Over the last few weeks, I’ve seen plenty of people complain about our two-party system of government. And I’ll admit, on the surface, it does seem rather inept. After all, why should voters be tied to just two parties? The push for more parties is clearly something that sounds fantastic to those who are currently fed up with the “status quo.”
There’s just one huge problem – it would be an absolute disaster.
Let me explain.
Yes, in a perfect world there would be multiple parties that represented a varying degree of Americans. Because, let’s face it, there aren’t just two types of Americans. Even within our own parties we can vary a great deal, especially liberals who are often much more diverse than conservatives. That’s probably why I hear this three-party sentiment from people on the left more than I do the right. Except, the way our government is set up, more than two parties would ultimately be a nightmare for the party that split. Especially for liberals and progressives if it’s the Democratic party that splinters.
For an example, let’s use 2016 since there are quite a few “Bernie or bust” folks out there. Let’s say Bernie Sanders loses to Hillary Clinton in the primaries. At that point, he decides to go back on his word and runs as a legitimate third-party candidate. Great news for Bernie folks, right?
No, not really. Great news for Republicans, yeah, but that’s about it. Neither Sanders or Clinton would stand any chance of winning.
What would happen is this: Either Donald Trump or Ted Cruz would walk away with one of the easiest presidential victories in history.
We saw a little bit of this in 1992 with Ross Perot and how many felt his presence in the race cost George H.W. Bush that election. This also happened in 2000 when Ralph Nader pulled some votes away from Al Gore, giving us George W. Bush.
What would have been worse, eight years of “not quite liberal enough” Al Gore or what we experienced under George W. Bush? Just think about that, then tell me how voting “third party” is a better option.
But let’s take this even further. Let’s say hypothetically that following the 2016 elections, Bernie Sanders’ new third party becomes another legitimate liberal party. Instantly millions of supporters then decide that they’re now going to only support that party. From that point on many liberal candidates begin only running under that party’s banner, creating a political entity that the Green party has only dreamt of being. From state and local elections, all the way to congressional and presidential, this new party becomes a staple in mainstream politics.
Well, guess what happens then?
Republican control over nearly every facet of our government would skyrocket. Republicans would score huge wins in just about every single tightly contested race in this country. They would win in many of the races where Democrats should have been victorious, but weren’t because 30-40 percent of that vote was taken by this third party.
Now I know what some people will say: What about a party that appeals to both sides?
Yeah, that’s not going to happen.
Any idea that’s moderate enough to be accepted by both sides would end up a “wash.” It would likely be adopted by either Democrats or Republicans and rejected by “the base” as not liberal/conservative enough. In other words, a “center” party cannot exist unless Democrats and Republicans become nothing more than the radical fringes from both parties, leaving moderates with no real alternatives.
The truth is, our system of government isn’t set up for more than two parties. Sure, multiple parties work in a parliamentary style of government because its structure is made to support that sort of system – ours is not. Our government is set up in such a way that we give the party with majority nearly all of the power. The only “power” a minority party in Congress would have is either obstruction or veto power if that party also controls the White House. That’s what we’re seeing now. If we didn’t have President Obama right now, it would be an absolute nightmare.
So, what’s the solution?
I’m sure I’ll get slammed for saying this (because idealists never like being told to “sell out” on anything), but it’s a mixture of blind loyalty to a party and persistent ideological transformation from within. If the Democratic party isn’t what you want now, then help change it. But be realistic and realize that change often takes time. It’s about knowing when to pick the battles you know you can win now, while understanding that some of the bigger fights might need to be charted out and fought another day. It’s often about swallowing your pride, putting aside your ego and realizing that 60-80 percent of what you want is better than almost none of it.
For example, when Bill Clinton instituted “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” the first true step toward allowing gays into the military, it wasn’t an overwhelming embrace of gay rights – but it was a start. The reality is, at the time, most Americans weren’t as accepting of homosexuals as they are today. Even looking back on that policy now it seems incredibly homophobic and ridiculous. But for its time, it was fairly progressive and highly controversial. Back then, it was either enact DADT, or continue allowing gays to be targeted and prevented from serving in our military.
Like it or not, that’s called knowing how to pick your battles. Was DADT perfect? Absolutely not. But it beats what we had and it was a step in the right direction.
What we need to do is keep supporting Democrats, even if they don’t “energize” us in the way that we want. We need to do this from the president all the way down to city and county elections. Again, while I’m sure the “purists” are going to bash me for saying this, I’ll take a conservative or moderate Democrat over practically any Republican I’m seeing the GOP churn out nowadays. Because it’s a scary day in this country when possibly the closest thing to a fascist we’ve seen is being overwhelmingly embraced as a presidential candidate in a major political party.
That’s why, as a Hillary Clinton supporter, I’ve said from the start that no matter who Democrats nominate (even if it had been Martin O’Malley), I’m going to vote for that candidate. If our primaries choose Bernie Sanders, I’ll be “feeling the Bern” through November and hopefully in the four years after. No matter who the Democratic nominee is, I’ll have no problem holding their feet to the fire and making sure they live up to their campaign promises.
While I know it’s a great talking point for people who are frustrated with the two parties, unfortunately, all a three-party system would do is weaken one party to such an extent that the other party took control of practically everything. And while it’s possible that the “weakened” party would just adopt many of the policies as the alternative one that was weakening it (again, just bringing us back to two parties), that could take multiple election cycles to do and irreversible damage could be inflicted upon this country in the meantime – especially if it’s Democrats who are weakened, giving Republicans overwhelming control through several elections.