I am a registered voter, but I am not registered as a member of either of the two major parties. Most people who know this, including my father, tell me I am wasting my vote if I don’t vote for a Republican or Democrat. I believe it is the other way around.
American politics is defined by what we call the two-party system. In the Senate there are currently 51 Democrats, 47 Republicans, and two Independents. The House of Representatives totals up to 191 Democrats, 240 Republicans, and four vacant seats. This Congressional split has many political implications, though I am particularly concerned with the clear dominance of both the Republican and Democratic parties over the Independents.
The two-party system is designed to operate on the rationale of quid-pro-quo. Translated from Latin, it means “this for that.” The basic idea is that the Democratic and Republican parties, having supposedly opposing views on government and its role, will bargain with each other until they come to an agreement which satisfies both parties, and hopefully most closely represents the views and wishes of their constituents.
As an example, let’s look at a hypothetical public education bill. In this bill the Democrats want to increase teacher pay rates, increase the number of days in the school year, and increase the property tax to pay for this.
On the other hand, the Republicans would like to decrease government grants to schools and decrease the number of mandatory school days, which would allow them to lower taxes. One possible solution that they might eventually agree on would be to increase teacher pay rate, decrease the number of mandatory school days, and leave both the property tax and government grants untouched.
Quid pro quo works fine as long as both sides agree to sit down and compromise with each other. Unfortunately, this is becoming less and less the case.
The 2013 Sequester is a perfect example of the breakdown of the system. It was put into place as a deterrent, sort of like a death penalty for ineffective government. In fact, both parties were certain that it would never come to pass, as both President Obama and House Speaker John Boehner are quoted as saying, “It will not happen.” However, we now find ourselves in the thralls of this very event.
The reason behind this is that our country is now experiencing a political civil war, and it is a war of attrition. It has become more important to many politicians that their opponents fail than they succeed. Recently, political campaigns have become increasingly negative with each passing year.
This past election cycle, the first presidential campaign ad I saw was an Obama attack ad pulling out all the stops against Romney. Correct me if I’m wrong, but there used to a time when the men who wish to lead our great nation would at try to pretend for a while that they were civilized gentlemen, and female politicians are equally proficient at slinging mud at their opponents in the most despicable of ways. When did American politics stop being about, “Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness” and become, “Well he divorced his dying wife, but this other guy is probably a Muslim and not even born in America?”
Election campaigns are not even the worst of it. Once these men and women make it into office, the problems really began to manifest themselves.
In his inexperience, as one of his first actions of office, President Obama tried to force through a healthcare bill that congressional Republicans and much of America’s citizenry were vehemently opposed to. The bill may have passed, and been upheld in Supreme Court opinion that, at best, can be described as sketchy and illogical, but Obama’s actions pitted much of Congress against him and set the tone for the rest of his presidency. With the current congressional split, it will be almost miraculous if anything meaningful is achieved this term.
To put it simply, our federal government had become a quagmire of cronyism and antagonism.
What makes this even more shocking is that the vast majority of Americans actually do not agree with what our government is doing. According to Gallup polling data, in 2011 only 27 percent of Americans identified themselves as Republicans and 31percent as Democrats, while 40 percent considered themselves independent.
If you were to apply those numbers to congressional representation, instead of the current representation I mentioned earlier, the Senate should be made up of 31 Democrats, 27 Republicans and 40 Independents, as well as two others, and the House of Representatives would contain 135 Democrats, 117 Republicans, 174 independents, and nine others.
While this does not account for the differences between states and other similar factors, the difference is still shocking.
Why such a drastic contrast? That is not an easy question to answer, primarily because there is not just one answer, and none of them are simple. Two of the most prominent culprits appear to be historical and media bias.
As far as historical bias goes, the two-party system has become so ingrained in American politics that many people cannot envision politics without it. Despite all of its flaws, many people continue to rationalize the system because it allows them to choose the “lesser of two evils.”
I don’t know about you, but when it comes to selecting the leader of the most powerful country in the world, my beloved country, I would be caught dead before I would ever allow myself to vote for someone who could be described as an “evil.”
By accepting that there are more than just two candidates for the presidency you effectively kill this bias and open up the future to entire new dimensions of possibility.
The media bias, on the other hand, is far more difficult to counter. The only way this can truly be overcome is to seek out news and information for yourself, instead of allowing MSNBC or Fox News to deliver to your ears exactly what they want you to hear. There are numerous examples of this bias being exploited, but I shall only address two here, both occurring during the most recent presidential election.
The first of these demonstrates just how pervasive this bias is. There is a nonpartisan website, IsideWith.com, which allows prospective voters to answer questions about where they stand on certain issues, from immigration, to abortion, to gun control, and then informs them which current candidate’s views align most closely with their own.
According to this website, more Americans aligned with Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson than either Obama or Romney. This may come as a shock to many because few have ever even heard of Johnson, let alone were aware that he was running for president. This demonstrates that many voters are unaware of the candidates’ actual positions on issues and vote based on some other method of determination.
And it’s not like anything is being done to change this. In fact, it’s just the opposite.
During the 2012 election, Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein was arrested … for trying to show up to a presidential debate. According to the Huffington Post, after showing up at the debate taking place at Hofstra University, her and running mate Cheri Honkala were removed from the campus grounds and charged with disorderly conduct.
Apparently, it has become a crime to tell the people of this great country that you would like to be their president if you aren’t one of the media’s golden boys.
It is time for this bipartisan stranglehold on our country to end, and for the people to assert themselves once again.
George Washington himself was passionately opposed to the idea of political parties because he had seen first-hand just how destructive and counter-productive they could be, especially when there are two dominating parties pitted against each other. While abolishing political parties in this day and age is unquestionably out of the question, there is no reason whatsoever why the two-party system should continue to molest American politics. But this change must come from the hearts of the voters as there are currently laws and statutes in place which make it nearly impossible for third-party candidates to receive any recognition, and incredibly difficult to even appear on the ballot.
I am not telling you who you should vote for, or even that you should vote, as it is your right, and you may decide not to exercise it. However, Aristotle, one of the fathers of both politics and philosophy, once said, “He is a citizen in the highest sense who shares in the honours of the state.” Meaning, that to truly be a citizen, one must participate in his or her own governance.
I am asking only that, should you participate, you do so on your own terms, and do not allow for others to dictate your decisions. By doing so you revoke your own citizenship, and only by reclaiming it will our nation begin to heal itself from these dire straights.