The Two-Party System: America’s Bloated Problem
by Rob Thomas
Take a second to reflect on how often you have heard these lines in the past year. “I can’t stand my party’s candidate but I need to be loyal to the party.”
“I’m voting for the lesser of two evils.”
“They’re both bad and I am voting for the Supreme Court.”
How depressing is the realization that this is where American politics is at? This election cycle has inspired me to think long and hard about how we arrived at this point and what we can do as citizens to make it better moving forward. Behind all the rhetoric, broken campaign promises, and congressional gridlock, there is a common source of political divisiveness – party lines.
The days of forging consensus through robust debate and compromise seem to be gone. Politicians over the last eight years seem more interested in holding to the party line than about what’s best for the American people. Much of the blame is in our current two-party system.
The two-party system has been around since the early years of the Republic with the Federalists and the Democratic-Republicans. There was no intention from the founding fathers to have a party system; it happened organically. It is not surprising people have gathered themselves into political parties. There is strength in numbers when each individual only yields one vote on a particular issue.
The problem is that by identifying with a party, you associate yourself with its platform. This makes it difficult to break rank and have a differing opinion. How many pro-choice Republicans are there today? How many pro-life Democrats?
As of late, when someone does break rank, the party will throw campaign money behind a primary opponent in hopes of replacing the incumbent or scaring the incumbent to fall in line with the party. This sort of politics puts party before the country, breeds divisiveness and forces politicians to double down on policies that are not their own, but rather the party’s.
This is not a Republican or Democrat issue. This is an American political issue that has reached the point of critical mass. Don’t believe me? Let’s take a look at the 2016 presidential election.
This is the most unpopular presidential election in American History. On one side there is the implosion of the GOP and on the other, Democrats that have moved so far left there are large coalitions of blue collar laborers and moderate Democrats who feel like they have no party.
This is exactly what one expects when you have two parties that make promises to be everything to everyone. It’s not possible. There are simply too many demands placed on politicians these days from the electorate.
We expect a politician to be able to be at both the extreme and moderate ends of our particular party’s platform at the same time. It would be like asking Ted Cruz to be socially progressive and socially conservative at the same exact time. The two ideologies are incongruent with one another.
Due to this demand to be everything to everyone, it has become increasingly harder to know what a particular politician stands for. Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are both notorious flip-floppers. Trump cannot hold the same position for more than five minutes, and Clinton has been on all sides of multiple issues. The bottom line is that politicians have reached the point where they feel they have to say anything and everything to get elected, and this election is a prime example of that.
There has always been pandering in politics but it seems to have hit an extreme. The inability of the electorate to nail down an individual’s position leads to uneducated, mind-numbing debate, leading to disinterest, resulting in a lack of voting.
Regardless of who wins this election, it is clear that something needs to change or 2020 is going to be more of the same, if not worse. One small change could go a long way to alleviating the two-party problem this country currently has.
Presidential candidates from all parties should have the opportunity to participate in the presidential debates. Currently, candidates must obtain 15% in the polls before they are allowed to participate. We should be fostering debate and discourse, not limiting those who have something new and different to say.
There needs to be some threshold mark in order to keep the Vermin Supremes of the world off the debate stage. However, a fundraising benchmark or ability to get on the ballot in ‘x’ number of states would be a much more appropriate benchmark. The point should be to show that a candidate is serious about a presidential run, not electability, at a time when a candidate may be an unknown commodity.
Poll numbers test whom individuals are likely to vote for, so how can an electorate know that they do not want to vote for a third party if they either don’t know who is running or the platform the individual is running on?
In theory, allowing access to debates will force candidates to stay on a position. By allowing more nominees to be considered, candidates will need to articulate their positions and craft a unique message. No longer will candidates have to speak in broad all-encompassing strokes where they seem to be at odds with themselves.
More candidates means greater accountability because flip-flopping on positions will not be tolerated or easily glossed over. A tighter field raises the stakes and the level of the debate to ensure that they stay on message and on point.
America was not founded on the two-party system. America was founded to be a Democratic Republic where debate, dissent, and civil discourse are championed. We have fallen from that idea but it is not too late to start moving back in that direction.
The tone of our debate stems from the tone used by our political leaders. We need politicians to get back to caring about country over party and the best way to start is to facilitate ways for more voices to have a seat at the table. The two-party system is bloated and stale, it’s time to welcome new blood in the form of third party runs.