The Point of a Two Party Political System

mccain_obama_apConservative Political columnist Cal Thomas recently responded to Meghan McCain and Steve Schmidt’s explanation about 2008 GOP election losses. Thomas in his Op-Ed piece “Lost in Political Space” characterized their solution for the GOP as saying Republicans should become “more like Democrats.” Thomas’ indignant response: “What’s the point of having a two-party system if one party mimics the other?”

Thomas makes a good point – if the two major political parties are identical in what they offer, how can we say there is real political choice in America? Democracy does invite different and even opposing groups to put forth their ideas for consideration by the voting public. The frustratingly difficult task for believers in any one party or political philosophy is to convince the independents and undecideds and the wavering fringe to vote for their ideals and candidates. What seems so obvious to the politically committed often leads the party faithful to disdain those who to their dismay are not convinced by their party’s platform and arguments. This only further alienates the “unconverted” who feel the disdain and dismay. If the uncommitted are not simply indifferent to the topic, they are looking to the political parties to give them good reason to vote their way. But often what they are shown is disdain for not “being enlightened” or they are told to be afraid if the “other” candidate(s) are elected; neither venue will convince people to join that political party.   A political party that is only “anti-” is not offering an ideal to be embraced.

The situation of needing to convince others about political beliefs is what exists for adherents of any religious tradition living in the U.S.’s secularized multicultural society with its freedom of religion, emphasis on individualism, separation of church and state, and freedom of conscience. It is difficult to get others to even notice your religion/beliefs let alone be converted to them.

What bothers me in American politics is how often I hear the politically committed express hatred and vitriol toward the opposing political parties and philosophies. This seems to me to be particularly self-destructive for any political party exactly for the reason Thomas stated: “What’s the point of having a two-party system if one party mimics the other?”

voteThere are real political choices to be made. And in a democracy the ideas offered are put up to a popular vote. This never guarantees that the best ideas or candidates will win. That is part of the risk of having a democracy. Sometimes it sounds to me like some politically committed adherents don’t really want a democracy. They really do want a one party system. Of course they want their party to be the only choice. That of course is not democracy. Communist China and Nazi Germany both favored a one party system.

Democracy always poses some risk – certain ideas and candidates who are totally unacceptable to some can win the popular vote. The solution in a democracy is to win the next election – which in America at least occur at predictable intervals. The solution is not to destroy the two party or multiparty system and replace it with a one party system and no choice. American democracy is a good thing, even if we find convincing a majority to vote our way to be totally frustrating.

A few years ago the Republican Party appeared virtually invincible – American opinion had gone their way and it was almost inconceivable that the Democrats could win because they didn’t seem to have any winning candidates or ideas. But come 2008 and behold the Democrats are swept into office and the GOP is alleged to be on the ropes (but I think reports of their demise to be highly exaggerated).

America however is a democracy and the sea of public opinion comes and goes like the tide. There is no reason for the GOP to become identical to the Democrats. People will not stay enamored with the policies of the Democrats forever. The Republicans probably would do well to offer a real social, economic and political critique of what the Democrats are currently pushing. Offer explicit proposals for what the GOP would do if they were in the majority – not just vague negative criticisms of what the Democrats are doing but what exactly would the GOP be doing differently if they were in power. Then the GOP should offer concrete predictions about what exactly they think the end result of the current Democratic policies will be, and how the U.S. would be different (and better) if the GOP policies/proposals were followed. If the GOP is correct, in a couple of years it should be obvious what was wrong with what Obama and the Democrats proposed and did. If on the other hand the Democrats succeed, then the GOP will need to go back to the drawing board and come up with a better alternative for America. This would seem to me to be a better direction for the GOP then simply deriding anything that the Democrats do. Convince voters that your vision of reality is in fact correct – you will then at the next election be able to show you predicted in advance what happened and will be able to say why your vision is better for the future and why you should be leading the country. The GOP loses in 2008 were not because the Republicans were not like the Democrats, but because the populace didn’t approve of where and to vote1what the GOP under Bush-Cheney had led the country. That was not an unconditional or uncompromising endorsement of the Democratic Party (let the DNC take note), but it was a rejection of what the Bush-Cheney GOP had wrought. The GOP has to convince the populace that its ideas and vision are not coterminous with Bush-Cheney’s America . It doesn’t mean becoming more like Democrats but it does mean distancing themselves from what was in order to show that there is a viable GOP alternative.

One thought on “The Point of a Two Party Political System

  1. Refreshingly pragmatic.
    And, while I agree with you that the demise of the Republican party is premature, I think it is fair to say that President Obama has sufficiently raised the bar of public political discourse to warrant a radical overhauling of the Republican platform. They can’t compete with his intellect.
    If they can infuse the party with fresh blood and ideas they will rebuild and perhaps the American people will be better off for it.
    Like you, I believe in multiparty systems where people have a choice of values to vote for. The problem is the Republican party as it stands now doesn’t seem to have any real values left. (Except maybe as it can be measured in $)
    Thanks again. Steve MacGregor

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