This fiasco of a presidential election cycle has left a lot of people asking: is it time to abandon the two-party political system?
It’s inevitable. Eventually some people begin to question the value of having basically just two choices that almost always end up being two old white guys. Some reason that if we had a viable third party, or something similar to the parliamentary system we would have more choices and elections wouldn’t be so tense. Americans would feel more at ease if they felt like their votes could be influential in more than just two directions.
It’s a valid question and it comes up nearly every election cycle. I have had the privilege to live under parliamentary government as well as republican government and while I recognize a two-party system is less than ideal, I do believe it is a superior form of government, relatively speaking. The proof is in the pudding, after all. It isn’t an accident that America is the greatest and most successful nation on earth. Our form of government, the mechanics of which we too often take for granted, has allowed us to thrive in a hostile world.
While there is certainly plenty of room for debate on the issue, here are some reasons why a two-party system is not a bad thing, and in fact in many ways is the best thing.
1.It takes a political majority to legislate. Don’t think that because parliamentary nations have more parties to choose from that they don’t need political majorities. You can’t legislate without one. Just like in our system, a ruling party needs a majority to push forward any agenda. In a parliamentary system, that party must work to form coalitions with opposing parties before progress can be made. This sounds ideal but the reality of it is that it means the ruling party has to try to form coalitions with parties that have fundamentally differing ideologies. It is already hard to come to an agreement when the fundamentals of belief are agreed upon. It is doubly-so when the parties involved share no base belief structure. It makes for more gridlock, not less. It also opens the door for more corruption, because many “coalition parties” are just fine with settling into a losing position (this is something the GOP is often accused of). There is a certain amount of influence in being the “losers” when the winners are forced to grovel for your party participation in order to get anything done. That’s more palms to grease, box seats to buy, luxury vacations to provide.
2.Unanimity in ideology helps keep the Executive Branch in check. In America our system provides for an executive election every four years and a legislative election every two years. That means that Americans are given the unique opportunity to elect a leader from one party, but may opt to keep him in check by electing the opposing party to Congress. In a multi-party system, coalitions fighting amongst each other for “favored loser” status and reenacting a political version of Survivor can prevent the legislative body from focusing on the Executive Branch when necessary. Prime Minister Multi-party System may have weakened influence in that system of coalitions, but she also has the power to keep those coalitions arguing with each other in perpetuity as she explores other avenues of driving her party’s agenda.
3.A two-party system offers just as many choices as a multi-party system, but those choices happen at lower levels. Many people who pride themselves in being “fence-riders” or independent (non-party affiliated) voters say that they feel that way because they won’t let themselves be roped into a system in which there are no real options. But that’s not true about our current electoral system. We have plenty of choices. They just happen before a general election. It isn’t a bad thing that one party or the other seems to always be engaged in a “battle for the soul” of the party. That’s how it should be. That is where our choices take place. We fight it out under the big tent. We form factions, we scrap, we play politics, we have internal elections, and local elections. The primary stage is where candidates of all different looks and stripes vie for the loyalty of voters. We are making plenty of choices, they just happen closer to a local level than a federal level. And in America, the power is meant to be concentrated at those local levels. Your federal representatives are supposed to be the least influential in your daily life. “Power to the people” is what happens when our political choices start on home turf and trickle up from there. People who think they don’t have choices have simply chosen to remove themselves from the wrung on the ladder where the choosing begins.
4. It simplifies federal governance and allows a President to represent America on an international stage with a people-powered mandate. While we’re scrapping it out in the lower echelons of government, it is still important to remember that the President is our representative on the international stage. It is an interesting phenomenon of the American political system that for everyone else in the world the President of the United States is the most powerful figure in global politics. For Americans, the most powerful figure in our lives is the legislative branch. The President’s job isn’t to affect our daily lives. His job is to represent us to the international community and advocate for America’s safety and prosperity on our behalf. It is hard to be the most powerful man in the world without a solid mandate from the voters. Despite how powerful the President seems to other nations, he is only that powerful if he has a concerted mandate and full-throated support of the majority of his electorate. The people make the President. A two-party system allows voters to consolidate their votes where it counts when it comes to how a President represents us on a national stage.
These are just a few reasons that a two-party system can be seen as a superior system if we give it more than the passing glance treatment.
If you’d like to hear me expound on these points and more, check out Just Listen To Yourself episode 62 and feel free to email me at the address provided in the podcast with your own responses, which I sometimes do read on air.
Just Listen To Yourself is available wherever you find your podcasts.