Sunday, December 05, 2010

Two Elephants

Readers of this blog who actually follow the political posts know that this blog has a long-standing opposition to the so-called "two-party system," the duopoly on governing power in our republic.

To recap briefly: We have two national political parties, the Democratic and Republican parties, that are very old and venerated institutions. Although many other political parties exist, we have electoral laws designed to make it very difficult to establish ballot status, no laws guaranteeing press coverage or access to public debates for candidates outside of these two parties. This reality inhibits greater participation and investment in these parties, as people decide to throw their lot in with one of the two "legitimate" national parties. One more nail in this coffin has to do with our voting system, which has no runoff process. There is one vote, period, ever. This discourages voters from voting outside the duopoly because of the potential spoiler effect.

This has been the status quo throughout my lifetime and it is rarely acknowledged to be a problem. We refer to the "two party system" but never with phrases like "two party monopoly" (duopoly) or "two party rule," or other phrases that own up to our limited democracy.

The mainstream news media that comment on U.S. politics has had an increasingly difficult time ignoring the fact that one of these two venerated national parties has ceased to govern responsibly. To a degree that is remarkable even for the most jaded political watchers, the Republican Party has turned into a party that denies climate science, still embraces the trickle-down economics lie (that even David Stockman now rejects), and would rather play chicken with vitally important national security interests (such as the START II Treaty) than allow a Democratic President to succeed in anything. It is a political party willing to nominate political neophytes with little experience or interest in policy and governance to be Vice-President of the United States.

When party leadership actually admits on the record that they are putting their political rival's failure over the national interest, it has become almost impossible to write about the facts without coming up against the possibility that perhaps this is no longer a legitimate governing party.

Andrew Sullivan over at The Atlantic is starting to comment openly of these truths. As is Steve M. and the Washington Monthly's Steve Benen (and actually Benen has been saying it for quite a while). It is becoming more a mainstream reality that the GOP is off the rails.

Once we acknowledge that elephant, we are confronted with another elephant in the room.

Do we accept the proposition that there is now only one legitimate political party?

Or, do we consider the possibility that it is time to open up our electoral process just enough to give one of the larger alternative parties a chance to make a case? Consider that in 2008, both the Libertarian and Green parties ran presidential candidates who had both served in the House of Representatives. Full terms and everything. There would surely be lively debate about agendas, and perhaps temperament, with candidates Bob Barr and Cynthia McKinney at the debate, but compare their knowledge and experience with that of Sarah Palin.

If we're ready to acknowledge that the GOP has lost its bearings as a functioning governing party, it is time to acknowledge the truth about our two-party system and allow some competition.


Kelly said...

Not a topic I feel comfortable enough with to debate, but...I've always wished we had a NO party system. Let individuals run in a primary, then let the three with the most votes go into the general election. I know, "party" candidates count on the funds raised by their respective groups, but maybe doing away with some of that wouldn't be such a bad thing. Simplistic (and probably unrealistic) I know, but then I have a lot of simplistic ideas about government. A flat tax, for example. Or Fair Tax (which I blogged about once).

Algernon said...

The founders were very leery of competitive political parties. There are good and helpful things parties can do, and not just in the area of finance. But you are right, the financing is a critical issue when even local elections require candidates to spend millions of dollars. They not only need the support of a party, they need the support of a party that gets large contributions, contributions that come from corporations and wealthy donors. And you know what that means.

Hal Johnson said...

Jesse Ventura was on "Larry King Live" with Wyoming senator Alan Simpson. Simpson talked about how well the two-party system worked. King asked Ventura how, as a third-party member, he felt about the two-party system. He said, "Larry, I think the two-party system is phenomenal. After all, it gives us one more choice than Communist Russia had."

Land of the free? Baloney. We're the land of the owned.