Sunday, June 10, 2018

294. The two-party system is killing us

Individuals have a diversity of religious beliefs, moral values, and cultural traditions.

Beliefs, values, and traditions affect opinions on areas of life such as liberty, justice, government, democracy, social welfare, war, economics, and on and on. These social perspectives are often grouped into political categories such as liberal, conservative, Tea Party, Occupy Wall Street, socialist, and moderate. From simple exponential functions, it is easy to consider how many different social and political perspective combinations there may be in this country.

Yet Americans are expected to funnel themselves into the two great parties — Democrats and Republicans. If you are for one, you are against the other. And while there are other parties, such as Libertarian and the Green Party, none have risen to the level that even allows them to get invited to a presidential debate.

I often say that I am a liberal whose values most closely align with the Democratic Party, but it doesn’t mean that all my values, without distinction, line up perfectly with the Democratic platform. I have some conservative values (mostly fiscal), some libertarian leanings on freedoms, and I support many democratic-socialist perspectives. And while I adamantly oppose some Republican values (and our president), it doesn’t mean there are not some gray areas. For example, I am for the death penalty if there is absolutely no uncertainly as to the nature of the crime (such as caught on video). I am for social welfare programs but I don’t think people should abuse the system to get a free ride. Social issues are difficult and form a continuum of issues and situations.

The impression that everyone should have to “pick a side” and turn our democracy into to an “us versus them” ideology has always been concerning to me. This has led to a highly contentious and aggressive political divide that has limited fair and intelligent discussions, incited a winner-take-all mentality, and hindered open-minded compromise.

One founding father warned of this divide. John Adams prophetically said, “There is nothing which I dread so much as a division of the republic into two great parties, each arranged under its leader, and concerting measures in opposition to each other. This, in my humble apprehension, is to be dreaded as the greatest political evil under our Constitution.”

George Washington also expressed his concern in his farewell presidential address: “The alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge, natural to party dissension, which in different ages and countries has perpetrated the most horrid enormities, is itself a frightful despotism. But this leads at length to a more formal and permanent despotism. The disorders and miseries which result gradually incline the minds of men to seek security and repose in the absolute power of an individual; and sooner or later the chief of some prevailing faction, more able or more fortunate than his competitors, turns this disposition to the purposes of his own elevation, on the ruins of public liberty.”

Unfortunately, modern times are bringing these concerns to fruition. The animosity of the parties and their constituents and the “alternate domination” of the parties has sharpened the spirit of revenge.

Since so many important congressional votes are cast along party lines and there is the increasing use of executive action, we are experiencing a back-and-forth in which laws are being formed and repealed or reversed as soon as the other party regains control. It’s highly inefficient, sponsors bitterness, and repels progress.

Michael Coblenz of The Hill wrote, “The two-party system is destroying America. Democrats and Republicans are in a death match and the American people are caught in the middle. The nation faces all sorts of serious problems, from growing inequality to spreading international terrorism, but the bitter fight between Democrats and Republicans has largely ground government to a halt. Partisans on both sides are so angry they can barely speak with the other, much less work together.”

Exactly — and lost in this battle are the American people. Politicians are representatives of their constituents and should act in their interest, not the exclusive interest of the party. People are tired of the “party over country” politics.

Of further concern is that of the controlling party changing the rules to increase its power. Coblenz further commented, “Each side is more extreme, and each bases their political agenda on demonizing the other side. Each side engages in political machinations, which include partisan gerrymandering and manipulating the rules of Congress to get their way, stymie their opponents, or deny them office completely.”

The Republican blocking of Merrick Garland, President Barack Obama’s nominee for the Supreme Court, in early 2016 is the most egregious example.

A multiparty system might infuse new ideas and inspire diversity and compromise. Politicians should be able to vote according to their ideologies and the interest of their constituents without the fear of party retribution. There might be occasions in which, for example, religious conservatives may work with liberals on health care. Or the Tea Party with conservative Democrats on fiscal responsibility. If nothing else, it would help parties alleviate the consistent hypocrisy they exhibit.

In my opinion, and although I won’t live to see it, it’s time for the American two-party system to evolve into a political system that represents the diverse “melting pot” that makes up our country — one that is diverse in not just demographics, but also beliefs, morals, and traditions.