Tuesday, March 2, 2010

The Partisan Regime Is Dead! Long Live The Partisan Regime!

I've heard it before. A lot. The Democrats and Republicans are both rotten to the core. Sometimes, they might even be rotten to the core in equal quantities. They've been entrenched since the Civil War, legally encoded their own dominance so that no matter how bad they get, third parties can't get a foothold. And the only way to REALLY solve America's problems is to get rid of the two-party system, or at the very least, put some of those third parties into power.

If you are one of these people, let me explain a couple of things to you.

First and foremost, you can create all the third parties you want, you can even go nonpartisan if you want, but parties aren't the problem. The problem is the people that make up those parties. Parties are made up of people. Parties don't just come into being out of thin air. Someone somewhere gets together with like-minded people and says "Hey, we should form a party."

No matter how you break up and reconstitute the partisan makeup of a country's politics, you are still drawing from the same pool of people. You might hate Barack Obama and Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid, you might hate Sarah Palin and John Boehner and Rush Limbaugh, but they're all going somewhere. They're not going to disappear into the ether. It's entirely possible that it'd be a lot of the same people at the top flight of American politics no matter how you arranged the parties.

Secondly, if you were to go nonpartisan, that would not do a thing. People with similar ideas and similar personal ideologies are going to gravitate towards each other, align with each other, help each other out on votes. Again, James Inhofe and Tom Coburn are not going to break away from each other no matter what you do.

If politics had no parties, someone would create them.

Functionally, the only thing that might happen is the elimination of primaries, in which case you would have a gigantic nonpartisan scrum every November. Do you recall the 2003 California recall election? Let's go over some highlights:

*135 candidates qualified for the ballot.
*It would have been even more had some top candidates decided to participate, such as Dianne Feinstein, Darrell Issa, Richard Riordan amd John Garamendi, the latter due to the fact that "this recall election has become a circus".
*Seven of the candidates held a debate on Game Show Network entitled 'Who Wants To Be Governor of California?', moderated by former MTV VJ Kennedy. (I am ashamed to admit that I watched it.)
*One of the circus acts, Arnold Schwarzenegger, became ringmaster, winning the election.
*Other candidates, in declining order of votes and varying degrees of credibility: Cruz Bustamante (finished 2nd), Arianna Huffington (5th), Peter Ueberroth (former commissioner of Major League Baseball, 6th), Larry Flynt (publisher of Hustler, 7th), Gary Coleman (8th), Mary Carey (porn star, 10th), Gallagher (the smashing-watermelons-with-a-mallet guy, 16th), Garrett Gruener (founder of, 28th), Angelyne (29th), Jack Grisham (lead singer for True Sons of Liberty, 37th), Diane Beall Templin ("swing dance enthusiast", 68th), Bill Prady (now-executive producer of The Big Bang Theory, T-110th), Logan Clements (131st, would go on to respond to the Supreme Court eminent-domain case Kelo v. New Hampshire by trying to eminent-domain David Souter's house).
*Another candidate was Audie Bock, who was the final domino in a 1999 round of "special election musical chairs" that warranted its own Wikipedia page.

Imagine what would have happened in the 2008 Presidential election, with the two major parties alone pouring 17 people into the proceedings. There would have been no Iowa, no New Hampshire, no long slog to slowly whittle down the field and allow everyone to rally behind a final field of two. It would absolutely have been whittled down naturally by Election Day, but I guarantee you that Obama, Clinton, Edwards, McCain and Huckabee all stick around to the bitter end, and possibly Romney, Paul and Richardson as well.

Which would in all likelihood have thrown the election to the House of Representatives, because no matter the amount of candidates, you still need 270 electoral votes to win. Pluralities are no good in the Electoral College. And that would have been no fun for anyone.

Finally, at the end of the day, it's not the parties we want. It's not even so much the people that we want. It's the policies put forward by the people that make up the parties that we really want. The people and parties are simply vessels through which we achieve those policies.

And party platforms do not remain static. Parties can and do quietly swipe ideas from third parties, incorporating them into their own platforms. And if the policy swiped is your pet issue, well, hey, there you go.

Do you vote for Senators? Do you plan to this year? Thank the Prohibition and Populist parties, who were first to advocate their direct election.
Are you a woman? Do you vote at all? Thank the Prohibition and Socialist parties.
Do you like your kids not being bundled off to factories at elementary-school age? Thank the Populist and Socialist parties, who advocated child labor laws.
Do you like all manner of green policy? Thank the Greens, natch.
Do you like unemployment insurance? Do you like Social Security? Thank the Socialist Party. They started on both in one go in 1928.
Do you like the regulation of interstate commerce? (I'm sure it gets someone going in the morning.) Thank the Greenbacks, who tossed it into their platform in 1880.
Do you like getting tough on crime? Thank George Wallace of the American Independent Party. The Republicans grabbed it pretty much immediately.
Do you like campaign finance reform? Thank Ross Perot and the Reform Party for bringing it up.
Do you like the progressive income tax-- okay, dumb question. But that was the Populists and Socialists; the Populists having grabbed it from the decaying corpse of the Greenbacks. (See? Still the same pool of people.)
Do you like a 40-hour work week? (Well, as opposed to a lot more than 40.) Thank the Populists and Socialists of 1892.
Do you like the 8-hour work day? (Again. As opposed to longer.) Thank the Greenback Party of 1878.

I could go on, but the point's been made. If you're sick of the parties, you don't necessarily get rid of them. Alter them to your liking. Pore over the third-party platforms, pick out anything that sounds good, present it as standalone policy, and see what you can do with it.

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