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Opening the Space in American Politics

By Martin Zehr  Posted by Martin Zehr (about the submitter)     Permalink       (Page 1 of 1 pages)
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In American politics the American public is not so enamored by the two-party system as to disregard a contributor from outside of it. In 2000 and in 1992, third-party candidates stepped forward to begin a new process in the American political debate.  Although this debate was presented as the substance of the candidacies, in fact, the structural debate was more significant in getting to the heart of American governance. These two elections demonstrated an existing gap in the current process between the tendency to negate significant portions of the American people in the two parties' agendas and the need to update the institutional mechanisms that will facilitate both input and the implementation of structural changes.

These are matters in which there is no coalescing along Democratic or Republican lines. At issue is the form and substance of the Federalist proposition. This brings up new issues regarding the role of states in governing and a refreshed definition of representation in the 21st Century. Debates concerning the Unitary Executive as well as over proportional representation of stakeholders within legislatures have not taken place.

This is a debate that should not fail to address the role of states when they are given administrative responsibilities in U.S. military deployments without being given a defined institutionalized role in the decision-making regarding those decisions. States have no say in the foreign policy of the United States. The National Guards in states ARE part and parcel of the US military deployment overseas. The conflict is obvious as states are found wanting during disasters such as Katrina and the recent Kansas tornadoes for needed equipment and disaster response personnel.

This is also the debate about the contribution of minor parties into the policy formations of the future. Democrats have focused their power to try and crush independent parties by denying them ballot access, and have proposed defending the status quo to increase their own power. They have sought to justify these measures as if they had a legal entitlement to a segment of the vote. They have NOT addressed the reforms needed in the American political structure, nor have they provided any input into the policy debates that have significantly had any influence. They are as much in favor of the Unity Executive as the Republicans are, even while their intellectual apologists obscure this

This debate is expressed in very concrete ways. It is seen in the lack of consensus in the primary process regarding the current candidates and in the potential candidacies of Al Gore and Fred Thompson lingering in the background. It is seen in the emergence of third parties such as the Reform Party, the Libertarian Party and the Green Party in national Presidential politics. It is seen this year in the potential of the Unity '08 bipartisan approach.

Reformism lies at the heart of this debate. Reformism presents the proposition that the debate is skewed and shallow for a reason. Reformism suggests that failing to address structural matters makes the policy debates insignificant in getting at the root of the problems. Going beyond the policy issues means looking at what the needs are for governing and decision-making in a manner that enables open input and integrated implementation of the expressed political will of the American people.



In a survey published in July 2004, the AARP found that 56% of baby boomers (ages 40-57) support a strong third party.  In recent elections for President -- 1992 and 2000 -- there has been a third party constituency with representation at the ballot box. Getting 19% of the popular vote in 1992, billionaire candidate H. Ross Perot demonstrated both the limited access to the presidential ballot, by using his own fortune for his campaign, and the constituency that is accessible to third parties.

The Reform Party sparked a national debate on the budget deficit in 1992, and gained a vote sufficient to receive matching funds in 1996. "In 1996 -- for the first time in the 20-year history of public funding -- a non-major party Presidential candidate qualified for general election funding before the election. The Commission certified Reform Party nominee Perot as being eligible for roughly $29 million on August 22." 

The ability of the two-party system to dominate is based first and foremost on structural mechanisms built into the system of election law in the US. Around the world, parliamentary systems have comfortably adapted to systems of proportional representation without any difficulty. Political parties, once apportioned their number of representatives, are then able to develop distinct policies that represent the needs and concerns of their constituents and advocate on behalf of them.

On November 2, 2004, San Francisco voters made history when they went to the polls and used ranked-choice voting (also known as instant runoff voting) to elect seven members of the Board of Supervisors (city council).   Such a giant step in American politics stemmed from the inherent and deliberate inequities of the American political system. Without a willingness on the part of American voters to establish new ground rules in the electoral system, it cannot respond to the new agendas of broad sections of people.

Domination of the two parties is a result of each having a large contributor base that is used to dominate elections from the Federal level down to the local municipal level.  Public financing, such as Maine's Clean Elections Act, is needed to transform that character and content of US elections.   As things stand, PACs and NGOs play an increasingly dominant role in defining candidates' political agendae and platforms of political parties because of their financial support.

Ballot access is restricted in many states, with the dominant political party using it to limit and stifle the access of other parties to the decision-making process. State definitions of political parties and major party status, state registration laws and regulations, and requirements of candidates and parties to be placed on the ballot have long been manipulated by the major parties to control ballot access of smaller parties and prevent their ability to deepen their base of support in elections.

The effort to democratize the electoral structure directly confronts the corporate interests whose votes equals their dollar contributions. Their disproportionate investment skews policy-making and creates a scenario that continues to marginalize large segments of the American people from having their voices heard and their concerns addressed.  The elected municipal officials of Porter Township, Clarion County -- a municipality of 1,500 residents an hour north of Pittsburgh in Northwestern Pennsylvania -- became the first local government in the United States to eliminate corporate claims to civil and constitutional privileges."   Such a measure demonstrated the significant change needed to facilitate the engagement of the American public in the political system and represents the "shot heard round the world" for the new effort of the people for democratization of the American electoral system.

This year Unity '08 is presenting its agenda based on the premise that the center of the voting spectrum is the most disregarded segment of American political opinion. It is working to test that assumption in a way that will benefit future elections by empowering a broader spectrum of American political opinion to be included in the campaigns of tomorrow. This would not only benefit minor parties but would also address the swollen ranks of the Decline To State voters who currently have no defined means of expressing their opinions.  

As things stand, there will continue to be a lack of stakeholder representation of constituencies because there are no structures defined for the purpose of representing them. There is no ecological democracy because the political entities are defined by bipartisan politics rather than by role as users of resources. Likewise, ballot access will continue to be made into an enormous obstacle so that the political debate is conveniently limited and reform is negated.


The writer is a New Mexico delegate in the Unity '08 nominating process and a registered Green. He was also part of the regional water planning process of the Middle Rio Grande Water Assembly for 10 years.

 

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As a lifelong Libertarian, I used to think the sam... by Peter Jackson on Friday, Jun 8, 2007 at 10:54:28 AM