Monday, November 30, 2009

Bonanza Column 161 – Why Not a Multi-Party System?

Historically Americans have been very committed to a two-party political system. While other countries boast a large number of parties covering the entire political spectrum from far-left to far-right, we seem to be content with just the two. With the exception of Teddy Roosevelt's Bull Moose Party, no third party has ever gained much traction in our system.

One result of this is that the lines between the liberal and conservative ideologies tend to be very blurry. While most will say that the Republican Party represents the conservative view and the Democrat Party the liberal, and while that may be true at a 30,000-foot view, it doesn't hold up on closer scrutiny. The GOP has included Nelson Rockefeller as well as Barry Goldwater, and the Democrats have found room for everyone from Jesse Jackson to Joe Lieberman. Indeed I know many people in both parties who find themselves explaining that, while they may be Republicans, they are fiscal conservatives, but social liberals, and vice versa for many Democrats.

Yet somehow we seem to like the convenience of the label, and in most locations our primary election system forces us to choose or to forego participating in the nominating process. I think this leads to a lot of unnecessary confusion and I've advocated for years the realignment of the political system into something more rational – if it must be two and only two parties, then at least let's have Liberal and Conservative Parties, and why only two? I'm not advocating a multiplicity of parties like, say, Italy, but maybe 5 or 6 so that people can find an affiliation that matches their ideology and doesn't require lengthy explanations.

I must say the Republican Party seems to be moving in this direction – the right wing of the party seems intent on purging those it considers ideologically suspect, and someone has even come up with a test that purports to show if someone is faithful to the doctrine of their icon, Ronald Reagan. Unfortunately, based on Reagan's actions in office and his statements in his career, the Gipper would fail that test miserably, but it seems to be the mythos of Reagan that is at issue, not the actuality.

The leaders of this move to ideological purity are the usual suspects – Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, and of course the redoubtable Ms Palin. They seem intent on "reclaiming America" from the nefarious liberals and anyone who might actually attempt a government that is (in the words of another Republican icon) "of the people, by the people, and for the people." Senators and Congressmen who actually try to find a way to pass laws and work with the current majority are castigated and, in the case of the Congresswoman from my home district in upstate New York, campaigned against. Only the ideologically pure need apply for public office in these folks' eyes.

I applaud the efforts of Beck, Limbaugh, et al. to purify the Republican Party – I hope they succeed. I'd love to see the moderates, centrists, and yes even liberals in the GOP form a new party that will stand for the values that the majority of Americans stand for – tolerance, responsibility, accountable government to name a few. I'd also like to see the Democrats suggest (after all, liberals don't command) that the likes of Joe Lieberman, Mary Landrieu, and Blanche Lincoln form a party that will stand for whatever it is they stand for. Maybe then we will have political parties that are FOR something rather than merely AGAINST.

Because while all this bickering and horse-trading and name-calling is going on, 14 million Americans are without health care, 24,000 children die every day from causes that are not only preventable, but in many cases can be prevented cheaply, easily, and efficiently, hundreds of thousands of soldiers and civilians have died in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the suicide rate among veterans of these wars is going up.

Let's give everybody their own party – then they can all be right that theirs is the best position and maybe the President and Congress can get some work done.

No comments: