…is the termite of democracy. It bores and bores until it creates weaknesses and those weaknesses ultimately create instability. The instability sometimes causes the structure to fall down.
Political science teachers often describe our two-party system as the umbrella system of governance. With little historical exception, almost everyone fit under one of the two umbrellas. The umbrellas in turn were like golf umbrella, really wide. There was room for left, right, and center under them. Since the overall goals of each did not include overturning the system, the jockeying and elbowing that took place didn’t upset the umbrella. Compromise under each was found and the election determined the outcome.
On occasion a third umbrella showed up or a person so powerful and/or charismatic that he (and they were all he’s up until recently absenting Geraldine Ferraro and Shirley Chisholm) was able to gather everyone to his standard but manage to stay under the umbrella. Americans in no uncertain terms didn’t go for third umbrellas, though occasionally their presence screwed up what would have been the outcome had they not been there. George Wallace gave up Richard Nixon and deprived us of Hubert Humphrey.
It is the parliamentary system that is built for multiple umbrellas. It is in theory far more democratic than is our system. A candidate need have only a legislatively stated percentage of the vote to get on the ballot and earn usually 5% of the vote to be able to be seated in Parliament. My favorite example is the Italian prostitute who ran on a single issue platform: better treatment for working women under the law and in the social health system. She won. It would be fun to describe her campaign tactics, but I’ll pass.
The biggest problem with this system is that there can be so many umbrellas needed to put together a majority to govern that the internal compromises can cripple the ability for the government to have a cohesive, even at times coherent, policy. In England on the one hand one can usually count on one of two parties to be the big dogs. They would be Labor and Conservative. On the other side we have Israel, which never in its history has had one or even two parties make up the majority. In time of trouble when it appears only Mother Mary can help, unity governments are formed.
Let’s work our way back to America today. Someone has stolen one of the umbrellas and herded a lot of folks who used to be under the stolen one to cohere under the new one. A peek under there and you’ll see that almost everyone looks and sounds a like, which like it or not, is un-American. Yet around the edges of the umbrella, are groups that could do what the George Wallace third party did. These groups are the unlikely political bed-mates of Orthodox Jews and Evangelical Christians. They want sizable chunks blasted out of church-state separation; through the holes would pour money formally not available to them. They are anti-abortion and give little more than lip-service to women’s rights issues. And that’s about it.
The problem here is that we still have the same two umbrellas so the system runs pretty much the same way. Instead of a third party to siphon off votes from the left or right we have an umbrella with new people under it. These people are the termites. The handle of the umbrella is wood. One of two things can happen. The termites could make the handle snap and the umbrella blows away; most of those under it will scurry around looking for their former umbrella and realize they were better off under it. Or the umbrella will withstand the destruction and go on to be the “new umbrella” on the block.
I’ve spun your heads with analogies but what I’m saying should scare the hell out of you. This country has been like a horn of plenty. It never empties. What it does do, is replenish itself with different kinds of fruit. They look different, taste different, and smell different from the layer below them. The fruit that we had, white, is no longer in plentiful supply; white people after all are not only a minority of the world’s population but shortly will be of the US population. Again two choices: keep adjusting to the new fruit and learning how to like it or try to keep living off the old fruit. The latter is a rotten choice–at least from my perspective.