The Problem with the Two Party System

Sometime in my youth, I remember expressing happiness to my dad that my preferred political party had won the presidency, after a long drought. Unfortunately, the new president was having trouble finding well known, experienced, skilled, proven Democrats to fill the leadership roles in the Cabinet, and beyond. My father, long interested in government, to the extent of reading multiple histories of the Romans, ranted about the incompetence of the new president, and the general failure to fill many of the positions, due to the refusal of Congress to approve his nominees, thus proving his general incompetence to be president.

Is Now The Time to Expand Our Two Party System?

That’s the problem with election cycles in the two party system that we Americans love so much. We’re proud of the fact  that we have only two major parties. We avoid that messy coalition building that other democracies have to to through. We let the people choose, and then let the chosen person / party govern. At least that’s been the theory. The winning party claims a mandate based on the electoral college “landslide,” even if the popular vote went the other way. The winner then gets to fill the leadership roles in agriculture, the military, education, finance, drug policy, and all the other aspects of modern life.

But experience builds on experience.

As an engineer, age late 50’s, suddenly my clients are asking new types of questions. I would not have been able to answer these questions even a few years ago. Or maybe the questions have always been there, but I’m able to hear them now. Hard to say. A few times in the recent past, the answers have popped into my mind almost as soon as they are asked, and anticipated side concerns also seem to articulate themselves in the compost of the confusion of the questioner.

When only Democrats get to fill top positions for 8 or 12 years, Republicans don’t gain the skills required to lead. When only Republicans get to fill top positions for 8 or 12 years, Democrats don’t gain the skills required to lead. When Republicans, who by definition think multi-level hierarchy is the natural and best state for humanity, are in charge for long stretches of time, the sprouts of true egalitarian democracy are killed, pre-emergence.

Empowerment is the Key!

I heard an African-American community leader calmly insisting, correctly in my opinion, that money for White-led organizations helping African-Americans was wasted. African-Americans, he kept insisting, have to be empowered to solve problems by themselves. That means the role of the white cultural matrix must be to try to weed out the systematic discrimination that keeps African-Americans dis-empowered.

Empowerment is related to the SELF.

It does not mean power OVER others.

What are the major, current and actionable sources of this dis-empowerment? I’ll leave that question for all of us to meditate on.

Only by solving problems can we learn to solve problems.

This happens  at many simultaneous levels: individual, community wide, city wide, state wide,  nation wide, and world wide, and over many generations. It takes a long un-interupted time for the poisonous preconceptions carried in every culture to be weeded out in the “market-place of ideas.” These poisonous ideas are left from earlier times, were created in different circumstances, by well meaning people. But the only constant is change. And as change accelerates in the accelerated mingling of different groups in modern times, we need to move toward a system where people of all cultures and political persuasions have un-interupted chances to develop their leadership skills.

You may wish to view this Wikipedia article on other problems associated with the type of voting we have, which is not necessarily confined to two party systems. Thanks to the person who called this article to my attention.

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Engineering consultant by day, science fiction writer in off hours.

5 thoughts on “The Problem with the Two Party System”

  1. Well done, Shona! Interesting what you wrote about “these poisonous ideas … left from earlier times … created in different circumstances, by well meaning people.” Indeed they contribute to the underlying belief system in our culture, one we may not even be aware of unless we pay attention. Thank you for this.

  2. Thanks Shona.
    Concise, well-written individual sub-topics, but simplistic. There are many more dimensions to be explored. I concur on the matter of consensus-building but disagree that leadership only develops within the ‘reigning’ party. I would argue that consensus-building by the minority party represents greater leadership by virtue of its influence. Instead, leadership atrophies in a polarized un-balanced 2-party system. Today, we have too few examples of the former and too many examples of the latter.

    1. Peter,
      Thank you for your thoughtful comments. But I do think that a two party system is inherently inclined to move toward unbalanced polarization. The presence of stronger “third parties” could reduce the tendency to painting all issues black or white, yin or yang, positive or negative. A third party might agree with some of Party A’s takes on issues, and Party B’s takes on other issues, and come up with their OWN take on yet other issues. With a two party system it’s “take it or leave it.” Of course I’m oversimplifying. The opposite of a great truth is another great truth. The point of the simplification is to reveal an aspect that might otherwise not be visible.

  3. Shona,
    Ideally, a well-balanced 2-party system might be expected to offer reasonable diversity and contrast within the people’s “Marketplace of Ideas.” While other so-called parties are equally able to contribute to the marketplace, a 3rd party is perpetually challenged to garner a credible voter plurality to speak for all the people. Let me suggest that the state of today’s 2-party system represents a false choice, not solely because of “Citizens United,” but because of influence bought and paid for in the entrenched marketplace of power — Washington and Wall Street — regardless of major party affiliation. Hence, we need a “new populism” that is in-fact idea-based, invested in the 99%, not the 1%. The “loyal opposition” of either major party regularly offers ridiculous alternatives and specious arguments in support of such ill-informed, inane, and illogical claims. Consequently, there is no real marketplace of ideas, only a cacophony of media-fueled nonsense and misdirecting Twitter posts which do nothing to advance thoughtful, reasoned, and constructive discussion of the serious issues we face. I think the founding fathers would be troubled by the shameful rhetoric, the dubious if not dishonest and despicable behavior of our major party candidates, and the poor quality of our arguments in the media circus we now call debates. Character matters, characters don’t.

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