Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Fixing the electoral system - Part IV - The Two Party System

Here's yet another area for reform that would give Sisyphus pause. This is the last one. I promise. For now. Currently, our government is predominantly controlled by two parties. There are other parties like the Libertarians, Greens, and the Reform party. However, their effects are more often felt at the local level. To say that they are viable options on the federal government level is naive...

Where does one start in talking about the problems in this system? I guess the first problem is that all the modern rules governing political parties have been created by the two parties in question. And while we can argue about whether or not these two parties like each other, I don't think there is any dispute about the fact that they like power. This is evidenced by the rules governing the division of power in Congress. The majority party controls everything and holds the minority party down in a pretty tyrannical way. I know it wasn't always this way, but we are talking about our current situation. So, regardless of the tyranny of those in power, they wouldn't change a thing. For one thing, they know their turn will swing around again and they can dish out equally vindictive payback. For another, by opening the system up, they'd be forced to share the power with other groups. It's bad enough sharing power with the enemy right now.

So, if we want to change the system in any meaningful way, we have to do it against the will and wishes of the people holding the power. They hold all the offices, appoint all the judges, and largely control the media.

The second problem is money. I've already covered that in an earlier post, but it is relevant here as well. The system is set up to make it easier for those in power to raise money and use resources to keep that power. The Presidency is a great example of this. He has many opportunities to schedule "news" moments during the campaign which are really just taxpayer funded PR. And while he is campaigning for re-election, he still flies about in Air Force One and Marine helicopters. Politicians also get financial support from the party coffers in addition to their own funds. So, a new political party rising up to fight against that is like a little mom and pop store rising up to fight Microsoft. Odds are, it's going to be contained or consumed before it can do much good.

So, what do we do about it? I firmly believe that most people are generally moderate in this country. You don't hear about them much because, as moderates, they don't get as rabid or fired up as the extremes on the left or the right. I also believe that most of them are not happy with their choices. The conservative moderates feel they have to go with Dubya because he is closer to their stance than the left. Vice-versa for the left. Kerry may not have been the ideal candidate for the left leaning moderate, but he was a hell of a lot better than Bush.

Now, the likelihood of a moderate Presidential candidate with broad based support not throwing in with one party or the other seems remote at best, so I think we need to start with Congress. Do you think we could find 35 moderates in the Senate? If we could, and we could come up with compromise positions on social and economic issues, perhaps we could slice a new party out of the middle. Even if we found just 20, that's enough to prevent either side from having a majority. They'd be forced to compromise or have gridlock.

I realize this is probably pie in the sky thinking, but once upon a time, lawmakers reached across the aisle to try to work with the opposition party. So, let's create a new party dedicated to the ideal that there are no absolutes and that will compromise or gridlock. We could take a page from Monty Python and call it the Sensible Party. Anyone think this idea has merit? And if so, how do we do it?