Wednesday, April 12, 2006


Why I think it's wrong

Tim links to a post describing the problems with third parties. I think it's wrong.
  1. It's wrong because it ignores that the Republicans began as a third party at a time when the two-party system was well entrenched. The rise of a third party simply required a powerful issue that was untenable for one of the existing parties.
  2. It's wrong because a fair portion of folks vote based on party labels regardless of the candidate. More importantly, most voters couldn't tell you how the incumbent in their district voted on specific issues. So if folks are voting based on the individual, they're doing so based on an individual's charisma, not on his stance on issues, or his party label.
  3. The two party system is dangerous because it puts so much power in the hands of the redistricters. Lines simply need to be drawn just so to give one party a slim advantage in some districts while giving the other party enormous advantage in other districts to diminish the effectiveness of the minority vote. In a multi-party system, electing representatives by party at-large in large states would better express minority opinions and would limit the meaningfulness of redistricting. Recall that DeLay's major accomplishment was to redistrict Texas in order to give Republicans a larger share of the state's seats, leading to a majority in the House.

A couple respectful responses to your good points.

Point 3 points out why a two-party system is dangerous (rightly, I think), but not why a two-party system will continue into the forseeable future, which is the claim of the piece. So it is not truly a counterpoint.

Point 2, that many vote by party identification and not by issue or candidate, is compatible with the originating piece, which only makes a statement about the collection of views within each party. The view is compatible with your Point 2. (Compatible, but perhaps it cannot give a clear reason why your Point 2 seems true.)

Point 1 was also my first thought in response to the piece. But notice, the piece only explains why it is difficult and unlikely that there will be a three-or-more-party system any time soon. Even when the Republican Party rose to prominence, at a very unique point in American history, there did not long remain a three-party system. Other significant third parties in recent American history (Reform, Progressive, Socialist, Populist) eventually gave over their constituencies to one of the larger coalitions. To put my point briefly, the rise of a NEW second party is compatible with the on-going predominance of a perpetuating two-party system (which I take to be the major point of the piece). Only secondarily was the piece arguing that the current two parties will continue as the major parties. Occasional sea changes may bring a new party into the mix, but I find it quite plausible that this will come only at the dissolution of an earlier party/coalition.

What the piece leaves unresolved, I think, is why we have two coalitions that are two parties, while other countries have two coalitions of many (even dozens of) parties.
I was going to respond to this, but Timothy did a good enough job. As for his question at the end, a commenter at my blog posted "Ask a political scientist and they'll tell you that the US has a two party systm because it has a first past the post electoral system. If there was proportional representation or runoff elections then there would be a greater chance of a third party. In a fpp system a third party can win a large percentage of the vote and never win a seat."

And I think that's one big reason: Our system is just different than the others.
Thanks to Tim and Doctor Biobrain for respectfully responding to my poorly reasoned response. I jumped in with a rant that vented my frustration at state of affairs in DC and didn't address the question at hand.

Now that I've actually thought about it, I think the point that the original post made is correct. I don't like that reality and I'd like to see that reality changed, but, yes, the point was correct; I was wrong.
First, for anybody who wants to know more about how a parliamentary system could play out in America, and why we need it, I strongly recommend Daniel Lazare’s “The Frozen Republic.” (Ted Rall was very interested, I know.)

I’m going to dig in and tackle this post on parliamentary government and third parties.

I begin by noting the two are separate, though somewhat intertwined issues.

The main reason third parties TODAY (as opposed to the past, per the one commenter to your post) get such short shrift is that the duopoly, in conjunction with the MSM on something that vaguely resembles "debates," conspire to keep third parties off the ballot (the duopoly) or out of the limelight should they qualify (the MSM). The "presidentialism" focus of our modern federal government, with governance "eggs" ultimately in one basket, only exacerbates this problem.

MSLBs are guilty of abetting this, to. In summer 2006, Congressional Dems made noise about a Congressional public campaign finance bill - with the restriction of limiting it to the duopoly. MSLBs like Kos signed on.

Now, on to your talk of "coalitions."

First, not everybody does it the same, contra your claim.

Japan, for example, has a one-party coalition, not a two-party. The Socialists and Japanese Nationalists not inside the LDP are both internally coherent; neither is a coaltion.

Germany, thanks in part to the national list that elects 1/3 the Bundestag, has multiple politically viable parties, MOST of which are NOT coalitions in the U.S. sense. The Christian Dems and Social Dems arguably are; the Free Dems arguably are not, and the Greens and ex-Communists CLEARLY are not.

Israel has numerous political parties, and due to mutual suspicious, you CANNOT lump all of Israel's religious parties under the umbrella of "coalition." (This is shown by the behavior of various religious parties in Israel whenever Likud tries to form a coalition.)
Next (vis a vis Dr. Biobrian's post) is the question of what would better serve America.

From where I sit, a parliamentary government, even without third parties, would undercut the dry rot of presidential hagiography that threatens to make us like a Russia or something.

It would also fight government gridlock; for example, PM Nancy Pelosi would have been leading our government the past two years.

But, parliamentary government WITH third parties would do more. It would force parties to stand for something. Take PM Pelosi, rather than Speaker Pelosi, for example. Failure to do more on Iraq would have provoked enough of a revolt by, say, the Progressive Caucus to risk a no-confidence vote. Or, let's say half the Progressive Caucus members were actually Greens. Beyond a no-confidence vote, in that case, Pelosi would have risked the downfall of the coalition, if she had to be in coalition with Greens.

Ditto on the GOP side. With third parties, especially with German-style national list, the Religious right could "walk" from the GOP and join the Religious Right party we already have, called the Constitution Party.

And, if the James Dobsons of the world wanted to risk "access" for integrity, their rank-and-file could revolt.

Ditto for folks like Gang Green enviro groups; a viable Green Party would put Sierra et al on the spot vis-a-vis "access politics."

Plus, we’d have parties focused on issues rather than just on “winning,” an idea you seem to tout favorably, but another major thing WRONG with our current system.

Finally, if we had to have coalition government in America because we had viable third parties, I'd rather have "external" coalitions hammered out between different parties than have amorphous blobs as the Tweedledee and Tweedledum of the duopoly.
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