Saturday, May 26, 2012

Why America needs multipartyism

The Liberal Ironist had an essay on the origins of partisanship in Washington. Like most analyses, it seems to be based on the erroneous premise that there was little or no partisanship in Washington prior to the 1990s. Anyone actually familiar with American history knows there have been several times when the country and the Congress have been far more bitterly divided than it is now: the late 18th/early 19th century, the Civil War and Reconstruction, the Vietnam years.

The current hyperpartisanship is really the result of the convergence of the two major political parties on economic issues. Since Reagan's reign, BOTH major parties have veered sharply to the right on economic issues. And while liberals comfort themselves by blaming Republicans, even Democratic presidents have pushed the conservative economic orthodoxy of deficit reduction, tax cuts, heavy cuts to social services and the fraud mislabeled “free trade.”

Because the two parties have so heavily converged on economic issues, the only real difference remaining between them is on social issues. Since this is really only a small handful of issues – primarily whether gays, women and Hispanics deserve to be treated as human beings or deserve to be treated by 14th century standards – the two parties play these up to the hilt. 

It's called the psychosis of small differences. They already agree on so much, they can't compromise on the few things they disagree with or else they will be completely identical. The illusion of choice in our corporatacracy depends upon these few differences being hyped up as much as possible so as to rally the bases.

You now have a Democratic president who’s campaigning on his health insurance scheme... a scheme originally conceived and implemented by his Republican opponent... who’s now attacking what he created. 

I can’t think of anything that demonstrates the convergence (as well as the cowardice, corruption and intellectual bankruptcy) of the two corporate parties more perfectly. The Democrats have become Republicans. And the Republicans have become Medievalists. What's a rational voter to do? Follow Albert Einstein's advice and avoid the insanity of "doing the same thing over and over but expecting  different results."

Vote for smaller party and independent candidates, like Dr. Jill Stein. At the bare minimum, inform yourself about candidates from outside the two corporate parties. This will take some work, since the corporate media tends to blacklist them, but it's worth the effort.

The US is probably the only democracy in the world with so few (two) parties represented in their national legislature – even in democratic paragons like Russia and Zimbabwe have at least three. This won’t solve all the problems. But clearly, fresh ideas and approaches are needed and the Republicans and Democrats are not interested.


Anonymous said...

I am the author of the blog entry you have referenced. Since a phrase like "Anyone actually familiar with American history knows..." obviously implies that I am ignorant of American history, you can have it: You aren't as close or thoughtful of a reader as you think if you assume based on what I wrote that I didn't think partisanship existed prior to the 1990s. I am well-aware that other periods in our political history were characterized by partisanship. (Before and after the Revolutionary War and the years before the Civil War are obvious examples.) Just because I think the devolution of our 2 mainstream political parties from elite-controlled machines into assemblages of activists that fancy themselves hostile to normal politics and "the system" doesn't mean I don't think other eras were beset by paralyzing partisan differences because of an absence of those conditions. Anti-Washington rhetoric may facilitate ideological governance but it isn't necessary for it. In addition to needlessly insulting me, you have drawn a fallacy.

You're wrong in calling the Vietnam era a period of partisanship on my definition as well. Obviously there was a lot of political contention at the grassroots level, and there were insurgent political candidates such as Republican Presidential candidate Barry Goldwater in 1964 or Democratic Presidential hopeful Eugene McCarthy in 1968. But while this activism has always drawn a lot of attention from the media and popular culture, this period was part of a long phase of left consensus in our politics, one that broke down in the late 1970s. At the time there were many conservative Democrats, but there were also many liberal Republicans, and Republicans had neither the strength nor the ideological inclination to challenge this political consensus. In my blog entry my whole point was about partisan dysfunction at the level of our elected officials, which has happened before but rarely reaches our current state of mistrust and paralysis.

Anonymous said...

(Liberal Ironist again.)

Your own thesis doesn't actually fit the facts. As I already said, Republicans and Democrats by and large shared a broad consensus on a liberal domestic policy from the failure of the challenges to the New Deal until inflation and the collapse of Northern cities changed the national political terrain at the end of the 1970s. On your causal narrative, the existence of this consensus should have encouraged the "psychosis of minor differences" in Congress; it did nothing of the sort. Just a few years after the Roe v. Wade decision, Democratic President Jimmy Carter was pro-life, so it doesn't seem the politicians were holding themselves to much of an ideological checklist then. Your analysis doesn't really hold up on the other end; really big differences exist between today's Democrats and Republicans on economic policy. I'll ignore the fanatics and focus on Congressional leadership and Presidential contenders:

1) President Obama bailed-out the Detroit car companies General Motors and Chrysler. Governor Romney says he wouldn't have done that--even though the intervention is widely-viewed as a success and is very popular.

