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Friday, October 24, 2008

Time For A Third Party? Problems With America's Two-Party System

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The common wisdom about America's current election season has been making its rounds, and it says with a perfectly straight face: "I think that the Republicans have just been in power for too long. Every few years it's good to mix things up and vote for the other party's candidate to keep either party from having too much control- that's when things always start to go bad." This seems to be a common theme of political conversations, as well as a visceral feeling and response to American electoral politics. Every four or eight (or sometimes twelve) years, we just can't stomach the current party anymore and have forgotten how bad the other party was, so we elect them. There's a glaring truth behind this premise that most people seem to overlook.

That truth is that both parties suck. It's that simple. If neither party ought to have control of our government for longer than eight years, because any longer than that will be enough time for them to do some serious damage, then it is clear that both parties are awful and shouldn't have control of our government for any length of time. We have two broken parties that propose and enact the wrong answers and the wrong solutions, and we're stuck playing them against each other so that neither one will be in office long enough to completely wreck everything. But in the meantime, we are suffering attrition- the slow wearing-down of our freedoms. Picture death by a thousand slow cuts. This is not a strategy to win over the long term. It's a strategy to suck less in the short term. It's not a plan that will solve America's problems. It's a plan to fail.

Witness the popularity of that bumper sticker that says "If you're not outraged, you're not paying attention." It's cleverly vague, and I'd bet that most Americans would nod their agreement with it. I think few Americans would disagree that things are slowly getting worse in our country. They'll only disagree over whose fault it is. Some (like the sort of person I've described above) will partially grasp that it's the fault of both parties, but not enough to oppose them outright and take their vote somewhere else. Then there are the partisans. Some of these will blame the Republicans. Others will blame the Democrats. Both will be correct. A few astute people will see and fully understand that it's both parties. Even fewer of those astute ones will see that it's both parties and their shared premise about the nature and role of government in our lives. If you want to be part of the solution instead of being part of the problem, you must break outside of the current two-party system and its false and destructive premises.

The truth is that neither party holds any promise of change. Neither party respects freedom- both agree that if only their side had control of government and could decide which rights were violated, at whose cost, and for whose gain, that things would be better. Personally, if I am slapped in the face, I don't care whether I'm slapped with the left or right hand. Yet election after election, we actually go to the voting booth deciding which hand we'll get slapped with for the next election cycle, as if it makes any difference. A sane electorate would vote not to get slapped anymore. The Republicans and Democrats offer no hope of change for the better in America. The fight is not between the GOP and the Democratic Party, but between lovers of real and uncompromising freedom (the precious few of us that exist) and lovers (or at least enablers) of the status quo: one giant, corrupt party that violates our freedoms and maintains its ideologically oppressive grip on America by masquerading as two different parties and convincing Americans that the only alternative is between them.

Part of this big lie is the concept of "the line." The Republicrats present the left/right dichotomy as a line with conservatives on the right and liberals on the left. To begin with, these terms have been so utterly mangled in modern American politics as to immediately render the line incoherent, and from here the problems with it only get worse. The moderates are in the middle of this line, and if you go to the right of the conservatives you'll find fascism, and left of the liberals is socialism, with communism even further left of that. This model is absurd as a political construct. What does it even mean to be left or right? Could someone please define "leftness" and "rightness" for me so that I can see what real, meaningful characteristic diminishes or increases as you move in either direction on the line, and furthermore, could someone explain to me why this one overarching characteristic gets to become the defining issue for how we categorize political thought? The line is an example of (deliberately) sloppy thinking at its worst. It has many different but not consistent implications that cause our view of politics to suffer and stumble under the weight of such absurdity. One is reminded of the saying by Ludwig von Mises in 1940:

"The usual terminology of political language is stupid. What is 'left' and what is 'right'? Why should Hitler be 'right' and Stalin, his temporary friend, be 'left'? Who is 'reactionary' and who is 'progressive'? Reaction against an unwise policy is not to be condemned. And progress towards chaos is not to be commended. Nothing should find acceptance just because it is new, radical, and fashionable. 'Orthodoxy' is not an evil if the doctrine on which the 'orthodox' stand is sound. Who is anti-labor, those who want to lower labor to the Russian level, or those who want for labor the capitalistic standard of the United States? Who is 'nationalist,' those who want to bring their nation under the heel of the Nazis, or those who want to preserve its independence?"

