Two Parties, Twelve Parties Who Cares?

Depending on how one defines stability, the United States of America is not the only stable democracy in the world. Much of Europe, much of Latin America, parts of Asia, and bits and snatches of Africa have democracies that are stable enough for most of the people to have a say in what goes on in their lives and in their governments. They aren’t always listened to but they get their say. In the United States we are coming to the time when people will need to decide what stability means to them and with that decision comes one element not in our constitution and one that is. Today let’s look at the one that isn’t, the two party system.

Would it surprise you that political parties are convention not law? You can read the constitution upside down and backwards. Not only will you not find mention of how many of them there should be, you won’t find mention of them period. We had them in England and the founding fathers, all who were members of one or another of them, assumed we would and should have them here. It took some time and some ironing, but a few wrinkles were removed with the coalescence of existing parties down to two and an amendment to the constitution to elect president and vice president together from the same party. Not always the case–truth. You think you’ve seen some vice presidents treated dismissively? Read some early American governmental and political history.

But this is a blog not a book, my point is that we have two parties, they have served us well enough to get us this far. This question is why they have, and if we’re getting to the last stop on that political train ride, a ride wholly dependent on the passengers, not the engineers. Once in modern American political history did the passengers switch trains, that was when the Dixiecrats left the Democrat Party over segregation and turned the American south into the land of the Republicans. Other than that one has always pretty well known what a Republican stood for, what a Democrat stood for, and how much they would compromise on those things to get something done for the country.

John Anderson, a former Congressman and Ross Perot a currently wealthy entrepreneur mounted interesting if not world changing third party candidacies. Teddy Roosevelt’s Bull Moose Party  just past the turn of the last century was brightest star of the third party constellation. Other than these we’ve trundled along with two parties, the Democrats best known for FDR and the Republican Party, “the party of Lincoln” as it is called, although many seem to be more comfortable with it being “the party of Reagan.” And within that split lies the potential beginning of something that has never happened in modern American politics, the splitting of one party into two or more and the end of the two party system. Election law is a state thing and such splits aren’t as easy to accomplish as they are to write about but again, this is a blog. Back to the math. So what? So we come back to stability and how we want to live in this country with one another.

Let’s say a word first about the concept of the two parties and why they have to date brought us this far without much bloodshed in the streets or elsewhere. They have functioned as political umbrellas with those of many opinions huddling under them to stay dry in the political rain of ideas a healthy democracy produces. There is some pushing and shoving. Some stay drier than others. But all in all the umbrella gets them where they want to go with the least amount dampness falling on each. Every so often someone tilts the umbrella or drops it. For sure, people get madder than wet hens, but things move forward after some nasty words and nasty looks.

What is happening now is different. We have one party functioning as a political party has always functioned and one that seems on the verge of breaking up like a hard hit bar of Bonomo’s Turkish Taffy. It began with the Tea Party. They there were splits in the Tea Party producing further right and less far right opinions. Evangelicals are not quite sure where they belong now, or yet. There still remain the traditional right of center Republicans, but they seem to be able to come together less often on fewer things. Single issue leaders or rigid iconoclasts push what is incoherent and non-cohesive policy over a patch quilt whose patterns are discernible because their patterns touch one another here and there and look like policy. Without that political coherency we find outcomes like the Tax whatever– bill–reform? reduction?–which is, but for the word Tax  hard to recognize if one compares it to its original descriptions.

A tooth broke in my mouth last week. It was a total surprise and the result of years of small fissures born of chewing on hard things until enough of them weakened the tooth and it came apart. Now comes the hard–and expensive part–of putting it back together. We are witnessing political fissures forming. It is hard to tell when they will turn into cracks and eventually split the system. But for sure they will. Unfortunately there is no x-ray machine to help us figure out the when of it all.

When it happens we will witness people forming narrower parties than we have now. We may have two or four or 6 parties. Plenty of democracies do. Plenty of democracies also have scores of elected officials so dedicated to the now narrower aims of their party, and getting its members elected, that the effort precedes what’s best over all for the country. Then people with great anger take to the streets. The police are called out; sometimes its the army or national guard. There are water cannons and rubber bullets and sometimes real ones. It isn’t anything we haven’t seen here, or in other democracies, but we don’t see it with the regularity and body counts seen elsewhere.

There comes a time when the abnormal becomes the norm, when the chaos becomes central to the message and the system lurches from point to point instead of being able to keep the all the leaders on the rails. At a point, enough people begin to wish that someone was “really” in charge. Eventually that happens; the fissures of democracy begin to crack. It starts with a chief executive calling for the arrest of individual citizens or the banning of a book, or the wholesale restructuring of a key or several keys that make up the backbone of democracy. Suddenly the cheeseburger becomes unnoticed in paradise.

Who knows where it stops? That’s why we should care if we have two parties or 12. It’s more important than just arthritic.

============================================================================Every week Bill Gralnick empties out his head for (hopefully) your edification. Feel free to agree or disagree. Space at the bottom is there for such things as is the ability to share the column with others. www.

He has written two books: “Mirth, Wind, and Ire: and “More Earth, Wind, and Ire.” Both are social and political essays with a little humor thrown in. They can be found by author or title on your Nook or Kindle or most other electronic reading devices. They can be ordered at for “Mirth, Wind, and Ire.”

or for “More Mirth, Wind, and Ire.”

…and either for the staggering small sum of $2.99 (open a free account on Smashwords prior to placing the order.)



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