George Washington said that having political parties "agitates the community with ill-founded jealousies and false alarms, kindles the animosity of one part against another." Thomas Jefferson said, "if I could not go to heaven but with a party, I would not go there at all. (Source: http://www.shmoop.com/political-parties/founding-fathers-political-parties.html)
Unfortunately, they were right. I see many discussions on this site and in the media going back-and-forth about democrats and republicans. "We have this better view about what's wrong with the country." "No, your view is wrong." "Yada yada." Then name-calling and mud-slinging. Often people pride themselves in how partisan, how divisive they can sound versus how well they cooperate and compromise. This is echoed throughout the web and media. It is all so unproductive and absolutely not what the founding fathers intended because it leads to a malfunctioning government and political system. That's what we have right now.
So what I'm talking about is the biggest problem with our country: A two party system.
A two-party system is dualistic and polar. This polar division causes parties and media to become extremist versus supporting the more moderate, centrist views that most voters have. This means people are often voting against the "lesser of two evils" versus voting their conscience amongst a multiplicity of candidates and range of ideologies. Furthermore, the democratic and republican parties in one part of the country are sometimes significantly different than in the other, and that fact is hidden from people, so people think they are voting for one thing, when really voting for another. Or, they feel they have little choice since they also want to support the party back home that they think represents them, even if it means a slightly different set of views nationally.
The political wrangling also leads to little progress. Instead, we have a situation of one party taking control and flipping things completely in the left-wing direction, then the other party taking control and flipping things completely in the right-wing direction. Then they blame our problems on each other and don't work together and play stupid games. The truth and best option is usually somewhere in the middle of the two parties' stances and we almost never have a compromise. We, the people, are caught in this eternal tug-of-war.
However, things like "Please vote for Ralph Nader" are not going to solve the problem. It goes all the way back to a structural issue introduced in 1776: An issue introduced when framing our constitution itself. Our founding fathers got everything else right, but failed to act on the threat of political parties even though they knew the dangers posed by having political parties. However, it's not parties in general that are the problem (even Andrew Johnson and Washington later formed the federalist and anti-federalist parties). In general, parties can actually help organize the electorate, provide watchdog groups against other politicians, and educate people. In the loosest sense, a party is just a group of people working towards a common goal. The founding fathers learned that. But they didn't really act on the problem about a two-party system, since that takes decades, maybe centuries of hind-sight to realize that action is necessary.
Additionally, our "winner take all" state electoral system encourages a two-party system and people vote against the guy the viewpoints of the second party they hate more, rather than vote for the candidate from any of the many other parties that best represents them. So that leaves little room for a third party, let-alone multiple parties. However, just like parties in general are not the problem, the solution is also not to eliminate the electoral college. The electoral college is there for a reason and it works well to protect states' rights. It's not a million of the other things proposed, which are usually just nice-to-have gimmicks. Instead, we have to fix this broken political system by injecting some safe-guards to prevent a continuation of the two-party system.
I believe a many-step approach will be necessary to dig us out of this mess. I can't predict what step two will be. However, one initial first step is to get one member of the house to sponsor an ammendment with two main features:
- Make it so that each state has different parties - e.g. a party is only state-wide - and then only coalitions can form between between states' parties. Note: We'd also have to provide safeguards for having a coalitions like "The Democratic Coalition" and "The Republican Coalition" with members like the "Democratic Party of Georgia" and "Republican Party of Connecticut". That's obviously a loophole that should be closed.
- Additionally, in this ammendment, people will no longer register for a single party, but instead choose multiple parties they belong to.
Then, we'd find fluidity in such an arrangement because coalitions would change over time, so there wouldn't be two dominant political groups. Specifically:
- Two parties don't hold all the power since factions (coalitions) would form based on different factors. For instance, a group of parties may form a coalition on social views, such as views on gay marriage, and a different coalition based on similar economic views, such as stimulus through government or through private sector. Name an issue, and coalitions will form. If the sentiment is strongly about one issue, say the economy, then the parties would align themselves based on those coalitions. In another election, they may align differently. At the state and congressional level, things would be even more interesting.
- Funding will be limited per party to only in-state funding. We won't get these powerful national super-pacs, large donors and powerful media running the show since they thrive on a simplistic landscape. Things would be a lot less simplistic. However, what individuals should be focused on the local parties anyway instead of playing political chess games.
- By joining multiple parties it'd show a much finer-grain view of what each individual believes. I believe if people can join multiple parties, then those parties' views will become much narrower in scope. You could then simply add up the members of parties to get a fine-grained tally of peoples' views. In a sense, there'd be the equivalent of a real-time referendum.
Like all ammendments, Congress needs to pass legislation, which doesn't need to be approved by the president. Once the ammendment is ratified by congress, it then goes to each of the states' governing bodies to pass.
Then we have an ammendment that should hopefully lessen the power of the democratic and republican parties. This will not in and of itself be the final step towards a multi-party system, however it will make signifcant headway. Then we'll be in a territory we've never been in before, and we'll need to take the next steps, whatever they may be.
But let's take it one step at a time, and what I've outlined is a great first step. There will be a lot of resistance to this change by those who hold the cards. Otherwise, why is it when textbooks and scholars talk about the problems of our two-party system we haven't done anything to solve it? It comes down to who has the power and doesn't want to let go. So it will be a battle just to get this small adjustment with huge ramifications accomplished, unless we can finally get even those that hold the cards to realize that things just aren't heading in the right direction, even for them (and if not, let's remember it's the PEOPLE that truly have the power, if we exercise it). A positive change like this CAN be accomplished, and we'll be a stronger nation for it!
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