April 5, 2007 - Admin

Is Our Two-Party System a Detriment to Voters?

There are more than 2,000 political parties in the world, and it’s a shame the United States champions only two of them. Travel to Germany and you’ll see five major parties listed on the ballot with more than 20 smaller ones. Travel to India and you’ll find people voting for the Bahujan Samaj Party, the Nationalist Congress, the Bharatiya Janata.

Indeed one of the most blatant differences between how the government works in the United States in comparison to nearly all those democracies abroad is its heavy reliance on an uncomplicated two-party political system. From Hamilton and Jefferson’s Federalist and Anti-Federalist parties of the 19th century to the Republicans and Democrats of today, it has always been two opponents pining for control.

With one side naturally pitted against another like a team sport, much of American philosophy and thought has become polarized into diametric frames of thinking as a result. This divided system has inadvertently perpetuated a left vs. right, Democrat vs. Republican, liberal vs. conservative, “us vs. them” political mentality. Think about it – are you a proponent of national health care? You’re labeled a liberal, a Democrat, a blue-stater. Against abortion? You’re automatically considered a conservative, a Republican, red as a stop sign. The labels are easy, they’re quick, they’re convenient.

They’re also incorrect.

It is not human nature to think in pure terms of black and white and it’s not natural to polarize people’s belief systems in completely opposing blocs that are so large its members cannot agree on the same issue.

Good ol’ chap Teddy Roosevelt once said, “The old parties are husks, with no real soul within either, divided on artificial lines, boss-ridden and privilege-controlled, each a jumble of incongruous elements, and neither daring to speak out wisely and fearlessly on what should be said on the vital issues of the day.”

Indeed, most people, me included, find themselves frequently thinking outside party lines on certain issues, stuck in the gray area between the two extremes. This is why the centrist members of a particular party can so easily gain control. Because in a form of government that is neatly divided along the middle, the moderates always win since parties’ leaders are too afraid of delving into either extreme. Yet, as a result, the raw political flame of change has blown out and the end product is compromise, concession, moderation, flip-flops, apathy and disregard.

Yes, there are the Libertarians, the Socialists, the members of the Green Party, the American Independents. But in a country where minority parties are disregarded completely – where the winner takes all – they have no real chance to win seats or represent themselves in government.

French sociologist Maurice Duverger once theorized a two-party political system was the natural result of a nation that championed a single-member district plurality, or a form of government where the candidate with the most votes in his or her constituency wins the seat.

Without a proportional voting method, however, minority parties will never be counted as whole votes unless they win an entire constituency. The system must be reformed if we ever want a country that is more than two simple, stale and staid political parties whose standpoints often bleed into one another, and more often than not, cannot be distinguished from one another.

Perhaps it has to do with the fact that it’s much simpler to throw people into two opposing sides. It takes less thought and less brainpower. But the truth is humans are meant to think without concrete party labels obstructing their view. They shouldn’t have to deal with flashing words and absolute ideas. At least they should have more options. They cannot think, “I really don’t believe in this, but I think I’m supposed to since apparently I’m liberal/conservative/red/blue/bleeding heart.” That’s not thinking – that’s compromising your values.

As 1960s Minnesota Sen. Eugene McCarthy once said, “Saying we should keep the two-party system simply because it is working is like saying the Titanic voyage was a success because a few people survived on life rafts.”

It’s up to us as members of society not to disregard everything of merit that’s sinking along the way.

Shazia Haq is a print journalism and international relations junior from Torrance, California. Her column, “Scene & Heard,” runs Thursdays in the Daily Trojan the Student Newspaper of the University of Southern California.

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