Mail Bag: Political Parties.

Reader Liz writes:

Andrew, what do you think of this article about Iceland’s revolution? The way you write makes it appear that you believe the democratic party (the two party system) can solve our nations problems. To me, the two party system is defunct and serves more to provide a distraction to the voting public when what we really need is something more like what is happening here: http://www.truth-out.org/why-iceland-should-be-news-not/1322327303 I especially like that they chose 25 citizens who were not members of any political party but instead each had 30 personal recommendations to rewrite their constitution. What are your thoughts?

Thanks for the question Liz.  There are two elements that I’d like to respond two.  The first is my view on the two party system.   I do believe that effective change can and does happen in a two party system.  (As an aside, so do the Republicans.  That’s why they’ve fought so hard and used every parliamentary trick in the book to try and block Obama.) There are times when the system works well, and there are times, like now that it seems fatally flawed and doomed to failure. That being said, I don’t think the two party system is the end all and be all of effective governance.  I do think that our system, with a strong executive, lends intself to a two party system.  When you consider that, while parties are not provided for in our Constitution, they do in fact form (freedom of association) and the electorate tends to split between the two majors.  When a third party emerges, it tends to crowd out one of the two majors.  It stated with the Federalists and the  Democratic Republicans.  The Federalists gave way to the Whigs, who in turn gave way to the Republicans.  Eventually, the electorate realigned, and we ended up with our current system which has largely been in place since the New Deal.  Could  a third party displace one of the major parties?  That’s a real possibility.  If I had to put my money down, I’d look for that split to happen in the Republican Party first,  a split along the lines of social conservatives and fiscal conservatives. It could happen with the Democrats as well, but I don’t see the lines as clearly.  At that point, it’s really unclear to me what would happen without the facts in front of me.

As for me, I am a Democrat. I’m a Democrat because I believe that the stated goals of the Democratic Party, and the general thrust of their legislative efforts are more aligned with my deeply held values than the Republicans, but I don’t delude myself into thinking that the Democrats are perfect or that a D next to someone’s name is a sign of ideological purity or anything like that.  It’s an organization that can do wrong or do right.  The same is true of Republicans.  If, in my view, the Democrats started doing too much wrong and the Republicans started doing what is good and right, I would switch.  Likewise, if a third party emerged that was able to enact “my” agenda, I’d align with them.

As for other systems, well it should be noted that we’re pretty unique, particularly in terms of industrialized countries in our style of government.  We don’t have parliaments with proportional representations and coalitions and no-confidence votes. Those systems work just fine, and could even work in the US if the major parties would consent to changes. However, they are also seeing protests and a lot more violence. What’s going on is not a function of two party systems. It’s a critique of the power of the global financial system. 

I think that will do it for tonight.  I’ll answer the Iceland part over m

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About Andrew

I'm a Christian, American, liberal, geeky, thoughtful, Northwest-transplanted Angeleno husband, father, and pundit who writes about anything he can think of.
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