A two-party system, for now and for always?

Snowstorm ’08 has made this a rather slow week for me, with a lot of time spent indoors by myself.  It has been good in that it has given me plenty of time to read, watch movies, study MCATs (although I haven’t actually done any studying, I have had the time to do it if’n I were so inclined), and to contemplate the workings of the world.  Some of the main themes that I have been musing about this past weekend include multiple universes, time travel, heavy cream vs. whole milk (and how that could be responsible for my failed sunchoke gratin experiment), and the incoming presidency of Barack Obama to name a few.  

I know that in the blogging world news is supposed to travel faster than light, but this morning I got to  thinking about some older news from earlier this month. On December 2nd, the Georgian Republican incumbent, Saxby Chambliss, defeated Democrat Jim Martin in a run-off, thus quelling Democratic hopes for a 60-40 filibuster-proof senate.  This was really no surprise with Martin no longer having the Obama-factor bringing black Democrats to the polls as in the general election, but many Democrats were disappointed nonetheless.  While I consider myself a staunch liberal, I was relieved to see that a Martin victory (and potential Franken win in Minnesota) wouldn’t deliver the entire Federal Government into Democratic hands.  

Chambliss’s victory was important in preventing too much power from falling into the control of a single group of individuals.  While I find it amazing that we still rely on a 221 year old document and 25 subsequent amendments (not counting 18th and 21st since they just cancel each other out) for the basis of our law and governance, I do definitely respect the Founding Fathers’ idea of checks and balances to divide power between the three main bodies of the Federal Government.  Along similar lines, it is necessary that no particular party gains too much power.  The United States is an incredibly diverse nation and it is important that our leadership in someway represents that diversity.  

A disconcerting trend that has been occurring as of late is the disappearance of third-party politics in the US at a federal level.  Ralph Nader went from receiving almost 3% of the vote in 2000 and possibly costing Gore the election to a paltry amount in 2008 (approx. 700,000 out of over 130 million total votes cast).  Ross Perot got about 19% of the vote in ’92 as an Independent, but still was not awarded a single electoral vote.  In fact, the last time a third-party candidate received any electoral votes was George Wallace  from the “American Independent” party in 1968 (as Lynard Skynard did sing, “in Birmingham they love their governor”) and 1848 (Zachary Taylor-Whig) was the last time someone other than a Democrat or Republican was elected president.  That is not to say that the parties and the people they represent haven’t changed in the past 160 years, as recently as 1976 the Democrats were very much a Southern party, but rather it is discouraging that at any one time there are only two possible political ideologies that you can subscribe to (or just decide that you don’t care either way).  I don’t think that Nader, Bod Barr (Libertarian), Cynthia McKinney (Green Party candidate in 2008), or anyone else was a stronger candidate than Barack Obama this year, but it is nice for the people to have more options to choose from.

I am not completely writing off the two-party system as being evil, I just find it surprising that it has been as enduring as it is.  This past year has seen an attempted minority coup in Canada, a third Prime Minister in as many years in Japan, and no less than five acting PMs in Thailand as it has transitioned from military rule back to civilian leadership; “democratic” elections in Africa has been even more of a mess this year with turmoil at the polls in South Africa, Kenya, and especially Zimbabwe.  Other countries tend to see new leadership fairly often, whereas in the US whenever we get bored of one party, we simply switch back to the other one.  That is probably due in large part to our enormous wealth and resources: while we are a nation of haves and have-nots, the have-nots have enough to get by.  

I for one am very excited to see how the Democratic Obama administration handles the tough challenges ahead.  Should they fail to ease problems for the average American, we can probably expect a change in leadership in 2012, but you can guarantee it will be to Republican candidate (be it Bobby Jindal, Charlie Crist, Mitt Romney, or other) as opposed to a truly new way of thinking.  We are currently locked into a two-party system and I don’t see a change on the horizon.


One Response to “A two-party system, for now and for always?”

  1. Mark Says:

    Great blog man, glad to see you made the plunge. I look forward to reading it over the next few years to keep me cool and connected. Have a good new years bro, miss you and seattle tons.

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