Although the United States has pretty much always had just two major political parties, I think now would be a good time for a change.
It Promotes Polarization, Near-Sighted Focus, And Life-or-Death Loyalty
In regular sailboat racing, each party focuses on being effective and efficient at maximizing their own capabilities to accomplish a common goal. In match racing, each vessel focuses only on their competitor, and will take action that would not ordinarily be in their own best interest as long as it puts the competition at an even greater disadvantage. In the two-party political system, beating up your competitor is soon everything; all other principles fall by the wayside. Each side tries to redefine the other in the most unflattering light and in the war of words an “us vs. them” mentality develops which justifies ever more flamboyant language, harsher conduct, and a slimmer and slimmer grip on reality.
It’s Shallow And One-Dimensional
If as a citizen, you are a one-trick pony, say all you care about is abortion, you just pick the party that has the “right” answer on that particular issue and you show your gratitude and undying loyalty by voting however you are told on all other issues. The platforms of each party have actually changed quite a bit over history, with the Democratic Party evolving lately into the “Yes” party and the Republicans becoming the “No Way”s. That’s about as one-dimensional and polarized as you can get.
One Side Is Always Guaranteed A Majority
Regardless of the atrocities of war, the ends justify the means. Being guaranteed an instant majority in every decision, the winner gets to bully all minorities to distraction, has no incentive to improve their capabilities or social skills, and basically enjoys all the characteristics that make monopolies so unpopular. Negotiation and compromise have no place in their vocabulary. Any independent thought is squashed to make room for blind obedience to the team. When the pendulum does change direction . . . I picture a child in a swing with one of its divorcing parents on each side. When a parent finally gets their hands on the swing they, in direct competition with their spouse, push as hard as they can in the opposite direction. The child goes faster and gets higher and more extreme every pass. Although neither parent notices, the kid is scared to death; I don’t see this ending well.
Many times, when the two lead vessels in a regular race start focusing only on each other, it is possible for the rest of the fleet to pass them both by. I propose at least one more political party. In the past, third parties in this country have been forced to stake out the more radical ground left by the major parties, but since both parties have locked their focus and taken opposite corners, there is plenty of room in the middle for the rest of us. I have pondered how the new parties should differentiate themselves and although there is wiggle room here, I think maybe staking out a position as socially liberal & fiscally conservative might be the best option for the first party. It does, as any third party would have to do, introduce another dimension (there is still room for a fourth party to stake out socially conservative & fiscally liberal if they like). But it’s not too late for you to offer a better suggestion for cutting up the pie using different parameters. To overcome inertia, we need a position that people would readily accept and embrace, but to be successful we don’t need an instant majority. All we need is to take away enough votes from each existing party so that nobody is guaranteed a majority. That could be done by recruiting one third of the more moderate members from each of the existing parties. Then we could leverage our position with either party to restore some sanity to the political process. No party can just pick up their ball and go home if they don’t get their way; the one that is not willing to negotiate or compromise will be the odd man out. But if those in one party suspect that this is just a ruse by the other to divide their numbers, the plan will not work. The division must be genuine.
Some countries have many, many more than three parties, so your next question might be “Is it possible to have too many parties?” I don’t know and it is not something I think we need to worry about for another several decades.
I guess the only real question is “What are you going to call this new party?” I looked for possible acronyms for fiscally conservative and socially liberal (or words to that effect), but so far have come up empty. The “Mature” Party is probably out, but “Responsible” has a nice ring to it, yes? I’ll gladly leave this to the Madison Avenue types among us, but don’t dilly dally.
Reading the explanations of why we have only two parties, most writers make it sound like there is no other choice, but base their answers on explanations that are such simplifications of the facts that their validity should be questioned.
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If you Google “why are there only two political parties” you will find plenty of articles. They all mention Duverger’s law as the main reason that in the United States it is not possible to have it any other way. Only Wikipedia
even mentions there are counterexamples, and some of their other assumptions (for example the Washington PostA
(among others) claims that a candidate need only to get a plurality of the vote to be elected, even though there are many instances where that is not true.
Nonetheless, it is clear that the rules of the electoral process themself add a bias to the results. For example, single-member districts, even without gerrymanderingD
or plurality voting, tend to create a winner-take-all system that exaggerates the power of the larger party and completely neutralizes the impact of any lesser party. One alternative for a county with say seven districts, for example, would be to have all candidates compete in one election, and the top seven finishers would get a job.
And then there is the electoral college. As I mentioned in an earlier article, I think the electoral college is obsolete. This opinion is, or was at one time or another, shared by both Donald TrumpA and Ruth Bader GinsburgA. Interestingly enough, the electoral college was established because our forefathers were concerned about the unwashed masses. Hamilton was concerned about somebody unqualified, but with a talent for “low intrigue, and the little arts of popularity”, attaining high office. Madison argued against “an interested and overbearing majority” . . . “or minority of the whole, who are united and actuated by some common impulse of passion, . . . adverse to the rights of other citizens, or to the permanent and aggregate interests of the community”. They reasoned that in the electoral college, the members of which were able to have information unavailable to the general public, the decision-makers could deliberate reasonably without “tumult and disorder”, ensuring the one who would ultimately be administering the laws of the United States would have both ability and good character (edited heavily from Wikipedia). As we now know, those electors that were supposed to protect us will invariably be cut from the same cloth as those they were protecting us against. Our forefathers didn’t see that coming (originally, they didn’t envision political partiesA), but in hindsight that insight seems obvious.
Both of these changes (and others that may help our elected officials better represent the will of all the people) will not be easy. It could be hard to keep up our third party into perpetuity without them. Difficult or not, something has to be done. If you have any other ideas, now would be a good time to present them. Thanks for listening.