What strikes me as particularly odd, is that we are told our entire lives to think outside the box on every other issue, then when it comes to politics, most of us try to cram something as dynamic and complicated as the issue of how to properly and effectively govern a civil society into a line! This speaks volumes about the intellectual state of 21st century America and many of its "leading thinkers." Freedom lovers in America should make it their goal to convince everyone to "think outside the line" and consider alternatives to the two major parties and their ideas about the nature and role of government. Campaigning relentlessly not for a person or party, but for the message that I have outlined here (and for a broader, freedom-based and love-based approach to government), would do America a great deal of good, and possibly set the stage for a real change that embraces real solutions.


  1. A very pertinent set of observations...but one which I fear is lost on most people.
    I am currently trying to find out if there is a third party that I can join, since I have concluded that the Democratic Party and the GOP are a waste of space in terms of modern governance. However, I have to say that most of what I have discovered in the third party zone is in some cases more frightening than either of the two major parties. So far I have read mostly mean-spirited and pompous bloviating that starts from the premise that anybody who does not agree with you 100% is (insert moronic broad-brush insult here).
    I am not going to join forces with mean-spirited intolerant wankers, folks. Whatever their manifest faults, neither the Democratic or Republican parties generally start from the premise that prospective members are idiotic sheep needing a good dose of libertarianism. They learned a long time ago that you are more likely to capture members if you are nice to them.
    Blunt summary to a lot of people in the US calling themselves libertarians: you do not meet my definition of pleasant people. If you want me to join your party, you had better start by dropping the pompous pretence to total knowledge, put down the stereotypical broad-brushes (if I hear another person describe me as a socialist I will laugh so effing loud that the walls of the house will cave in), and start, you know, actively trying to recruit me. The way that you really build organizations.

  2. Great thoughts!

    I published your comment with my responses here:

  3. In response to your question of what is leftness or rightness I will agree that a simple line is not only confusing but wrong. Most people reading this blog would have seen a graph of quadrants with the political spectrum from anarchy (-) to fascism (+) on the Y-axis and the economic spectrum from socialism (-) to capitialism (+)on the X-axis. My personal beliefs land far to the bottom left quadrant while Wes and Graham's fall to about the middle of the bottom right quadrant. Another example is while the Soviet and Nazi governments landed somewhere in the upper middle, the contemporary US governments hovered around the center right and has been inhing upward ever since. Although it is still incredibly vague, the extra dimension irons out the contradictions found in bipartisan politics such as the phrase liberal-republican.

    -Socialism -----O----Capitalism

  4. Thanks for mentioning this. Yes- I do think this way of looking at it is a little better than the line, but has plenty of its own shortcomings.

    It defines government by its level of involvement as if it were a simple matter of quantity, i.e. "this much involvement in the economy is bad, but that much is good."

    I would contend that it's not "how much" involvement the government has, but "what kind" of involvement. My problem isn't that government is "too big" but that it aggresses.

    But the even bigger problem with this quadrant framework is that it still looks at government on its own narrow terms (which is to say, in terms of a classically liberal, Enlightenment view of government).

    Where, for instance is room for the Thomistic Monarchial Paternalist? Wherever you put him on the graph, you would not be able to paint an accurate picture of the nuance of his arguments and beliefs, and he would object!

  5. Lighten up W.E.; it’s entertaining how our glorious political system works... Party sponsored think tanks and focus groups test ideas for those which most energize and anger the masses in preparation for election years (i.e. abortion, deficit, & healthcare). The masses gladly part with contributions & votes in support of ideas for which they had little or no interest prior to political coverage. The politicians and news outlets cash in on contributions and ad revenue! And the rest of us have fun browsing the blogs and chuckling at the ignorance on both sides!

  6. I do have to say that while both parties do suck (frankly, I'm angrier at the Republican Party on some things because they are supposed to be the ones who actually care about the Constitution. At least the Democrats are honest in their socialist views.) However, I highly doubt a 3rd Party would work. We would be repeating 1992 all over again. The Communists and the Socialists all support the liberals now because they know that while they will lose alone, together, they might be able to win. The objective right now is not to start a third party, but to bring the Republican party back and kick out all the RINOs (Republicans In Name Only). Conservatives and Libertarians (and everyone else who loathes big government) should band together. That's why I think the Tea Party Movement (which represents true conservative and libertarian values) should be part of the Republican Party instead of a third party. Third parties would ensure that libertarians and conservatives are split into two parties, allowing the Left to take over with their concentrated teamwork. That is not the way to go if we are to bring the U.S back.