COLUMN: Seeing Red and Blue
The U.S. bi-party political system is about as American as apple pie.
The last president to be anything but a Democrat or a Republican was Millard Fillmore, a Whig whose time in office ended more than a decade before Abraham Lincoln’s assassination.
The current Senate is two percent independent, and the House enjoys 0 percent deviation from the traditional red and blue.
While the simplicity of the two-party system isn’t to be denied, its track record leaves room for doubt. Perhaps its most infamous recent failure was its inability to balance a federal budget, a farce culminating after months of debate and discussion.
The world “polarization,” consistently slung around over the past few months, doesn’t begin to describe the problem.
Politicians will be politicians. It’s obviously unrealistic for us to imagine there’s much to cure political debate.
But when we look at the way the bi-party system puts voters in a two-choice bind, we have to wonder if there’s not a better solution.
Imagine you’re a Catholic who favors government welfare; a vote for a Democrat might also implicitly endorse abortion.
Imagine you’re an economic conservative favoring a reduction in defense spending; a vote for a Republican leaves you tacitly funding the military.
Government is not a black and white (or rather, a blue and red) affair, so why does our system pretend it is? Our citizens are not all liberal or conservative to the core, but, in the coming November election, the most hard-line Republican and the most mild fiscal conservative will probably both be voting for Mitt Romney.
Ours is a system with power to unify but with power to oversimplify as well.
Proportional representation is an electoral system that encourages voters to support party platforms. The more votes the platform receives, the more seats the party receives in their legislative body. In many countries supporting this method, there’s a multitude of political platforms for voters to choose from. Israel’s legislative body currently seats a broad plurality of political parties, as does Italy’s.
The result for the voter is a broader array of choices; instead of voting left or right, you can vote for an important issue.
Of course, problems arise in this system. What happens when a fringe party holds a tie-breaking vote? In a system that encourages the legislature to appoint the government leadership, do voters lose executive power? Isn’t American simplicity, with its system of primaries, sometimes the better option?
Good points all. A two-party system is usually more stable and reliable. But does that stability translate into deadlock?
I’m not ready to turn the system upside down. I point to Israel and Italy not as models to follow but as proof that our current way isn’t the only way. It’s up to us to change what we have for the better.
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