Suicide of the Two-Party System

Into which powerful organization can you become a voting member without at least filling out an application form?  Perhaps there are some, so let's clarify the question.  What if that organization were a major force in establishing who would become the next leader of the free world?

Presently, you can become a member of the Republican or Democratic Party simply by checking a box on your voter registration form.  Doing so automatically gives you a free membership.  Nobody gets rejected.  Knowing nothing about civics is not an impediment to joining.

Worse yet, in some states, the membership is all but meaningless.  In some states, members of either political party can select who will be the nominee of the opposing party.  It's called crossover voting.  The purpose in doing so is often sabotage.  A member of Party A can vote for an unpopular candidate of Party B, simply to prevent a more popular candidate from winning the Party B nomination.  This underhanded dirty trick is entirely legal.

Until this year, the general public was largely unaware of how the two-party system works, or fails to work.  The biggest question in years past was, why do we get only two choices for president?  Who decides for whom we can, and cannot, vote?

This year, the cat is escaping the bag.  Voters in some cases are shocked – shocked, mind you – that their political party can simply ignore their vote and assign delegates based on mysterious factors that seem intended to lock out the ordinary citizen.  As Curly Haugland, an unbound GOP delegate from North Dakota, told CNBC, the voters do not decide; the party does.  He is right.

This is actually how the two-party system is designed to work.  It is also why President George Washington, in his farewell address, warned us against it.  The establishment of political parties "in different ages and countries has perpetrated the most horrid enormities, [and] is itself a frightful despotism."

This was not a casual precaution, but an urgent warning that political parties are inherently horrid and despotic.

What can we do?  The parties are too powerful to simply be disbanded by decree.  They are so embedded in the political system that many people actually believe that Republican and Democrat are the two branches of government.  In some respects, they may be right.

This is where the old adage "if you can't beat them, join them" may be wise.

I almost did.  A few years ago I had an invitation to run for something called "precinct captain."  I had never heard of it before, and in the end, I did not seek the post – but as it turns out, this is a relatively accessible doorway to becoming an influential member of a political party.  In the grand scheme of things, it is only a local position, but if one is ambitious, it can over a period of a few years (or less) become a vital steppingstone to meaningful, and even powerful, party membership.

We should now expect that voter frustration with politicians may soon reach revolutionary fervor.  Among rank-and-file Republicans, it already has.  In response, newly educated ordinary citizens may soon enter the parties through the precinct level, but once inside, they might wreak havoc if the "old boys" cannot fend them off.  If the anger continues to mount, we may hopefully see the end of the days when Republicans get elected on promises to reduce the size of government only to increase it.

There are two problems, one of which was already mentioned: the ease with which one can assign himself to a political party.  The other major hurdle is that few working people have the time and resources to put into holding even the most obscure political office.  For some of us, even the minor inconvenience of waking early on a Tuesday morning so as to vote on the way in to work is considered a significant patriotic sacrifice. 

Even so, there is hope.  Here are some ideas to help remedy the defects in the present system:

  1. Require that prospective members, before joining a political party, fill out a detailed application form.
  2. Make membership in the party contingent upon a review of this form.
  3. Impose an application fee and a dues schedule.  This would produce a meaningful financial commitment.
  4. Hold meetings.  Party members should attend at least quarterly meetings to discuss policy positions, tactics, and prospective candidates.  Without such active participation, party membership remains meaningless.
  5. Enact laws to forbid non-members from voting in party primaries.

Undoubtedly, imposing costs and obligations in any form on party members will be met with outrage.  "Why, this means that only the wealthy can vote!"

Such nonsense can be countered by the formation of opposition parties in which the members set their own rules.  If an already existing major party wishes to continue making its membership meaningless, then it is free to do so.  Newly activist members can, however, thwart that fatal impulse.

While a multi-party system might be chaotic, it would be an improvement, if for no other reason than that it would decentralize political power.

In any case, the two-party system as it now exists is dying.  It is not being killed; it is committing suicide.

