Wednesday, March 10, 2010

THE TWO PARTY SYSTEM

The mood in America smacks of exasperation with politics, government, television, and newspapers.

The Internet, with its ubiquitous opinionizing, has fostered multi faceted debate which seems to fit poorly into the divisions between traditional Democrats and Republicans. People talk of ousting all incumbents in Washington, in effect saying “a pox on all the politicians; sweep them all out of office.”

But they say so for different reasons. Angry liberals and disenchanted conservatives mouth the same complaints. Many blame the ‘two party system’ for stalemate in Washington, and the whole index of chicanery, deceit, favoritism and duplicity that seems to characterize the process of law making and public administration.

Still, I don’t think many of the complainers would like to see the United States develop a multi-party political landscape like France, Iraq and other places.

Legally, that kind of thing could happen. Not probable, but possible. Neither the Republican nor the Democratic Party is mentioned in the Constitution of the United States or in any state constitution that I am aware of. The parties are both grass roots organizations depending on the voluntary participation of citizens for their existence and support.

All states have laws which permit the organization of political parties. Wikipedia lists 38 parties known to exist in America. Historically, they have never caught on, at best playing the role of spoilers, or would-be spoilers.

In my view, both logic and history support the two party system.

The logic is simple: every decision comes down to yes or no; do or don’t, aye or nay. A smorgasbord of solutions never solved a problem. Only a course of action decided upon and acted upon can be a solution. In human affairs, community action must be voted up or down, or nothing ever happens.

In multi party parliamentary democracies, the plurality winner of an election must put together a coalition majority in order to govern. It isn’t unusual for nations to be paralyzed with nobody at the helm until some such coalition can be put together.

In the U.S., having two sides of the aisle assures that someone will be in charge. Party members may not agree on all points in their platform, but for the purpose of organizing the legislature, they stick together and are identified as either the minority or the majority.

Historically, our two parties first surfaced in Philadelphia during the constitutional convention. Essentially, it was the dichotomy between those who wanted the power centered in the national government and those who wanted a limited national government, with most of the domestic power retained by the states.

The Federalists favored national power. The Anti-federalists wanted state power. The Federalists won the first three presidential elections. In 1800, Thomas Jefferson won, supported by people who called themselves Republicans or Democratic Republicans. Their defining issue was states’ rights.

Under Andrew Jackson in 1830, the party became known as the Democratic Party and was opposed by the Whigs whose main organizing thrust was opposition to the Democrats.

The Republican Party was born in 1860 with the election of Abraham Lincoln. Opposition to slavery was an important battle cry, but so was preservation of the union. On that point, the Republicans were the descendants of the 1789 Federalists.

Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal completely redefined the Democrat-Republican dichotomy in America. FDR’s activist efforts to deal with the Great Depression all operated to strengthen the national government at the expense of state sovereignty. The emergency measures enacted during World War II further asserted federal power over domestic affairs.

The Obama administration seems to believe that the notion of delegated and limited federal power has been completely overturned by custom and acquiescence. In their view, the federal government has full police power and the Congress may legislate on any subject.

Curiously, the remnant of the Republican Party might be redefining itself as the party of Thomas Jefferson, the party that champions the rights of state governments to pass laws which deal with the health, safety, education and welfare of their citizens, without interference from Washington, D.C.

America’s two major political parties are always in transition. It will be interesting to see how they present themselves in the mid term elections later this year.

2 comments:

  1. The Democratic and Republican Parties have been waging an undeclared war against the people of the United States and the US constitution for decades. Democratic-Republican Party government only ever leads to the further consolidation of the national security police state and the total surveillance society. The only wasted vote is a vote for a Republican or a Democrat. The condition of political freedom and independence today is freedom and independence from – and active opposition to – the Democratic and Republican Parties.

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  2. As someone who has frequently voted for third party candidates and was active in getting a third party on the my state ballot in the last presidential election, I think it is hopeless to expect true reform of the two major parties. They are corrupt to the core. They are permanently in the clutches of special interest money and their membership at the grassroots level is not even statistically impressive. In a country that supposedly prizes competition, our political system needs more competition. Few people realize how the two major parties have so corrupted the government and political process that it is extremely difficult for any third party to compete against them. Ballot access laws in states are rigged. Televised presidential debates now keep out third party candidates. What other advanced democracy has copied our two party system?

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