Americans know that many of their elected officials are corrupt and compromised by money in politics, by lobbyists, and by wanting to win elections. What many don’t know, or fail to discuss is that it is our two-party system that also has a lot to do with having horrible candidates to choose from and with a gridlocked Congress. Many Americans have noticed that Congress has become not only more polarized, but also hyperpartisan. Congressmen and women are more worried about winning elections than about solving problems for their constituents. We currently have a Congress that passes hardly anything, that seems pettier, that spends most of its time campaigning and that refuses to act maturely and compromise, and this actually has a lot to do with our two-party system.
It’s not about constituents, it’s all about party advantage
Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi said her priority was to elect more Democrats, Republican leader Mitch McConnell said his goal was to prevent President Obama from winning reelection. Mickey Edwards states in his article “How to Turn Republicans and Democrats into Americans”, “With the country at war and the economy in recession, our government leaders’ first thoughts have been of party advantage.” He points out that “we elect our leaders, and they then govern in a system that makes cooperation almost impossible and incivility nearly inevitable, a system in which the campaign season never ends and the struggle for party advantage trumps all other considerations.” This can be seen through the background check legislation on guns that just failed partly because of the NRA lobby and partly because the Republicans refused to give the Obama Administration a win. When 90% of Americans want legislation on background checks and don’t get it, there’s something very wrong with democracy. It shows that those in Congress care more about making the other side look bad than about their constituents. It shows how everything becomes politicized.
Poliscienceblog argues that the problem is not polarization, but hyperpartisanship. It states, “So it isn’t that the parties are too far apart to agree; they simply don’t want to.” Although Democrats and Republicans have their ideological differences, it does seem that they are becoming more ideologically pure. Think of the Tea Party members that refuse to compromise and have moved more to the right. By sticking together Tea Party members have been able to block legislation on budget deals and even executive branch nominations, and have become obstructionists all in their goal to make President Obama look like a failure.
To be hyperpartisan is to respond to incentives
Nate Silver wrote in the NY Times that members of Congress are becoming hyperpartisan and it is because they are simply responding to incentives. He writes, “Most members of the House now come from hyperpartisan districts where they face essentially no threat of losing their seat to the other party. Instead, primary challenges, especially for Republicans, may be the more serious risk.” This is why you have probably seen that politicians pander to their base, not the middle. Nate also shows that polarization has also increased. It increased around 8% from 2008-2012. He writes, “For example, a district that was 25 percentage points more Democratic than the country as a whole in 2008 was about 27 percentage points more Democratic than the national average this year.” The same went for Republican districts. Nate says one of the firmest conclusions to be drawn is that Congress is motivated first and foremost by winning elections. He states, “If individual members of Congress have little chance of losing their seats if they fail to compromise, there should be little reason to expect them to do so.”
This is not our Founding Fathers’ democracy
Mickey Edwards points out that the democracy we have today is not what the Founders intended. George Washington and other presidents warned of the dangers posed by political parties. The parties that arose after the nation was founded were factions uniting on a few major issues, not agreeing on every single one. When you go to the polls in November, the names on the ballot have been reduced to a few candidates the political parties will allow you to choose from. As Edwards states, “Americans demand a multiplicity of options in almost every other aspect of our lives. And yet we allow small bands of activists to limit our choices of people to represent us in making the nation’s laws.” So it is not only money in politics that limits democracy, but the two-party system itself also. The political parties decide who will be on the ballot, but wouldn’t it be better for Americans if they chose? Wouldn’t that also open up primaries for individuals who truly care about being civil servants instead of just for those pre-approved by the parties?
No matter our political affiliation we are all Americans
The state of Congress and of American politics is horrendous and Americans deserve better than two-parties who only want to embarrass each other and make each other look bad in order to win elections. Americans need politicians that will share ideas, share solutions to problems and who will debate and engage with those across the aisle in order to solve problems and serve their constituents. There is a need for politicians who will answer to their own consciences and who are not afraid to go against their political party when it is in the interest of their constituents. (More politicians like Elizabeth Warren please.) Jeffrey Schwarz points out that the two-party system is no longer serving the interests of Americans. It is no wonder that according to Edwards nearly 40% of voters consider themselves “independent” and that Congress has an approval rating of 15%. I agree with him that a third party is needed to reign in candidates that are out of touch with mainstream America and who are really independents.
Like Edwards, I do not want a political ‘center’ since we are at a time when we need tremendous steps forward, nor am I asking for consensus because I think as he does, that it is impossible, but I think it rational to ask for compromise and for debate. And not that fake debate they show us either, where politicians know the questions beforehand and only allow certain questions. I think it rational to want for both sides to be able to give up something for the greater good without members being thought of as traitors to their parties. Having only two parties has turned Republicans and Democrats into adversaries when really they’re on the same team. The only thing these parties seem to be doing is creating divisiveness and animosity. So Millennials let’s look critically at our two-party system and decide if this is something we should keep or change. If juvenile behavior from grown women and men, politicization of every single issue, and failure to compromise because members face no threat of losing their seats is what comes of the two-party system then I want something new.
Here is Mickey’s article again, where he gives solutions to the problem of hyperpartisanship. From creating an “open primary” system to turning over the process of redrawing congressional districts to independent nonpartisan commissions. Think about it.