The Two Party System is Killing America
by Armstrong Williams
The tale of Ferguson, Ohio is in many respects the tale of two cities. One half white, overwhelmingly Republican and conservative. The other half, black, overwhelmingly Democratic, and at least nominally liberal. In a perfect world, such a community would never come into such stark and intense opposition with each other. In an ideal political process those differences would have been worked out long before their anger engulfed them. But the two-party, winner-take-all system has sorely injured the American political process.
On the black, largely democratic side of the Ferguson divide you have a triumph of symbolism over substance. Record turnout of black voters in national elections created a shift in the Electoral College system that allowed Democrats to achieve stunning victories that belied the actual closeness of the popular vote count. Hoping for change, these voters got more of the same, only less of it. Here’s why: the Democratic establishment promised less than one would think given it’s surefooted victories in 2008 and 2012, and they were able to deliver even less than what they promised.
The Democratic Party was able to navigate a path to victory by in the national presidential elections by picking off key constituencies in swing states. But local and state mid-term elections have proven to be much more partisan. The age of the computer and more accurate census data has enable local parties to gerrymander districts with a geographic dexterity that almost defies credulity. A lawsuit making its way through the appellate courts in Florida will soon come before the Supreme Court as a test of whether the district violates a Florida law passed in 2010 that outlaws politically motivated electoral districting. Democratic Rep Corrine Brown’s district intersects and encircles Republican Rep. Daniel Webster’s district in what can only be described as an unholy knot of political chicanery. A plain look at the lines reveal that they were designed to concentrate black, largely democratic voters within a Democratic district, and concentrate white voters in the surrounding Republican district thereby making it safer for Republican candidates.
But if we take a step back from the legal wrangling around the constitutionality of these districts, a deeper problem emerges. It is the problem represented by Ferguson. That is, what happens when people who actually live in close proximity to each other are able to participate in two totally separate political processes? We see on the national level what has happened. Extreme partisanship coming out of politically manipulated local districts ends up creating extreme polarity in Congress. Even long term elected officials who want to work with each other across party lines are prevented from effective coalition-building because their districts are so firmly entrenched. They fear for their political lives if they make the smallest venture outside the party ideology, always looking over their shoulder lest someone with more extreme views take their place. As a result, over the past few years we’ve experienced record deadlock and the lowest Congressional approval ratings in recent history.
On the Democratic side, while the party has been more cohesive, it has been less accountable to its electorate. Say what you may about the tea party and its tactics, one thing is for sure: it has got the attention of the establishment. No longer can establishment Republicans get away with ignoring the interests of a significant part of their constituency. Not so the Democratic Party unfortunately. While taking for granted significant parts of its electorate, in particular the black vote, Democrats have failed to even address, much less alleviate the ills facing the community: chronic unemployment, poor education, epidemic levels of incarceration.
At the root of this problem is the winner-take-all two party system. We have gotten to the point where the nation is too large and complex and diverse to be encompassed within such a framework. Party loyalty has had especially diminishing returns for black Americans. You look at a situation like Ferguson, where a large democratic majority is stuck in the middle of nowhere, with no jobs and bleak future prospects. Sure, they helped vote for Obama in record numbers, and have been Democratic Party stalwarts for the past thirty years. But where has it gotten them? Democrats would argue that they have been able to pass civil rights legislation and other social safety net measures that have disproportionately benefitted the black community. And some of that was true during the height of the civil rights era when great society programs made their debut. But a casual look at the community today reveals a somewhat desolate landscape and an eroding social safety net. Democrats have not levelled with their electorate to help them understand that the government is essentially bankrupt and cannot afford an expanding set of entitlements amid crushing debt and declining American labor competitiveness.
Furthermore, the liberal social policies have shared the same umbrella as civil rights for far too long. The disconnection is simple to understand if put in layman’s terms. While civil rights in terms of extending the vote and enforcing anti-discrimination laws has been generally positive, the focus on liberalism and the move away from traditional values has had devastating effects. Even if one were to disagree about the perverse incentives created by expanding social welfare, the erosion of family values and increasing acceptance of an “anything goes” moral framework is a poor recipe for a group trying to lift itself up out of poverty and social isolation.
The problem with the two party system is that you have to keep the bathwater in order to save the baby. And of course, the dirty water ends up harming the baby in the long run. Some have called for a parliamentary system with parties running on specific platforms which can be individually voted upon by the electorate. But that system is not without its flaws either. Platforms become rigid and dogmatic themselves, and course correction can be difficult. On the other hand, some have called for a stronger executive branch, principally in investing more autonomy in the chief executive. That has its obvious pitfalls as well. The founding fathers clearly preferred an ineffective government over an evil one, and for good reason.
