Back in June, I penned a quick capsule here on my anti-partisan viewpoint that presented my idealistic view on partisan politics. Releasing the stranglehold political parties currently have on our political, electoral, judicial, and legislative systems seems very important to me, but I will readily concede that it won’t happen quickly, and the change hasn’t even begun (nor are most people aware of this viewpoint, since I’m not at all politically influential), so we’re going to have to be dealing with political parties in their current form for quite some time.
Here in the USA, we’re faced with a fairly typical situation: political views have tended to polarize into two camps, each represented by a party, and thus political dialogue tends to be similarly polarized. The true nature of the flow of political power is much more dynamic than that, but there are incentives for those who deal in that power to entrench the system as it is – to preserve the status quo. This preserving of the status quo is the defining characteristic of conservatism, conceptually, but as can readily be observed, entrenching the two-party system into place is a priority for almost all politicians, whether they call themselves conservative or not, since almost all of the successful ones are members of one of the two parties sharing power.
Our first president, George Washington, was the last one to have no party affiliations, and though he warned his successors to beware the evils of partisan politics, they chose to organize immediately into opposing camps based on the political ambitions of two of the most powerful politicos, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams. Upon their retirement from political life, these two began a life-long correspondence that was characterized by rapprochement and friendship, but the precedent they set in their political lives has resonated down to the present day, and it is all but impossible to imagine how American life might have progressed through the last two centuries had their friendship matured a little earlier, and enabled them to take Washington’s advice more seriously.
So now we are stuck with a two-party system that always eventually grows so polarized that it warps and is warped by the dynamic flow of events and power. One party is the putative champion of preserving cherished values and ways of life, and the other stands for tackling new problems with new ideas; neither of these ideals is particularly related to the way either party or the politicians affiliated with them actually do business, though. With every issue passing through the polarizing lens of the duopoly, much nuance is lost, and outcomes are always influenced more by partisan bickering than by the exigencies of the issue.
A simplistic interpretation of these realities might conclude that there are no “real” differences between the two parties of a duopoly – like most simplifications, this interpretation is of little value. The fact that the existence of the duopoly itself is an overarching problem, distorting people’s views in every sphere of governance, doesn’t imply that all perceived differences between adherents of those parties are illusory, even if many are highly tinged with illusion – what it implies is that political discourse in a duopoly becomes more skewed as time passes, and issues become harder to deal with effectively as those distortions keep us from connecting. The need to control the frame of the discussion, to “spin” it in your party’s favor, outweighs the need to work toward solutions.
This has been a highly abstract view of the problems I see with our current non-statutory duopoly – I have purposely kept it that way to avoid some of the distortions it speaks of, but I am, of course, a product of the duopolistic political environment as much as anyone else, and I have some views that can only be expressed in the terms of that environment. Trying to see clearly through the distortions as best I can, it seems to me that the constituent parties of our American duopoly have developed to a point where one of them has degenerated more completely than the other to dealing with the illusions generated by its own “spin” than the other party. I derive some degree of hopefulness from the fact that one of the frontrunners for the next presidential race in the party that I see as less delusional has advanced his career to the US Senate without running on either of the duopoly tickets until now.