office for their party, who can “debate” in public forums, who can vote in which elections, and who they can vote for.. When there are only two parties on most ballots, especially for federal office, we have little choice but to perpetuate this charade of democracy that has been perpetrated on the American people. Most of the time, the only choice we have is to vote for “the lesser of two evils,” resulting in perpetuating “evil” in office. The only other option is not to vote for those particular positions or not to vote at all. Unfortunately, too many Americans have opted for the latter option. As a result, we often have elections decided by about 40% of the electorate. If a winning candidate should get 50% of that vote, he or she would receive only 20% of the total electorate. This is hardly a democracy in which majority rules.

A Country Drastically in Need of Change. At his essay titled A Third Party Vote is Not Wasted, Szandor Blestman states:

It is well past time the stranglehold this duopoly has on the nation was broken and someone else got the opportunity to lead. The change that this nation needs will not come from the establishment candidates who simply pay lip service to the concept of change. Perhaps the change needs to come from the people. We must be the change we seek. To help accomplish this, we need to change the types of people we vote into office.”
Hope for the Future. The writer goes onto say:

It would give this journalist great hope to see just ten percent or so of the electorate voting third party, if for no other reason than to send a message to the establishment that we grow weary of their failed policies and are looking for a genuine shift in direction. If twenty percent of the people were to do so it would be fantastic, the politicians would take notice, and I would be exuberant. The more people that can be convinced to vote third party, any third party, the better in my opinion ...”

More on Third-Party Candidates and Voting in 2012. For readers who would like to read more about third-party candidates and some recommendations for voting in the coming 2012 elections, please go to Problems for Third Party Candidates and/or The Quickest Way to Solve Our Problems?
For another slant on this problem, check out Third Party Tyranny.

Coming Up: Elections :Heart of Democracy or Height of Hypocrisy?

In Presidential Debates, Duopoly Reigns

Presidential Debates: Fraud or Farce?

Problems For Third-Party Candidates

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