The bottom line is that we are a country of and for the people. We are not state, we are not parties, and we are not districts. Those can be convenient organizing tools, but at the end of the day the power is invested in the people to change themselves. People should begin to demand more accountability of their elected officials. But at the same time, they should not be afraid to reach out across party lines in search of workable solutions that benefit the community as a whole.
The Two-Party System is Failing America
by John Olen
The vast majority of American political history has been dominated by a two party system, but in recent years the choice between the two parties has become increasingly difficult to discern, leaving the American public with an array of bad choices for office.
This move toward sameness is not because the best possible solutions have finally been found, but rather because the parties in power have found it to be the most politically advantageous to move toward each other. Democrats now push the free trade bills they once campaigned against and have passed a health care bill that includes a mandate to buy private insurance – a plan for health care reform that once belonged to Republicans.
This move to the middle is no surprise given the structure of our current political system. In a system where no third party opponent can compete with the two major political parties, it is advantageous for the major parties to differentiate themselves from each other as little as possible. By doing this, the parties alienate as few voters as possible while still holding onto their base voters on wedge issues such as gun control or abortion.
This situation leaves the American people with a choice between a Democrat who is looking out for the interests of multinational corporations and is in favor of gun control, and a Republican who is looking out for the interests of multinational corporations who is against gun control. At the end of the day, we will be electing someone who is looking out for multinational corporations and not everyday Americans. Gun control is an important issue to some, but many of the issues that could differentiate candidates that would be more important have been taken off the table.
So why has no third party emerged to offer an alternative? There are numerous issues including ballot access, name recognition and media coverage, but the main issue is access to money. The two main parties that advocate for entrenched interests have the financial backing of those interests. With the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling,the power of corporations to use money to influence elections grew even further.
When a third party does have an impact in an election currently, it is generally to pull down the vote count of the candidate with which they are most ideologically aligned; many individuals still blame Ralph Nader for Al Gore’s loss in 2000. A change in campaign finance would not fix this problem overnight, but it might level the playing field to the point where a candidate’s viewpoints could stand on their own merits. If ideas became more important than money, perhaps our candidates might have to start speaking up on issues that really matter.
How To Break The Two-Party System
Partisanship is paralyzing our country in a time when we most need action. Here's how to end the rancor
By Wes Moore
The frustratingly high tone of hyper-partisanship has forced many Americans to question both the validity and the efficiency of our two-party system of government. Thought leaders such as Thomas Friedman and Matt Miller, titans of business including Howard Schultz and Duncan Niederauer, and, most importantly, everyday citizens have been trying to have a conversation about the introduction of independent and third-party American leadership. We are living through a period where core members our parties have, for a collection of reasons, retreated to unfamiliar ideological corners and left many of us in the center of the ring, alone, trying to find a champion.
This is not the first time the problem of two parties has been raised. Organizations such as No Labels and Americans Elect have made valiant strides towards promoting candidates for the Presidency who are not beholden to a particular party’s manifesto but rather focus on solving the nations challenges with a clear-eyed commitment to pragmatism. While I fully support the premise behind this effort, I also feel that the strategy as structured will have a very difficult time making a real dent in the national dynamic. This is not because there is no appetite for alternatives; quite the contrary — the hunger of the American people for legitimate candidates who can accomplish things is at its highest. However, the change must come from the ground-up, not the top-down.
Instead of focusing on a third-party or independent candidate capturing the presidency as a make-or-break strategy for 2012 (the chances of which are close to nil), we must first begin by seeding candidates for offices that have the most direct involvement with the American people on the municipal level. I suggest this movement start out with the audacious goal that at least 25% of all mayors in America by 2015 will be independent/non-major party affiliated. Building on this momentum, the next target should be that by 2020, at least 25% of all governors will be independent/non-major party affiliated. As Americans become more accustomed to such candidacies and are able to see the results of independent leaders and independent leadership, the idea of a third party run for the White House won’t seem out of the realm of possibility.
We already have jurisdictions that have mitigated the impact of bi-partisanship, reinforcing the notion that “There is not a Democratic or Republican way of getting the trash picked up.” States such as New Hampshire and California hold open primaries, where parties do not wield the same power they may on a national or a state level. No party has the market cornered on good ideas, nor does efficacy bleed red or blue exclusively. We need to be agnostic to party labels and focus on results; in my eyes, this is the most American thing we can push for.
I understand and fully appreciate the epic challenges that exist within this argument; we cannot expect an independent force to snap the two-party stronghold overnight. And the financial power and special interests behind the default system cannot be underestimated. However, as we continue into this century and strive to maintain the values of our representative democracy, it is fair to question whether the two-party system that has been stalwart in our system of government for centuries has run its course. It’s ambitious. Maybe its even borderline foolish. But all of the greatest movements in our nation start out from similar unorthodox baselines.
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