This piece was written as part of GreenChange Blog Action Day. Learn more here.I'm not going to pull any punches here. I detest the two party system. I believe that it undermines representative government. It makes our government more responsive to corporations than to citizens. It decreases the chances of progress and it results in many good ideas being shut out of the national political debate.
The limits imposed on this nation by the two party system are slowly leading to its demise. Partisan gridlock in Washington, outright corruption, the absurd difficulty of kicking out incumbents, corporate control of Washington, and the infamous backwardness of many local governments (among many things) are all symptoms of this same disease. And I do not use that language lightly.
Many have said that there is no difference between the two major parties. This is obviously false. However, they can accurately be described as two sides of the same corporatist coin. On one side of the coin, Republicans give away billions to the "defense" industry and appoint lobbyists to head government agencies and are just blatantly corrupt. And when you flip it over, Democrats...well, give away billions to the "defense" industry and appoint lobbyists to head government agencies and are just blatantly corrupt. Sure, there are many differences, too - Republicans generally support less regulation, Democrats tend to be pro-choice, Democrats are generally more supportive of health care reform attempts, and Republicans have recently turned into the party of Oppose Anything That Would Vindicate Obama. In the words of Bill Maher,
We have a center-right party and a crazy party. Over the last 30 years, the Democrats have moved to the right, and the Republicans have moved into a mental hospital.
These are not great choices. And that's the essence of the duopoly on politics: it limits voters' choices to the point of them not having a very representative government. When they want climate change legislation, they get nothing. When they want single payer, they get nothing. When they want to end the war in Iraq, they get an increase of military contractors.
This limitation of choice is not a coincidence. And that brings me to my first bullet point...
Basically what I'm saying here is that the two party system is not as much of a naturally occurring phenomenon as many people believe it is. There are many laws and practices in place that create a vicious cycle of third party failure. As election law expert Richard Winger points out,
The U.S. voter has less choice for whom to vote than his great-grandfather did.
Although the U.S. has made great strides during the 20th century in enfranchising citizens who formerly were denied the right to vote (women, blacks, poor people), we have been losing ground on the parallel problem of what choice a voter has, once he gets a ballot.
In the 1896 general election, every single congressional district in the nation had at least two candidates on the ballot. The average district had 3.1 candidates on the ballot.
In the 1912 general election, the average election ballot had 4.1 candidates for Congress. But in 1984, there were only 2.3 candidates for Congress on the typical general election ballot, and one-ninth of the districts (49 out of 435) had only one candidate on the ballot.
The modern-day voter's choice is even more limited in state legislative races. In 1984 6,881 seats were at stake. An astounding 2,815 (41 percent) had only one candidate per position on the ballot.
In some important states, such as Texas, Massachusetts, and Florida, over half of the legislators were elected with no one on the ballot against them.
The blame for the declining number of choices on our ballots can be laid squarely at the feet of state legislators. Many of them have made it far too difficult for candidates to get on the ballot.