10 November 2006

Two parties not working

I've had some time to reflect on the recent election. It wasn't surprising to me, or anyone with a passing interest in current events and trends. So, to try to understand why the Republicans did this to themselves, why they did virtually nothing with their six years in complete control of the government, I believe we've got to look back.

First, back to the 1995 budget battle with Bill Clinton where the Republicans got thumped. This was mainly a PR battle, like so many things in Washington, and ol' Bill is good at that game. After that rebuke, it seems like the Republicans gave up on serious budget-cutting. Not necessarily the right approach -- they might have worked on their message and strategy and tried again. No matter, with the tax cuts and the economy the budget got balanced regardless. But, this started the bad habit of Republicans being just a speed bump on the road to bigger and bigger government, rather than the avenging angel of real fiscal responsibility.

Isn't it bizarre today to think that Gingrich was later ousted because the GOP lost 5 House seats in the 1998 elections? Leaving them with a mere 223 to 211 majority?

After the new speaker Bob Livingston was very quickly dispatched by personal scandal, moderate Denny Hastert became the speaker. This completed the transformation process begun with the budget battle -- the House Republicans were now completely tamed and DC-ified. And, so they remained, right through the fateful, inevitable day of November 7, 2006.

Enough history. What's the problem with a two party system? There's the obvious problem of a lack of choice. Recall the Simpson's episode where evil aliens Kang and Kodos disguise themselves as Bill Clinton and Bob Dole. Homer runs onto the stage during a debate and unmasks the aliens. The crowd gasps, but Kang says, "Well, what can you do about it? It's a two party system and you've got to vote for one of us." The crowd then reluctantly mutters that he's got a point.

Going beyond the obvious, however, there are several negative effects of a two party system. The one that I believe is most relevant to the recent election is that large blocks of the electorate really have no representation of their views in the government. America is in many ways a very conservative country. But, the representatives of the people do not reflect that conservatism. The two party system effectively filters out the views of a large number of the citizens, by forcing them to choose the side that is closest to their views -- though that might not be very close on a large number of issues. Undoubtedly, this is a problem for many liberals as well.

All of this is what allowed the Republicans to be comfortable in their moderate sham. The other side had bad ideas or unpopular ideas. The Republicans really didn't have to do anything except not be the Democrats. ... But, in the end, the dumb asses couldn't even do that. They spent as much money as any Democrat congress and have truly earned the title "Republocrats."

Another negative effect of the two party system is the in-fighting. Because each party becomes a coalition of people with wide ranging ideas, there's necessarily going to be a lot of conflict within each party. Conflict and debate are well and good, but I think a multi-party system would bring much more of this debate out into the open where it belongs. As it is, the debates often happen behind closed doors so that the party may proceed with a unified front. That's a reasonable tactic, of course, but in our two-party system it seems that important options and points of view are already off the table before the public debate begins on the floor.

Dude! More parties!

I believe that there is a large amount of pressure building on both the left and the right for new political parties to enter our system. Once a single third party gains some real measure of success on one side of the spectrum, I think that another party will immediately spring up on the other side as well. The Libertarian party is the only other party that appeared on the ballots where I vote. They don't fit onto the conservative-to-liberal spectrum very well. I believe that if either the Constitution Party or the Green Party can have a break out success, that the other one will also suddenly spring to life. There are many people in the two major political parties whose views would be better represented by these third parties, but feel trapped by the two party system.

My question is this: if we really could get a such shake-up and have a political system with 5 major parties, would the Democrat and Republican parties both survive? If each parties' moderate wing were freed from its ideological wing, they might just end up being the exact same party. Then they could merge and form the Republocratic party. (Because that sounds a lot better than the Democlican party.)

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