Hey, gang! Let’s have a (multi-) party!

Donkey and elephant“I wish we could throw them all out and start over!”

How many times in recent months have you said that yourself? Or heard your neighbor say it? Or your brother-in-law? Or a commentator on TV? Yes, our disgust with Tweedle Dum and Tweedle Dummer, our two U.S. political parties, has reached a level seldom seen within living memory. All our congressmen and senators do is fight with each other; collect generous salaries and benefits; make promises to their constituents that they often don’t keep (they make them at election time, forget them as soon as the polling places close); and when they finally retire, having served 30 years or more, they draw a handsome pension and medical benefits from the taxpayers, forever and ever, until the undertaker is the last one to let them down, amen. Term limits are for people like presidents and governors — not for our august permanent occupants of Capitol Hill.

OK; yes, I’m exaggerating — a little. But not a whole lot. Besides a president who is totally ineffective and who seems to be bored with his job, we’ve got 535 legislators, many of them party hacks, who have been singularly inept during the past few years in doing anything except blame the other party (and, in the Republicans’ case, Barack Obama) for everything that is going wrong at once for America, while offering precious few solutions to all those problems.

And why are we so deadlocked, so stuck in the mud, so up the creek without a paddle, with this government? Well, their refusal to impose term limits on themselves is one reason. The guard needs to be changed occasionally. Sen. Strom Thurmond was 100 years old when he finally retired. Sen. Ted Kennedy had served for 47 straight years when he passed on. How many people do things like that, other than senators and congressmen? Or I should say, how many people are ALLOWED to do things like that? But when you can make your own rules for your job, you’re likely to make it a sinecure. And that’s what they’ve done.

It’s not that way everywhere. In Costa Rica, that little Central American country which has been a model for Latin America by being a true democracy for most of its history, the president, vice president, and the unicameral (one house) Congress, are elected every four years. All of them at once. And once you’ve served your four-year term, you can’t run again for another four years. It’s in their constitution. With that kind of a system, theoretically every one of the 4.8 million residents of Costa Rica could, eventually, serve in their Congress. No permanent occupants there!

But the lack of term limits is only a part of our problem. We’re disgusted with both our parties — but what other choices do we have? Third parties have never done very well in the U.S. And if one does manage to get onto the ballot, the usual result is that it draws just enough votes away from the major party that it most resembles, to enable the OTHER major party to win — which leaves all the people who voted for two out of the three parties, angry and frustrated.

Think the other major democracies in the world are two-party fiefdoms like the U.S.? Better think again. The liberals in this country like to spout off about “diversity” all the time; then why do we have so little of it in our government?

Here are brief (don’t want to bore you) rundowns on the political parties of a number of other Western countries:

United Kingdom: Conservative and Unionist; Labour; Liberal Democrats; Democratic Unionist; Scottish National; Sinn Fein (a Catholic-based party from Northern Ireland); Plaid Cymru (Welsh nationalist); Social Democratic and Labour; Alliance Party of Northern Ireland; Green Party of England and Wales; and Respect Party. Their numbers of seats in the House of Commons range from 303 for the Conservative and Unionists, to one each for the last three parties.

France: Socialists; Europe Ecology; The Greens; Radical Party of the Left; Union For a Popular Movement; and the National Front, which has become the third-largest political force in France during the last few years with its nationalist, anti-immigrant platform.

Germany: Social Democratic Party; Christian Democatic Union; Christian Social Union; Free Democratic Party; The Left; and Alliance ’90/The Greens.

Sweden: Swedish Social Democratic Party; Moderate Party; Green Party; Liberal People’s Party; Centre Party; Sweden Democrats (a counterpart of the National Front in France); Feminism Initiative; Christian Democrats; and Left Party. Seats held in the Riksdag, the Swedish parliament, range from 112 for the Social Democrats and 107 for the Moderate Party; down to 19 each for the Christian Democrats and the Liberal People’s.

Canada: Conservative New Democratic Party; Liberal Party; Bloc Quebecois; Green Party; Independent Party. In the nation’s House of Commons, the Conservative New Democrats hold 161 seats, the largest number; down to two seats each for the Bloc Quebecois and the Greens.

Of these other Western democracies, German is the most populous at about 82 million. France and Britain each have between 60 and 65 million; Canada, about 32 million; and Sweden, approximately 9.5 million. So the Scandinavian monarchy almost has one party for each one million people!

By contrast, the U.S. population is probably hovering around 320 million now. And for all practical purposes, we have two political parties — one founded in 1828, the other in 1854.

In the other five countries, it is much harder for the majority party to just ride roughshod over the competition (especially in Sweden). Actual bargaining has to be done on the various issues; the views of a much wider swath of the population have to be considered in reaching a consensus. One major party can’t simply trash the other major party during campaigns, and assume that this will result in more votes for the party doing the bad-mouthing. For the disgusted voters may decide, “Yeah, they’re a bunch of no-goods, but I don’t like your party, either! Think I’ll vote for the National Front (or the Greens; or the Bloc Quebecois; or the Sinn Fein; or the Sweden Democrats).”

In the U.S., if we “Throw  ’em all out” of Congress, then who are we going to put in in their places? Most Americans couldn’t even name one of our “third parties,” such as they are, and most of us wouldn’t even consider voting for one of them. The old American expression, “Why waste your vote?” translates to, “Vote Democrat or Republican; nothing else counts.”

OK, folks; we’ve stuck to our “two parties only” system like flypaper to an errant cat’s paws, for most of our 238 years of independence. Yes, sometimes it’s worked; and a lot of times, it hasn’t. Like now. We are in a colossal mess, with overseas terrorist attacks, an economy that still hasn’t rebounded from the 2007-2008 crash like it should have, illegal aliens swarming into the country by the millions, scandals in the Veterans Administration, the IRS, and elsewhere … and the list goes on.

And Barack Obama is playing golf, and the Congress is going on long breaks. Isn’t it time we realized that we need some other alternatives? Can’t a big, diverse nation like the U.S. come up with some more spokesmen, some more people to yell “Halt!” to this knee-jerk, partisan tug-of-war between two parties who sorely need some competition?

 

 

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1 comment for “Hey, gang! Let’s have a (multi-) party!

  1. mrzollman
    September 23, 2014 at 10:46 am

    You hit the nail on the head, old buddy! Great column.

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