I know I’m not the first person to call for this. And it’s not the first time I’ve talked about it. But seriously, it’s time for the Democratic and Republican Parties to follow the Federalists, the Whigs, and the Progressives into the sunset. Why?
Well, for starters, it’s not a real choice. Having only two parties with a snowball’s chance in hell of winning a race only perpetuates a binary system that does not truly represent reality. Seriously, why are Rick Warren and Orson Scott Card Democrats? Why is Mitt Romney a Republican? These gentlemen have had their viewpoints force fit into one of two parties because there isn’t any place to go that isn’t a fringe party.
Besides that, the two major parties suffer from an entrenched bureaucracy that only seems to change once every thirty years or so, longer in the current era. The Democrats seem to forget that the 1960’s ended in 1969 and the Republicans still seem to believe a Ronald Reagan who never existed is still alive. Tell me exactly how this has worked out for the nation? If you think the deficit is the fault of one party but not the other, you are not smarter than a fifth grader.
So how do we go about this?
Well, one needs only to look back at the current major party’s origins. The Democrats started as a regional party under the auspices of Martin Van Buren. Maddy Van may not have been our best president, but he was a rather forward thinking gentleman. In the wake of the so-called “Era of Good Feeling,” when no true political parties existed (James Monroe is the only president since Washington to run unopposed), Van Buren noticed that candidates were getting elected through cults of personality. While Washington may have warned against political parties, Van Buren realized that a lot of men were getting elected simply because they were popular. The same could be said of Andrew Jackson, the Little Magician’s first national success at party-building, but Van Buren realized that it took a grassroots effort to give a candidate any staying power. Perfect? Hardly. But it beats the possibility of an Aaron Burr presidency. Or, fast-forwarding a century and a half, Madonna. Besides, Van Buren was a bootstrapping middle-class lawyer in the mold of John Adams or, later, Abraham Lincoln. No one was speaking for the little guys, and he was the perfect man to put together an organization to give them a voice.
The Republicans are no different. A groundswell of frustrated Democrats tired of their party electing dough faces who sold the Union out to the South, orphaned Whigs whose party disintegrated over sectional differences, and various anti-slavery and anti-secessionists pulled together to create a new party. Yes, they ran a presidential candidate in 1856, but John Fremont was the Ralph Nader of his time, running mainly to raise the party’s profile. The fact is that Abraham Lincoln was still trying to put his party together (despite the National Union moniker that got him reelected) right up to the day he died.
A hundred and fifty years after Ft. Sumter, these two political behemoths are disconnected from the electorate. It’s impossible for them not to be. So what do we get? Well, they demonize each other a lot. Ever wonder why George Bush and Barack Obama get along so well? Obama has Bush’s sympathy. Why? Being the head of a national political party the size of either the Democratic or Republican Parties is akin to running the largest kindergarten class in the world. And the kids are all hyped up on Mountain Dew and raw sugar.
So how do we replace these oversized train wrecks? Again, they started at the grass roots level. At the grass roots level lies the solution. It’s been tried before, but the Progressives, the Libertarians, and the Reform Party all made a huge mistake: going national out of the gate. In the case of the Progressives and Reform, they also started as cults of personality around Teddy Roosevelt (Progressive) and Ross Perot (Reform). Where are they now?
Yet the seeds of the two-party system’s doom have been sown. The Greens, who do a much better job representing the liberal segment of our population than the Democrats, focus on the local level. It’s only a matter of time before a Green candidate becomes governor of California.
The Tea Party could do the same for the right if they’d stop attaching themselves to the Republican Party. The Republican ideology is every bit as force fit together as the Democrats. Their collective obsessive-compulsive disorder drives them to bend logic into pretzels to make it work. The Tea Party could accomplish more of its goals by going after the local level on its own than trying to make national politicians bend to their will. Like the Greens, they would be more in touch with their constituents than either national party.
Are there others? Possibly. The Modern Whig Party has been mentioned here in the comments before. There might be others waiting in the wings. But what is the result? Does this mean America would have to adapt to a coalition-style of governance? Why not? There is nothing in the Constitution that prohibits this. In fact, there is nothing in the Constitution that mandates any political party. Some might argue that it would dilute the ideological purity of the various parties who have to suddenly work together. To that I say, “Good. That’s what democracy’s all about.” Ideological purity is grossly overrated and bereft of pragmatism. And anything lacking pragmatism when it comes to running a country is a colossal waste of citizens’ time.
Which Congress excels at.