On the Subject of Third Parties: Their Merits
Eric Lendrum, Politics Contributor
Opinion - It goes without saying that the dominance of only two parties is perhaps the worst-case scenario nightmare of George Washington. As we all know, Washington was famously opposed to any political parties of any kind, in favor of being strictly independent.
However, if President Washington was forced to pick his poison and determine which party solution would be closer to his overall vision, he’d prefer a parliamentary-style multi-party system, rather than the current back-and-forth between the same two parties for over 160 years.
Now of course, Washington and the other Founders rejected a parliamentary system similar to what Great Britain had at the time, and still has today, in favor of the republican government where the executive and legislative branches are strictly separate. This is due to the fact that in a Parliament like the British example, the legislative branch essentially decides the executive branch; whichever party is voted as the majority (or plurality) party by the people subsequently determines the Prime Minister and the rest of the executive cabinet. One decides another, two branches of government for the price of one, and one overall party or entity in control of the entire government to do as they please.
As such, the Founding Fathers deliberately intended for the political process in the United States to be as difficult as possible at the decision-making level. They knew that if one particular like-minded entity (read: party) controlled the entirety of the federal government, it would be so much easier for said entity to whimsically pass laws in accordance to their desires. They intended for there to be a divide between the legislative and executive branches, and perhaps even foresaw the inevitable rise of parties in planning this out – because obviously, it is much more difficult and requires more compromise for a Congress controlled by one party and a Presidency controlled by another to work together on a certain law. This, in turn, will produce the most moderate piece of legislation possible due to the necessary compromise, and is thus more likely to appeal to more American citizens rather than a law passed strictly by one party or the other.
This, of course, highlights the conflict of interest between the Founders’ anti-party ideology and the dominance of two parties alone. There is now a 50% chance of each of the two elected branches of government being controlled by one party or the other due to the limited choices, and thus a 25% overall chance that both the Legislative and Executive branches will be dominated by one party. Although this has become a rarer phenomena, we have seen it nonetheless in the days of Franklin D. Roosevelt, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama: complete, unlimited control over the entirety of the elected federal government by one party.
By contrast, a larger amount of parties with roughly the same chance of winning would inherently make this more difficult, for obvious reasons. In some parliaments, a certain number of parties may have to form a coalition government in the event that no one party wins an outright majority. A primary example today would be the extremely-divided Dutch Parliament after the 2017 general election, as indicated in the illustration at the top of this article.
Thus, if America had a similar system, so too would parties in Congress have to cooperate and work together across party lines in a multi-party system, even more so than they already have to. Even if it consisted mostly of alliances between more like-minded parties – such as a Republican/Constitution coalition, or a Democrat/Green coalition – it would still represent some form of compromise and cooperation between different entities, rather than unilateral control by one brand alone. Not exactly like what the Founding Fathers and Washington wanted, but definitely closer than what we have today.
Above all else, a wide variety of parties would result in more Americans being satisfied with the political system on a regular basis, mainly because, ideally, the party that most aligns with their beliefs would have an equal chance of being elected. In what I would call “Ideological Purity,” Americans would be able to actually vote for a candidate or party that actually mostly aligns with their beliefs, rather than just settle for a candidate or party that is “somewhat” like them.
In an idealistic multi-party America, voters of all creeds could openly support candidates who are most like them, and not have to settle for whichever candidate is “at least 60% like me rather than 80% unlike me.” No longer would far-left socialists have to settle for the Democrats when they could simply vote for the Party for Socialism and Liberation. Hardcore conservatives and Tea Partiers could vote for the Constitution Party rather than the Republican nominee. Libertarians could vote for…well, Libertarians. And the Rent is Too Damn High voters could go wild with all the Jimmy McMillans they want.
Overall, there are indeed some good arguments for the third parties – not for any one particular party, but for the idea of them as a whole. After over a century and a half of the same two parties, evolving with the times and to absorb any potential new parties, the idea of a more idyllic, multi-party system would be a breath of fresh air and would slowly begin to move the American electoral process back towards the idea that the Founding Fathers had in mind. With the historic change brought about by 2016, perhaps this idea can start to take shape and inch closer and closer towards reality with future elections. But probably not for a very long time.
You can follow the author on Twitter: @EricLendrum26.
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