Why We Need Multiple Parties. Desperately.

I just got back from London, an amazing city full of life, culture, aesthetics, and history. The things I saw there will forever change the way that I look at the world, and the memories I made with my friends will remain with me for the rest of my life.

For those that don't know, I went to England last month so that I could study UK Politics. Now, I had never been exposed to a place before that didn't have a two-party system. England even has two main parties (Labour and Conservative), but it has comparatively strong third parties, including the Liberal Democratic, Scottish Nationalist, and Scottish Socialist Parties. Even outside of these, there are Independent politicians who just don't conform to one of the organized parties, and choose to run on their own, truly individual platform. This is not a perfect system by any means, and sometimes with so many different viewpoints, there is a lot of confusion on positions, and overlapping of constituencies.

But one problem that the UK system doesn't have is over-generalized representation for their electorate. There are parties and platforms for people who are socially left, and economically right, vice-versa, both left, both right, and when you add in positions on things like foreign policy, the different types of parties and politicians continue to increase. In Chile (currently ruled by a leftist/socialist coalition), there are 17 major parties, which are forced to work in coalition to one another. But as is the case in the UK, if you're a partisan in Chile, you probably agree with most or the entirety of the party platform because you've picked something that specifically agrees with your own positions and opinions.

Unfortunately, in the United States, we don't have such a thing. We have two viable parties that encompass 320 million people, all with their own ideas about economics, foreign policy, our history, and our social issues--and even in those categories, major differences can arise between one person and the next, who might agree on 80% of things, but feel very passionate about the 20% that they don't agree on.

Having two parties (we did have three once upon a long, long time ago) has been a viable thing in the United States since its inception, but it is becoming less so with the increase in the number of people we have here. Of course, 320 million people aren't going to agree or adhere to one of two specifized platforms. People are forced to accept all of it, even when they may only agree with bits and pieces. There is pressure put on each party to try and come up with some sort of a platform that will be all things to all people, chopped full of nebulous bits of information that can be interpreted in various ways to fit the voters' needs.

I don't blame the parties or the politicians for this. That's why I've never had a problem with Obama's nebulous hopey-changey speak, because I know it's the best way to get votes in a two-party system. I would like to have a more specifized choice, but I realize that the restraints of the system are getting tighter and tighter on this, and that if a candidate came out with very strong opinions (Mike Gravel-specific), that they will inevitably lose, because they can't butter up enough voters. Even Hillary Clinton, who was quite rigid in her stances compared to Obama, still had more than her fair share of questions danced around, coming up with nebulous answers, and puffy rhetoric. The two-party system just does not allow for politicians to have pinpointed ideas about issues to give to their hopeful constituents.

Which leads me to "dealbreakers", single-issue voters, and how that relates to the two-party system. I know Jeralyn has expressed her own distaste for Joe Biden, and for many, people like Kathleen Sebelius or Tim Kaine would be dealbreakers because of their stances on particular issues such as abortion rights or foreign policy or alternative energy. But I don't have dealbreakers. I don't agree with Tim Kaine's lack of support for abortion rights, but I would still vote for him. I certainly don't agree with Biden's stances on criminal justice, but I would vote for him as well. And what I support more than anything else right now, economic internationalism, is being undermined by Obama himself.

But he will still have my vote, because I do agree with his positions most of the time. The trouble is that "most of the time" means a majority of the time. And sometimes it feels like it's a 51% majority. Trying to please half of the country is an impossibility, and that goes for any candidate running today. I would give anything to have a candidate who I agreed with all of the time, but I understand that one person cannot possibly accurately represent every single blue or red voter in the country. Consequently, whoever Obama picks as VP will undoubtedly get a part of the Democratic Party all up in arms. Even if that person is Hillary Clinton, Obama would make half of his own base infuriated. There is no way to please all people.

But that's why I haven't got any dealbreakers. I'm socially left, economically left, and on foreign policy, I support a fairly moderate sticks and carrots approach. My party of choice, the Democratic Party, certainly doesn't represent all of those things at this time, but because they are only marginally better than the alternative, I will vote for them. I don't have one issue, even economic internationalism, where if a candidate disagrees with me, I will just toss them out. But this is the issue that arises with a two-party system as a whole. The overgeneralized representation, and tents expanding to fit millions of people have created the nebulous dodgery that we see today.

We desperately need more specifized representation in this country. This cycle, I would love to have seen Obama vs. Clinton vs. McCain vs. Huckabee in the general election, with the winner becoming president, and second place becoming vice-president. If you think about it, each one of those candidates really represents a different sect of voters on the multi-tiered left-right scale. No one has to be "left" or "right", they can be... "socially progressive and economically conservative", "a foreign policy lib, but anti-abortion", or any number of juxtapositions on the traditional liberal-conservative slant in the US.

No one knows what the Democratic or Republican Parties stand for these days. That's why we need to get in and create a true "Third Way" or even a "Fourth Way", not only so that we can have parties that accurately reflect our beliefs, but also to bring sharper contrast and clarity to the American political landscape.

(Next part: Barriers to Third Party Growth, and How To Overcome Them)

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  • Display: Sort:
    The biggest barrier (none / 0) (#1)
    by CST on Thu Aug 21, 2008 at 02:25:43 PM EST
    to a third party is the fact that our congress is represented by states rather than parties.  Places with multiple parties generally have representative governments, where the people vote for the party not the person (at least on a congressional level).  So if the Green party gets 5% of the votes they get 5% of the seats.  Voting by state makes this really hard, since there are only 2 senators, they need to get a much larger portion of the vote to win.  The house would be easier to change.
    I don't see us switching to a representative government any time soon, and the senate just isn't condusive to 3rd parties.

    That's exactly right (none / 0) (#2)
    by Polkan on Sun Sep 07, 2008 at 06:59:00 PM EST
    and the reason for that representational model is of course in our history, of a country founded as a collection of states.

    I believe this tendency towards a two-party system whenever the representational system you described exists, was first explained in the 1950s by some French guy (Duverger or something)