October 07, 2005

The Fallacy Of The Two-Party System

Here in the U.S., we scratch our heads at the multi-party systems of European governments (and even Canada's), seeing them as so different from our own. It seems to us that a two-party system makes things so cut and dried, either one party is in power or the other - two opposing sides.

In Parliamentary systems, the winning party often does not constitute a majority and must rely on "coalitions" with other parties to make up a majority. It's a concept that at first glance seems so foreign to Americans. The assumption, however, that voters identify themselves as only Republicans or Democrats or consistently vote for one or the other if they are not affiliated is inaccurate.

In the two-party system, coalitions are very much alive and well. Remember that fully one-third (or more) of the electorate does not belong to a specific political party. The reality of party organization and funding - not to mention the Electoral College - makes it near impossible to form a successful third party. But that does not mean one could not attract enough support to alter an election's outcome. There are many examples in American history: Ross Perot's Reform Party, George Wallace's American Independent Party, Teddy Roosevelt's Bull Moose Party, to name a few. The challenge of both Democrats and Republicans is to attract enough support from outside of their base to win a majority. Don't get me wrong, without the base a party ceases to exist. But without additional support that same party becomes marginalized.

This is the current state of the Democrats. Their adherence to Liberal views and policies - to the exclusion of all others - has led to their status of minority party here in the early 21st century. They lack control of the White House, the Congress and the Senate. They also control only a minority of state houses and legislatures. Why? Because one faction of their party has become so dominant that it was driven away the others that they need to win, as well as unaffiliated voters who view them as out of the mainstream.

Now a political party must have core principles and beliefs, to be sure. But the idea of the "big tent" - of diverse groups of voters coming together for a common cause - can only be ignored by a party at its own peril.

Today, the Republicans enjoy majority control not only because of the drive and passion of its base (Democrats have similar drive and passion with its base) but because enough people of differing views feel comfortable either belonging to the party or voting for it even if they disagree on a number of issues.

This is a Right-Center coalition government. Democrats once had a Left-Center coalition. But two things happened. Emphasis on the Left drove away the Center and the GOP offered a viable alternative. This existing coalition - as will all coalitions - is a fragile one. Every two years, the coalition is subject to a vote of affirmation or "no confidence". Thus far, Republicans have been successful in achieving affirmation in the last three cycles (one could argue the last ten cycles if you go back to the GOP takeover of Congress in 1994).

Right now, the Republican party is flirting with the same disasterous strategy that Democrats have pursued for the last thirty years - the idea of ideological purity. I am a proud conservative and am often disappointed by the actions of this President and this Congress. But to take the position that I will pick up my marbles and go home if I'm not completely satisfied would be a foolish one.

Republicans have been very fortunate in that their opponents have been consistently "stuck on stupid", digging in their ideological heels and running against everything instead of for anything. The GOP and those in its ranks, however, cannot count on this to last forever.

You can't win people over to your side by being rigid and absolute. Nor can you win them over by merely acting rigid and absolute. If you appear unreasonable, you probably are. People are won over by debate, discussion and...dare I say it? Yes, consensus. I know many Conservatives wanted the debate part right here, right now. But in this case, the debate has the potential to become a battle with too many casualties. Whichever side decides to make it a take-no-prisoners fight to the death loses in the long term. The general public sees it less as a war of ideas than as a simple war of political will. And they hate that.

We need to keep our eyes on the ball and remember that we are nothing more than a great big dysfunctional family with a desperate need to find common ground. Our individual crusades amount to nothing if we are not unified.

Posted by: Gary at 09:35 AM | No Comments | Add Comment
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