Tuesday, March 29, 2011

We're Having A Party

I was going to post this within yesterday's post, but I had a desire to expand a little bit beyond the scope of the subject at hand.*

Much has always been made about the "broken" two-party system in this nation. The arguments tend to fall into two alternating categories of "I'm sick of all the polarizing partisanship" and "There's not a dime's worth of difference between them," both of which represent completely different sentiments and occur at reasonably equal regularity depending on one's preconceived ideology and the current state of the parties in question.

The solution is--always--some sort of mystical messianic third party. I'm not against third parties in general--like I mentioned yesterday, they bring fresh, innovative ideas to the political marketplace--but they rarely, if ever, have a genuine chance at gaining power. And, despite what most people believe, this isn't because the Republicans and Democrats have constructed a biased system that inherently perpetuates the current party system.

Unlike most other democracies, the United States isn't run as a parliament. In, say, a European system, there are usually four or five parties, all across the political spectrum. After an election, various parties will form coalitions and govern. In the United States, we've simply skipped that coalition-forming step.

Pretty much throughout the history of our nation, we've always had multiple parties. They just aren't organized as separate entities. While trends and ideas drift around, we can look at the post-war situation to get a good look. Republicans generally represent a coalition of religious evangelicals, suburbanites, businessmen, and the military, while the Democrats have a coalition of laborers, progressives, cities, Catholics, and environmentalists. Various other groups, such as farmers and senior citizens, waft from one party to the other based on their local state and the issues of the times.

What might be a Green Party in, say, France, or Germany--which also generally represents far-left sentiments--is simply a faction within the American Democratic party. Likewise, what would be a nationalist party in Europe would be a faction within the GOP. Coalitions still form and dissolve--witness the blue-collar workers and Catholics who plumped for Reagan, then snapped back in the heady Clinton years--it's just not formalized as it is in the Europe.

Neither system is right or wrong. I happen to think the American system, where factions tend to come and go as the situation fits, is more fluid and stable. Which is why third parties tend to fail in the United States--a Populist or Libertarian or Prohibitionist party that gains any amount of success will quickly find itself absorbed by one of the major parties. The followers of the party normally don't care, since their cause is being taken up by an established organization that actually has the power to get real change in effect, rather than a fly-by-night newcomer with zero chance of gaining any immediate power. Sure, it could grow into a movement, but would advocates rather gamble for five or six election cycles, or have most of their platform recognized by the powers that be? Of course, the European system, which has stability within its party, also has its benefits, but the recent prevalence of minority coalitions and factional infighting is a little bit too unstable for my taste.

To bring it all back to what I wrote yesterday, simply being labeled as a "Republican" or a "Democrat" means very little. A Ron Paul is much different than a Sarah Palin or an Olympia Snowe. (And thank goodness.) Likewise, a New England Democrat like Patrick Leahy is much different than a Midwesterner like Ben Nelson. It's not too surprising to find a Democrat more like a fellow Republican than a fellow Democrat (much to the chagrin of the party leaders).

Labels, in the American political sense, have meaning, but not nearly as much meaning as people impute upon it. And signaling support for a particular individual doesn't necessarily represent a duplicate match of policy positions. If any individual is interested in engaging in any sort of meaningful debate, stripping away misleading indicators of one's own preconceived imagination is the first step.

*i.e., I forgot.

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