What Comes Next? Multiple Parties?

Jill Stein
Jill Stein, Green Party candidate for President.

Other countries have multiple parties. Why not the US?

I’m a youngish guy (pushing 40), but I cannot remember a presidential campaign as vitriolic as this one, and we’ve barely even started. Isn’t that a depressing thought? President Obama has faced two terms of the most obstructionist opposition party in the history of American politics. Democrats and Republicans alike are doing some soul-searching these days. Democrats seem fractured into two distinct identities: a more cautious, centrist model, and a more populist, Socialist (Eek! Everybody run!) mold. Republicans face an even starker choice: a voracious social-conservative wing that essentially wants to do away with so much government that the Federal branch will be in charge of a (paradoxically huge) military and streetlights, and that’s it. The term “moderate Republican” has become quaintly hilarious as the far-right-wing of the party insists on painting anyone who actually believes that government has a role to play in daily life as a “DC Establishment Party Hack.” These divisions in both parties, though certainly more sharpened on the right, point to a vague road to the future at best.

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So, to quote everyone’s new favorite musical, what comes next? As Donald Trump is the “presumptive Republican nominee for president” (I know we’re all feeling hung over getting used to that phrase) and getting ready to pit himself against (most likely) Secretary Clinton in another one of those “populist vs. establishment” elections (note my eye-roll), never has our two-party system seemed so fractious. Yes, we have a few offshoot groups, notably the popular Green Party, but why is America so hung up on its mano a mano election structure? Is it just because it’s entertaining? Though we seem more divisive now, this contentiousness goes back to the very first days of the republic, when it was the Federalists versus the Democratic-Republicans, and it was just as combative then as it is now. I think the venom has always been there between party philosophies; mass media has just made it easier to spread.

So what are our alternatives in terms of other democracies? We don’t need to look far for examples. Israel had at least 11 political parties in the 2015 elections (and, to be fair, no political party has ever won an outright majority in the Knesset). Though Germany has two major parties, it has smaller but powerful parties that inform the agendas of the larger status quo. The same goes for Spain and many other European nations. Heck, even Iran has five or 10 parties supposedly tolerated by the regime.

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But are more parties really a stronger alternative? As diverse and interesting as many of these countries’ parties can be, almost all of them come down to two basic perspectives: conservative and progressive. In most cases, voters lean one way or the other, and the smaller parties are almost like lobbyists, catering to specific issues or views that serve the larger platform as a whole. Then the heads of the parties must build a coalition within the parties and prove they can form a sustainable government. That sounds kind of appealing to m: Show that you have a commitment to your party’s agenda, but also show an ability to compromise with those who basically share your ideals but have a different approach. Hm. I can think of worse litmus tests for our leaders.

As rosy as this picture seems, I doubt it could work smoothly in our current climate. If and when Trump loses, we’re likely see a splintering off of the Tea Party, whose agenda will be to fight any meaningful action by the Federal government, no matter which party proposes it. What remains of the “centrist Republicans” will finally be free of the far-right conservatives and will maybe flirt with governing again (maybe). I believe we’re farther off from a Democratic split, though certainly closer after the ascent of Bernie Sanders. I find it more realistic that the Democrats will allow themselves to move slightly to the left as a party for a while, which is OK by me. On paper, the schism betwixt our two major parties is supposedly about the role of government: Republicans think it should be limited to the narrowest confines definable because the bigger the government, the less freedom we have to make individual choices. Democrats think that a properly regulated Federal government can be a significant positive force for the country. Smart people can reasonably disagree on this issue, and there are valid arguments to make for both sides. But when conflict is boiled down to social issues, cultural demagoguery and just plain mean-spiritedness, I start to look at possible alternatives and think a United-but-Separate-but-Equal-States of America doesn’t sound too bad.

  • bstar53

    Interesting… However,
    my take on predicting the splintering of the Republican party is that
    this is largely wishful thinking. Note that we were told the same thing
    after Nixon and Watergate and again after the Bush melt down. And,
    each time they manage to come back
    stronger than before like the monster in the horror movies like Tremors where the worms evolve into “Ass blasters”. There is always some new super power to be
    overcome like a biological arms race. That being said, the only real
    hope for a third party would be to concentrate on small local races and
    build some sort of base that can demonstrate the ability to win. OR,
    that some sort of great schism occurs that causes one or the other party
    to split. You might speculate that this is what is happening now. If
    for example some travesty would occur at the Dem convention and Bernie
    would pack his duds and decide to go it alone all bets are off, even
    though I take him at his word that he does not intend to do that. All
    that said, there is an ancient Chinese curse that states, “May you live
    in interesting times!” Interesting. Very interesting! As Artie
    Johnson would say.

  • bstar53

    In fact I would submit that the two party system is flawed largely because only one party has figured out how to use it to their advantage. Look at the very different approaches they have taken to try to achieve success. Beginning with the Clinton “3rd Way” in 92 the solution they offered was to come out compromising and co-opting Republican ideas like deregulation, the war on drugs, DOMA, Three Strikes (tough on crime), etc. Meanwhile the Republicans have undertaken their “RINO” campaign deliberately intended to purge the party of compromisers and marginalize them. The electoral results speaks for itself with Republicans owning most of the state houses and Legislatures. Wisconsin is a case history of such a success story converting the blue blue land of Robert Lafollette into Walker’s “Wis-issippi”.
    We as Dems tend to assume that its about the issues. Republicans understand that it is really about leadership. A leader that seems to know the way is more likely to attract followers than one that waffles. Again, you see this in the Sanders campaign, Bernie knows who he is and offers a clear alternative. You are never really all that sure of what is in HIllary’s box of chocolates.
    In a game which depends on motivation to get out and vote some certainty of motive is key. Otherwise, why bother?
    If you haven’t noticed, turn out on the Democratic side has been abysmal especially in mid terms when Dems lose a lot of State races. (2010 is a great example!)
    Because of this lack of firm principles it is the Dems who are at the greater risk of spawning a 3rd party. Frankly if Sanders packed his duds and returned to his (I) status I would follow him and with a growing number of people fed up with the seeming lack of choice describing themselves as Independents it might well result in busting the current grid lock wide open.
    THAT is the greatest hope of a third party.

  • bstar53

    I STRONGLY suggest listing to this:
    We have met the enemy and he is us…

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