The tyranny of the two-party system

The election and the events that have followed make it clear that we are a divided country. I know, I keep writing about this divide.  That is because I am troubled by the depth of the divide. It’s unhealthy and now that it has led to a riot at the Capital, I believe we need to work on the root of the problem and make some changes.

The root of the problem is that political parties only represent two sets of ideas. Clearly, the parties will not allow their members to deviate from the party line, thus we must pick one party and its philosophy or the other. The parties operate like Pepsi and Coke. Coke is “The real thing” and it targets traditional consumers. Pepsi, is the hip competitor and follows “The Pepsi generation.” Here’s the point…they both do very well even though they limit their appeal to a portion of the market. The parties compete in the same way. The Republican party has moved further to the right than ever, and the Democrat party has moved distinctly to the left. 

Selecting a candidate is like working with a thermostat which has only two settings. One setting is very hot, while the other is freezing. How would that feel? Not good. As you moved from one setting to the other, neither would be comfortable.

This extreme represents the parties, but a recent Gallup poll of some 30,000 Americans finds us split with 37% calling themselves conservative, 36% self-labeling as moderate and 26% identifying as liberal.

Imagine an election in which we were given the choices of Bernie Sanders an Ted Cruz, two polar opposites. Unless you are an extreme liberal or extreme conservative, you would probably avoid voting at all.

So, we come in three varieties, but the parties only have two flavors, and they are on the liberal side of liberal and the conservative side of conservative. Beyond that, it is unlikely that our beliefs across many issues would neatly fall in line with either party. In summary, two extremely divided parties can’t represent us as voters. We are among the only democracy in the world that has a two-party system.  Until about 1993 we effectively had four parties… The two we have now plus moderate democrats and moderate republicans. Coalitions had to be formed for anything to get done. Members of the two bodies worked together and compromises occurred. Many believe, as I do, that Newt Gingrich, who served as House Speaker wanted less working together and a more combative republican party. It happened and the democrats responded in kind.

Now we have gone to the most ridiculous level of partisanship ever. No matter how you feel about the impeachment of the former president, the idea of parties censuring members who didn’t vote along party lines seems worrisome. In Pennsylvania, a state party chair said it this way referring to the guilty vote of Pat Toomey. “We didn’t send him to do the right thing.” The Senators were sworn to vote honestly and righteously, but both parties insist that voting not be based on the evidence presented concerning guilt or innocence, but rather by party decree. Congress members are supposed to represent their district or state. But they also have the responsibility of being a member of Congress and as such, there will be times when a national priority supersedes local interests.

The reason Congress has gotten itself painted into this corner is our winner-take-all primary system allows members to be threatened with a primary competitor. If we had more parties and more choices voters would benefit, and parties would be less in control. It seems curious that as much as we Americans love freedom and the choices it brings, we allow our Congress members to be trapped in a system which takes away their freedom.

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