This tends to make me chuckle. It usually comes from Greens, Naderites or "Libertarians," hoping to build support for some system that might give the parties to whom they give their political allegiance a better chance to win elections somehow. Most of these people are still pretty young and therefore they think that they have some path to absolute truth that us geezers, in our willful blindness, fail to comprehend. They tend, with some but not enough reason, to view the Democratic and Republican parties as being Tweedle-Dee and Tweedle-Dum, equally corrupt, equally beholden to corporate interests, and equally ineffective in implementing a government of the People, by the People, and for the People, as Abe Lincoln so eloquently praised in his Gettysburg Address.
But what really makes me laugh is the notion that somehow a proliferation of minor political parties will solve, or at least mitigate, some of the problems that we face. It isn't like multiple party systems haven't been tried before in places like Italy and Israel, which have parliamentary forms of government specifically designed to permit the forming of ruling coalitions. It's just that they never really work. Italy has been a mess since the fall of Mussolini, and Israel has never known anything but war and its internal politics is marred by internecine strife that makes our squabbles seem like friendly cooperation by comparison.
Of course, we are only a two-party system in a de facto sense. Officially, we are a multi-party system with a wide variety of political parties, many of whose candidates appear on our ballots to the extent that they become confusing to voters. It's just that two of these parties are significantly stronger than the others. As I shall explain below, this is how it should be.
All stable democracies since the invention by the Greeks of democracy itself have been two-party systems. This is because the whole of any democratic society falls into two overarching political divisions, one whose sustenance is obtained by the fruits of their labors and the other whose livelihood is derived from their ownership of property. These two divisions have been represented, respectively, by the Demokrats and the Oligarchs in Greece, the Plebeians and the Patricians in Rome, the Whigs/Liberals/Labour and the Tories in England, and the Jeffersonians/Democrats vs. the Federalists/Whigs/Republicans here in the United States. It is the peasant vs. the aristocrat, the worker vs. the owner, and this is how it has always been and how it always shall be.
Unions are the biggest threat to the ruling prerogatives of the aristocratic class. Unless workers band together, they can always be easily subjugated by dealing as powerful forces against powerless individuals. When workers DO band together for a common cause, however, their unified power places them beyond the aristocrats' control.
Unfortunately, Democrats, both in the party leadership and in the rank-and-file, do not recognize this primary political division, a division that exists in all but the most comprehensively authoritarian societies. Most Democrats, even among our leadership, regard politics as being about specific issues like civil rights, or health care, or the environment, or budgets, or taxes, or war, or other limited aspects of our overall society. And of course it IS about those things when we speak of governmental policies. But political parties represent something greater, something much broader of which these things are merely hoped-for results of programs that are devised in service to the working class.
This compartmentalized view of politics that infects Democratic Party affairs permits the Republicans to practice a divide and conquer strategy, paring away portions of our natural constituencies by appealing to emotions like fear and bigotry ("War on Terrorism," anti-immigration), by accenting parochialism (opposition by southern senators to the auto bailout; resentment of the "academic elite"), by exploiting religious prejudices (abortion, "family values"), by pandering to greed (anti-taxation), and by harping on a particularly jingoistic brand of patriotism based less on this nation's interests than on simpleminded arrogance.
If the Democratic Party would wake up to its actual identity, which is as the party that represents workers and the families of workers, then there would not be these periodic pushes for additinal parties. There is a yearning on the part of many Americans for a political party that genuinely stands up for them, and the Democratic Party has, at least in part, lost its way in this regard. This gives rise to a sort of political balkanization where a party will be created to represent a position on a specific issue, like the Greens for environmental protection, the Naderites for consumer protection, the Libertarians to oppose the more culturally oppressive aspects of our society, etc. etc. etc.
The problem here is that, whenever a third party movement gains any strength, that strength is subtracted from whatever party most closely represents the views of the new party. Greens took many environmentalist votes away from Democrats, just as the Libertarians took liberty-loving votes away in the '60s before they really lost their way -- now they take away mainly the stoners from the Democratic ranks.
So third parties tend to help the party that represents aristocratic interests, which in the United States is the Republican party, as they balkanize the various interests within the working class that should be supporting Democratic candidates. Their proliferation even in a parliamentary system leads to instability and ineffectiveness; in a system like ours it leads to discarded votes and distorted election outcomes, and turns right-wing losers into election victors.
The answer, by the way, is genuine campaign finance reform, including an absolute prohibition of private campaign contributions from any and all sources. Our campaigns should be fully and exclusively funded by the Treasury, advertising time should be donated by the licensed broadcasters in equal amounts, transportation should be provided by licensed common carriers, and any contribution should be regarded as the bribery it is.
Perhaps then one of our parties will be able to appeal to the needs of the workers, who make up the vast majority of the voters but who are seldom in position to purchase influence and access to policymakers via the campaign contribution route.