by Gerard Donnelly Smith
(Swans - July 2, 2007) Phil Greenspan's reading of the Constitution and the framers' intention would have us toss the document in the dustbin for one alleged flaw. Although the system has declined into a two-party system, the Constitution does not mandate a two-party system, nor does it limit political parties. In fact, it doesn't say anything about political parties at all. During the ratification, the Federalists and Republicans did debate and argue, but these two "parties" were not opposition parties, nor were they to truly develop into such until 1814. The electoral process (which isn't in the Constitution either) did as Phil's analysis notes, went down hill from then.
Rather than promote a "party system," some framers had deep concerns about such entities. James Madison in Federalist Paper #10 argues against "factions," claiming that to ensure a fair democratic process such factions (politically parties) should be limited. Of course the anti-federalist's Clay reacted vehemently in Federalist Paper #11, claiming that limiting the liberty of citizens to form political factions violated the sprit of democracy, a point that Madison had already conceded. Clay ignored the stronger argument that Madison proposed, which was to ensure that any political faction remain non-partisan, so that an individual's freedom to vote his conscience could not be hindered.
I agree completely that the current partisan, two-party system essentially creates an "either or fallacy." The partisan, two-party system creates a perpetual false dilemma that allows both parties to use fear to persuade voters to reject the other party: "if you don't vote for us, we'll get hit by terrorists again." The current parties are opposition parties in that they "oppose" the current government. In other words, the current political structure ensures that the minority party becomes a "political insurgency" whose purpose is to overthrow the majority party through the electoral process.
To do so, the minority party points to the errors and crimes of the majority in hopes of regaining control of the legislature and presidency, which can influence the judicial selection rather than build a coalition with the majority to advance the will of the people. To keep power, the majority party, more often than not, resorts to slander, libel, vote tampering, and fraud. Legislators and senators too often use procedural tactics to inhibit the majority party's agenda, so legislative success cannot be used during the next campaign. In other words, opposition parties, too often, try to derail legislation presented by the other party, even good legislation, rather than build consensus.
The present dysfunctional system has little to do with the Constitution, and everything to do with ideologues. The current two-party system must be reformed, of that there is no doubt. A strong national progressive party should be developed, and the Vermont Progressive Party success should be the model. Moreover, the fragmented socialist parties should unite, and form one American Socialist Party. Over a dozen socialist parties now contend for leadership, rather than combine their efforts to advance a common platform.
Financing for third parties should be a national referendum. The Constitution does not forbid the development of third parties, but independents, progressives, and socialists cannot raise enough money to compete. The Fairness Doctrine should be reenacted, as Congress attempted to do in 1987, only to be thwarted by Reagan. Equal access to the airwaves should be given to all national parties, so that corporate special interests and their large campaign donations no longer limit political dialog. Privatization of campaigns and the vote, and the two-party system, are anti-democratic in my opinion.
Until a serious third party develops, the current false dilemma will be perpetuated, and the win-at-any-costs mantra will remain the common political strategy. Governments should fail, because they have betrayed public trust. Governments should fail, because they refuse to compromise so the public good could be advanced. Administrators should be impeached because they violate their oaths of office. The Constitution makes the latter law and the former possible. The Democrats and Republicans have ignored their duty to impeach the corrupt and criminal, and have not worked together to advance the public good. Yes, Phil Greenspan is correct in his vehement denouncement of the two-party system; however, one cannot say the cause for that dysfunctional system was the Constitution.
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