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Mon Mar 12, 2018, 08:23 AM

Independents and Our Binary Political System [View all]

Around the world politics is seldom binary. Though America may officially have a multi-party system rather than a two party one, national alternatives to the Democratic or Republican parties have about as much chance to actually participate in governance here as an opposition party does in Russia. Internationally most people get no choice since most nations are functionally one party states like Russia, if not officially one party states like China. But when people are allowed real choices they seldom are satisfied with having just two options.

Our Democracy is old, as these things are measured. The American Revolution was cutting edge stuff – back in 1776, but we are out of step and behind the times now. We no longer live in a Coke or Pepsi world. Unless you fanatically believe in American exceptionalism, it is ludicrous to believe that we have democracy right and everyone else has it wrong. Americans, as human beings, are not radically different by nature than Canadians, the British, the French or pretty much any other people where democracies flourish. We are not hard wired to prefer binary choices when most everyone else wants a fuller menu to pick from. Canadians currently have four major parties to choose between. The British have five. The French have at least 8, depending on where you draw the line. The 2015 Israeli elections seated members from 17 different parties in their Knesset. Even Mexico, long a bastion of one party rule, now has three major national parties and several smaller ones that those three frequently enter into coalitions with.

American voters are essentially forced to fit into a two party system because our electoral system is structured to punish alternative political challenges to the dominant duopoly. No I don't believe “our two major political parties are the same”. But neither do I believe that confining the public to a binary choice adequately offers expression to a multiplicity of viewpoints and differing personal priorities. Americans have elevated “lesser evil” voting into a national model, because voting for one's ideal choice is increasingly equated (for good reason) with allowing your worst fear to emerge triumphant instead. And so voters in America adopted to having either vanilla or chocolate allegiances, but that adaptation is becoming increasingly uncomfortable for many. A plurality of Americans now identify with neither of our major parties, and that bloc grows quickly by percentage as the age of voters polled lessens.

Most of us here choose to be Democrats. I for one do. But do we profess loyalty to the Democratic Party because it nearly always embodies our deepest values, or instead because we know we risk being politically disenfranchised if we don't associate ourselves with a viable political vehicle? Put me in that latter camp. Call it short sighted, or call it prophetic, but fewer and fewer Americans view politics in either of the aforementioned ways, and the ranks of those who labor within the Democratic Party in America continues to shrink. Love it, hate it, fear or welcome it, the trend lines are unmistakable. Here on DU we frequently rant about insufficient loyalty being shown to the Democratic Party, out in the general public people more often rant about how both parties are unworthy of their loyalty.

In our political system, third parties pose problems. We here tend to view their candidates as hopeless narcissists running for offices they have no chance of winning, stealing votes away from those who actually can win. In a typical election they are simply ignored. In a tight election they get labeled as spoilers and blamed for throwing elections to those we fiercely oppose. That's not what happens though in Canada, the UK, Germany, India, Israel, France, Mexico etc. etc. etc. In those nations it is widely understood that voters can't be stuffed into one of two boxes and personally blamed if they don't coexist comfortably with forced binary choices.

In the vast majority of the world's democracies people are accustomed to coalition governments. Parties that contest for election against each other frequently enter into negotiations once the votes are counted out of which some reach agreement to form a new government together. They do so by hammering out ground rules about the priorities which the government taking office will pursue. They don't pretend that everyone on “their side” suddenly all belong to the same political party. They don't live in a George W. Bush reality where everyone has to either be with them or against them, which is the ultimate extension of binary politics. Party leaders from the largest party in a newly formed coalition government don't vilify ministers from other parties in it for showing insufficient loyalty to the largest party's internal platform. None the less they all remain overall allies despite real differences continuing to exist between them.

In my opinion actual multi-party coalition governments more closely reflect the prevailing viewpoints of the populous of a nation at any moment in time better than a system that offers voters a choice between two supposedly big tent political parties. Of course it is also my opinion that all swords should be turned to plowshares, but my opinion doesn't dictate reality here nor anywhere else. So America has a two party system even though Americans increasingly don't like it. I can't blame them for not liking it though I still pursue politics through the Democratic Party. More Americans are Independents than Republicans. More Americans are Independents than Democrats. It is their right to be neither a Democrat nor a Republican, and increasingly they are exercising that right. Does that therefore mean that Independents can not/ should not have their views directly represented in Congress or the White House? Must they pick only one party to express criticism of in order to fully participate in our Democracy? If they don't in all cases support our own party, can they never literally be our allies?

In short, does anyone doubt the cards are stacked to favor those willing to work politically from inside one of two parties rather than outside of both? The fact that the word “bi-partisan” serves as secular shorthand for nonpartisan should serve as a good clue. In many states those who refuse to identify as either a Republican or a Democrat have no say in deciding which two Americans get granted a viable path to the Presidency. They must pick between them every four years lest they “throw their vote away” in the eyes of major party partisans. Political parties are indeed vehicles for ideologies, but they also become entrenched bureaucracies. When only one or two can defacto control government over time spans lasting a century, their institutional instinct for self preservation is ingrained into our very politics, and big time influence peddlers know where to lay down roots.

I don't know what the solution is to this problem or even whether many of you agree that there is a problem with bi-partisan politics at all. I see most of the other world democracies providing multiple viable vehicles for political representation, not simply two. Most of the people we call Independents here in America find or form viable alternative political parties to belong to in other major democracies. It is wrong to expect our Independents to mimic broad loyalty to a big tent party line. And it's crazy to expect Independents to confine their electoral involvement to endorsing/voting for one of two major party candidates each November, to then faithfully stand behind them.

Many of us are upset that an Independent, Bernie Sanders, ran for President as a Democrat challenging a Democrat in the Democratic primaries, before bowing out of the race and reverting to an Independent status once he failed to win the Democratic Party nomination. Many of us were also upset that Ralph Nader and later Jill Stein ran for President in General Elections as a Green – thereby splitting progressive votes when it really counted. We don't want Democrats challenged by third party candidates in November. We don't want Democrats challenged by Independents in Democratic Primaries. We want Independents to all vote Democratic in general elections, for the candidates that Democrats alone get to choose . Yes, we are free to want that and even to argue for that, but we still remain in the minority, one that becomes smaller every day.

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Reply Independents and Our Binary Political System [View all]
Tom Rinaldo Mar 2018 OP
Adrahil Mar 2018 #1
Freddie Mar 2018 #3
Tom Rinaldo Mar 2018 #4
Adrahil Mar 2018 #6
Tom Rinaldo Mar 2018 #7
Adrahil Mar 2018 #9
Tom Rinaldo Mar 2018 #21
Freddie Mar 2018 #2
Tom Rinaldo Mar 2018 #5
Freddie Mar 2018 #8
Tom Rinaldo Mar 2018 #10
LanternWaste Mar 2018 #28
Tom Rinaldo Mar 2018 #29
H2O Man Mar 2018 #11
NewJeffCT Mar 2018 #12
Tom Rinaldo Mar 2018 #13
el_bryanto Mar 2018 #14
dalton99a Mar 2018 #15
Tom Rinaldo Mar 2018 #16
Proud Liberal Dem Mar 2018 #18
leftstreet Mar 2018 #17
ismnotwasm Mar 2018 #19
Tom Rinaldo Mar 2018 #20
Jim Lane Mar 2018 #22
Tom Rinaldo Mar 2018 #23
Jim Lane Mar 2018 #25
Tom Rinaldo Mar 2018 #26
alarimer Mar 2018 #24
Tom Rinaldo Mar 2018 #27
alarimer Mar 2018 #30