2) President Obama passed the $831 billion stimulus in early 2009. 3 Republicans in the Senate supported the Stimulus; no Republicans in the House supported the Stimulus. Republicans seem to have embraced F.A. Hayek's overcautious and useless argument that capital spending during an economic downturn distorts the economy and unacceptably compounds public debt.

3) President Obama has proposed billions of dollars in Federal funding for new high-speed and regional passenger rail service. Congressional Republicans, and some Republican Governors, have tried to de-fund some of these proposals.

4) Congressional Republicans in 2011 *all* voted for Congressman Ryan's plan to convert Medicare into a Federal defined-contribution private insurance scheme. They have proposed a major change to that program, and Democrats will have none of it.

5) While they did ultimately pass free trade agreements with Colombia, Panama and South Korea last fall, Republicans and Democrats in the Senate contended over those agreements with unprecedented bitterness. The Republicans ultimately had to agree to new trade adjustment assistance provisions before those free trade deals were ratified.

6) While it's true that Republicans have become fanatical in their opposition to tax increases, they haven't discouraged the Democrats from proposing tax increases on the rich--indeed, the Democrats seem to see this fight as an easy opportunity as the Republican position is pretty unpopular with non-Republicans. At the end of this year, a large assortment of temporarily-lowered tax cuts are all set to expire at the same time; we should see then whether there really aren't any policy differences between Democrats and Republicans.

Anonymous said...

(The Liberal Ironist 1 last time.)

This has gone on long-enough. It isn't an exhaustive list. The point is that there are plenty of non-trivial differences between Democrats and Republicans on economic and domestic issues, and you should know better. Before you start clamoring for a 3rd party, keep in mind that our very electoral structure makes that a bad idea for anyone who wants a particular policy outcome: We don't award legislative seats (aside from at many municipal jurisdictions) through proportional representation, instead having a geographical, winner-take-all (the Brits call it "1st-past-the-post") system for awarding seats. This means that if a 3rd-party candidate does reasonably well in an election, he almost inevitably cuts into the electoral support of the candidate next most-inclined to his own ideology. If the Tea Partiers had organized their own party around their message rather than attempt a takeover of the Republican Party's infrastructure as they have, their split of moderate and conservative Republican votes would have been devastating for conservatives generally, and the Republicans wouldn't currently be running the House of Representatives in spite of the massive conservative turnout in the 2010 midterms. If you actually believe there are no differences between Democrats and Republicans in the way they want to handle the economy (which just sounds oblivious to actual policy debates to me), you should still acknowledge that it's worth fighting for the soul of the Democratic Party. If you can't learn the lesson of Ralph Nader's 2000 Presidential run--namely, that with our plurality-goes-the-spoils electoral institutions "morally-pure" ideological candidates are only good at delivering political control to their worst enemies, then I'm done trying to convince you. But maybe you won't call people you disagree with ignorant of history next time.

Brian said...

Ironist, a few points...

-"Anyone actually familiar" was indeed unnecessarily snarky. I apologize for that.

-You are correct that I misspoke (typed) when I described Vietnam as partisan division. It was ideological division.

-America needs multipartyism for ALL elections, not simply the presidential.

-Fundamentally, both Democrats and Republicans support militarism and corporate control of government and wage war on civil liberties. Democrats do engage in rhetoric against those things but support them in practice; for example, Democrats rail in theory about Citizens United but have no made no serious, or even token, effort to push a Constitutional amendment overturning it. There are minor differences in HOW the two parties support those things and who. Democrats bail out the auto industry. Republicans bail out bankers. Democrats aggress Libya. Republicans aggress Iraq.

This isn't good enough for me. Sorry but if saying vanilla crap or chocolate crap is an insufficient choice makes me an 'ideological purist' then so be it.

Structural changes are needed and neither of the two corporate parties nor their supporters (or the "less of two evils" voters) are interested.

Republicans are leading this country toward the edge of a cliff at 80 mph. Democrats are leading the country toward the edge of a cliff at 50 mph. Am I "naive" or "unrealistic" or an "ideological purist" because I want someone who's actually going to hit the break? If so, then I can't say I'm bothered by the labels.

Brian said...

Fundamentally, you seem to admit that it's a crooked, unjust system but don't seem to have the slightest interest in changing it. Am I wrong? How is this not moral bankruptcy?

The lesson I take from Nader's 2000 run is the importance of alternative viewpoints in our politics. If you look at Nader's platform in 2000, I suspect you'll see that it's virtually identical to what Occupy is advocating today.

As a student of American history, you surely know that the major parties are moved unless outside forces push them.