May it rest in peace.

Into which powerful organization can you become a voting member without at least filling out an application form?  Perhaps there are some, so let's clarify the question.  What if that organization were a major force in establishing who would become the next leader of the free world?

Presently, you can become a member of the Republican or Democratic Party simply by checking a box on your voter registration form.  Doing so automatically gives you a free membership.  Nobody gets rejected.  Knowing nothing about civics is not an impediment to joining.

Worse yet, in some states, the membership is all but meaningless.  In some states, members of either political party can select who will be the nominee of the opposing party.  It's called crossover voting.  The purpose in doing so is often sabotage.  A member of Party A can vote for an unpopular candidate of Party B, simply to prevent a more popular candidate from winning the Party B nomination.  This underhanded dirty trick is entirely legal.

Until this year, the general public was largely unaware of how the two-party system works, or fails to work.  The biggest question in years past was, why do we get only two choices for president?  Who decides for whom we can, and cannot, vote?

This year, the cat is escaping the bag.  Voters in some cases are shocked – shocked, mind you – that their political party can simply ignore their vote and assign delegates based on mysterious factors that seem intended to lock out the ordinary citizen.  As Curly Haugland, an unbound GOP delegate from North Dakota, told CNBC, the voters do not decide; the party does.  He is right.

This is actually how the two-party system is designed to work.  It is also why President George Washington, in his farewell address, warned us against it.  The establishment of political parties "in different ages and countries has perpetrated the most horrid enormities, [and] is itself a frightful despotism."

This was not a casual precaution, but an urgent warning that political parties are inherently horrid and despotic.

What can we do?  The parties are too powerful to simply be disbanded by decree.  They are so embedded in the political system that many people actually believe that Republican and Democrat are the two branches of government.  In some respects, they may be right.

This is where the old adage "if you can't beat them, join them" may be wise.

I almost did.  A few years ago I had an invitation to run for something called "precinct captain."  I had never heard of it before, and in the end, I did not seek the post – but as it turns out, this is a relatively accessible doorway to becoming an influential member of a political party.  In the grand scheme of things, it is only a local position, but if one is ambitious, it can over a period of a few years (or less) become a vital steppingstone to meaningful, and even powerful, party membership.

We should now expect that voter frustration with politicians may soon reach revolutionary fervor.  Among rank-and-file Republicans, it already has.  In response, newly educated ordinary citizens may soon enter the parties through the precinct level, but once inside, they might wreak havoc if the "old boys" cannot fend them off.  If the anger continues to mount, we may hopefully see the end of the days when Republicans get elected on promises to reduce the size of government only to increase it.

There are two problems, one of which was already mentioned: the ease with which one can assign himself to a political party.  The other major hurdle is that few working people have the time and resources to put into holding even the most obscure political office.  For some of us, even the minor inconvenience of waking early on a Tuesday morning so as to vote on the way in to work is considered a significant patriotic sacrifice. 

Even so, there is hope.  Here are some ideas to help remedy the defects in the present system:

  1. Require that prospective members, before joining a political party, fill out a detailed application form.
  2. Make membership in the party contingent upon a review of this form.
  3. Impose an application fee and a dues schedule.  This would produce a meaningful financial commitment.
  4. Hold meetings.  Party members should attend at least quarterly meetings to discuss policy positions, tactics, and prospective candidates.  Without such active participation, party membership remains meaningless.
  5. Enact laws to forbid non-members from voting in party primaries.

Undoubtedly, imposing costs and obligations in any form on party members will be met with outrage.  "Why, this means that only the wealthy can vote!"

Such nonsense can be countered by the formation of opposition parties in which the members set their own rules.  If an already existing major party wishes to continue making its membership meaningless, then it is free to do so.  Newly activist members can, however, thwart that fatal impulse.

While a multi-party system might be chaotic, it would be an improvement, if for no other reason than that it would decentralize political power.

In any case, the two-party system as it now exists is dying.  It is not being killed; it is committing suicide.

May it rest in peace.