Thursday, March 27, 2008

Politics....Aaaaghh...Not Awesome.

So I didn't vote in the DC primary that was held last month. It was a big important primary, right? Finally the mid-atlantic states would be involved in a vote that mattered. Usually everything has been decided by the time the primaries hit DC, Virginia and Maryland. So it was pretty exciting right? Not so much. I didn't vote. I didn't really honestly consider voting. I could say it's because I wasn't captivated by any of the candidates, but I like things about Hillary and Barack. No, the reason I didn't vote is because when I got my primary information in the mail from the District of Columbia, it told me that I needed to register as a Democrat or a Republican in order to vote in the primary. This bothered me. I consider myself something of a centrist, obviously (and probably because of the current state of the GOP) leaning towards the left on many issues, mostly social. I am okay with stating my preferences on policy, but why do I have to sign up as one or the other?

I can understand why I shouldn't be allowed to vote in both. There could be some rigging involved - I am an Obama supporter, and I read that he polls better against Smith instead of McCain, so I vote for Smith, hoping to set up the most favorable matchup. So I get it - you should only be able to vote in one primary. That, I am fine with. What I don't like is the voting authorities being lazy and pushing the party system that has become so engrained in our political lives.

From this post at
Its notable that the US is going in the opposite direction to some other countries where two-party systems are tending to break down. The degree of partisanship in the US, until recently far less than in other democracies, is now greater than in many.
If you look at a place like Germany, where I think we can agree that the government is not an abject failure of any sort, check out the distribution in their elected representative bodies:

CDU: 223
SPD: 222
FDP: 61
Left Party: 53
Alliance 90/The Greens: 51
Unattached: 2
Total Seats: 612

Now, without doing too much research, here's the breakdown for the US (from )

Democrats: 232
Republicans: 199
Independents: 0
Vacant Seats: 4
Total Seats: 435

Take note of the fact that there are more vacancies than Independents. Wow. What that says to me is that it's very very hard to get elected as an independent here. What it also says to me, when compared to the German Bundestag distribution is that it doesn't have to be that way.

The two party system is natural. Think about it. One-on-One or Team Sports. It's always one side against the other. Imagine a boxing match where one guy comes in and periodically punches one of the main contenders. The boxers are only concerned with each other, and not really this other guy, because he doesn't punch that hard. Now if the guy could punch harder, or could affect his ability to punch his main competitor harder, THAT would be a problem. But it's all pretty hard to imagine, right? This is because of a political brainwashing that has taken place over the years. It's been so long since a third party was really truly viable. Ross Perot got a lot of votes, but that was more disillusionment with the parties than it was any sort of legitimate bid, and why did he get that many votes? He was RICH.

The two party system in the US is about money. Elections are bought and sold by big donors and national committees. Advertising costs money, marketers need to be paid, consultants retained, pollsters contracted. This is all expensive, and there doesn't seem to be enough money to go around to support more than two parties.

At the municipal level, the issues are much less abstract, and much more concrete. I am for adding new lanes to the highway in our town. I am for school bonds. I am for decreasing the number of people who work for the county. You can identify with the issues, and they are not as tainted by the machinery that is national politics. The further up the chain you go, you are forced to vote along party lines, because those are the choices that are offered to you. For the most part, it's all or nothing, and even if your candidate has beliefs that transcend party lines, guess what? Doesn't matter, because they will vote with the party far more often than not.

Sadly, I am not sure how to fix this, which frustrates me, as one of my big rules is not to complain unless you have an alternative to suggest. The people who can fix this are the same people who are riding the very train that would need to be derailed. It is not in any Congress member's best interest to push the election reform bills that would be required. If anyone broke away, they would lose their support at the party level, and poof, they wouldn't be in office long enough to affect the very change they were interested in bringing about. So, it would have to be some sort of debacle that is beyond parties that would bring the change that is so drastically needed, and I don't see it happening.

So, go HillaBarackaMcCain! You support at least some of my interests, maybe, at least right now. I will vote for you, but only if I don't have to identify myself as a Democrat or Republican.


lapsed cannibal said...

Well said, brother Kirk. But I think it's actually worse than you're making it out to be -- there's really only *one* party in this country, the Corporate party, and they will never allow us to slip into the kind of broadly representative, multi-party system that you're talking about because it's hard enough paying off two parties as it is. If they could get by with just a single puppet party, they would -- but they need to give us at least the illusion of choice.

This is Nader's line, and I used to believe he was a crackpot for saying it -- but now I think he's essentially right, just overzealous. There *is* a difference between the two parties, but it only emerges when a seriously flawed president comes to power and starts implementing the worst and most extreme ideas of his ideology. But the parties are substantially the same in many ways, and really until we find a way to separate money from politics they always will be.

I'm not sure if Obama's the antidote to this. I doubt he is. He's playing a different game, but not different enough. Though I *do* think he'd be a step in the right direction.