Wednesday, September 19, 2012

More Voices, Please

Rachel Maddow is a self-described liberal and a media celebrity, educated in political science and public policy -- a Rhodes scholar, no less, with a Doctorate in Philosophy from Oxford.  Her show on MSNBC frequently offers high-quality news analysis and political commentary from a liberal perspective.

And yet, when it comes to acknowledging the contributions of political parties outside of the Democratic and Republican duopoly, Maddow and her program are literally conservative.  Below is a letter e-mailed to the editorial address of the Rachel Maddow Show.


It seemed reflexive, almost like reciting a short religious prayer, when Frank Rich acknowledged the possibility that conservatives would form an alternative political party and felt compelled to say, "But of course that's quixotic."  This was during an appearance he made on your show this week discussing conservative dissatisfaction with the Republican Party establishment. 

It is a shame to see this reflexive and uncritical dismissal of any alternative to the current duopoly.  If the Green or Libertarian parties are acknowledged at all, or potential other parties, the rule is that they be dismissed immediately as quixotic spoilers who cannot participate meaningfully in politics. 

Even if one feels, from the standpoint of political science, that a two-party system provides the most stable foundation for the republic, one can still acknowledge a legitimate and dignified role for alternative parties in our political discourse.  Many of our allies have effective two-party systems while allowing other parties to compete in the marketplace of ideas as well as elections. 

If the aim of a new conservative party would be to supplant the Republican Party, elect a president, or take the Congress, then I would agree with Mr. Rich that those goals are quixotic.  If the aim was, on the other hand, to mount campaigns and introduce candidates prepared to make a case for conservative ideas and to criticize the Republican Party, and to provide conservative voters with a meaningful choice, that is not quixotic at all.  It enhances democracy and provides the establishment party with healthy competition. 

It continues to disappoint me that the Rachel Maddow Show gives short shrift to these values by ignoring, and occasionally disparaging (as Mr. Rich may have been doing), the smaller political parties trying to introduce a broader range of ideas into our political discourse.  This does not necessarily mean overthrowing the two-party system if that is seen as desirable.  A two-party system, in order to provide a meaningful choice, must represent a distinct dichotomy.  On some matters, our two dominant parties provide this choice, but Rachel Maddow has done terrific work showing how the political center has been pulled to the right.  This leaves voters with the choice of a center-right party and a hard-right party.  That is a two-party system that cannot represent the values and concerns of voters who lean left and would like to see a broader critique of how we approach economics, trade, class struggle, diplomacy, and military power. 

There is a danger that a two-party system with a monopoly on discourse becomes, in effect, a single-party system.  We may not be quite there yet, but it is my feeling that our system does not represent an adequate range of views or ideas for how to address our problems. 

Thank you for your work.  It's a very good show already, and with a more expansive view of our politics and the possibilities we have to organize ourselves and reform our system, I think the show would have even more to contribute.


[Image: a 19th century political cartoon by Thomas Nast]

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