It’s Time for a Third (or More) Way

There are many problems with America’s political system today. One of the biggest is the two-party duopoly.

No rule or condition in the Constitution dictates that the United States be dominated by a two-party system. But who was the last U.S. president to be elected from outside the two dominant political parties of the day?

George Washington.

Our first president represented no party during his two terms. But ever since his reluctant presidency that established our nation and the (once) dignified office of the executive branch, we have devolved into a system that elevates two sides of an issue, two points of view, a black-and-white perspective in a world that is more often gray.

Some issues remain two-sided, of course. Should we deport DREAMers or should we not? Should we raise or lower taxes? Is universal healthcare the best option? Should abortion be illegal?

There are more issues, however, that invite nuance and creativity. Divisive topics are presented as either/or, which is a false dichotomy in many cases.

Take gun laws, as an example. Conservatives view any step toward stricter gun regulation to be an attack on the 2nd amendment, while some progressives probably wish we could do away with the 2nd amendment altogether. Yet the majority of Americans believe in universal background checks, banning bump stocks, raising the age to purchase a weapon and even banning certain assault-style weapons.

There is plenty of room to compromise to make America safer while protecting the 2nd amendment.

Areas like education and immigration and criminal justice are in desperate need of reform with easy wins on the table.

Even on abortion, which for most conservatives is a black and white issue, there is room for compromise. Rather than going for all-or-nothing and ending up with nothing, wouldn’t it be better for conservatives to move the needle a little? They could focus their efforts on laws that ban abortions when Down Syndrome is diagnosed or that require information on adoption services to be more clearly presented when a woman inquires about an abortion.

An idealist could even look at a combination of issues and the possibility of a “grand bargain.” What if we banned assault weapons and late-term abortion, created a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants and instituted a block-grant system of federal funding for education to states? Seems like that would satisfy folks on both sides. There are a number of combinations of policies from both conservatives and liberals that could be centerpiece of compromise legislation.

But, alas, partisanship gets in the way.

What would happen in the next primary election to a Republican who agreed to any form of stricter gun legislation? They would have a more conservative candidate challenge them and question their conservative credentials. What about a Democrat who voted on a compromise that included stricter abortion laws? Again, someone farther to the left would likely beat them in a primary challenge.

The system is built to support the two parties as constructed, and those parties are becoming ever more extreme. At the same time, the percent of Americans who identity as independent rather than Republican or Democrat has risen from 30 percent in April 2004 to now 45 percent in April 2018. (click here)

The chance of Republicans or Democrats meeting in the middle gets smaller every year.

But will viable parties from outside the two-party system ever develop? It would take time and resources and focused energy in specific areas, and I’ll explore those in my next post.


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