August 1st, 2011 // 10:22 am @ Oliver DeMille
The Third Party Solution
Our government isn’t broken.
It is just caught in the past.
Specifically, the current divide between the parties is a mirror image of the country.
Politics is a reflection of society, and the bickering right now in Washington is a direct projection of the nation.
There is one big exception.
The nation is divided into three major political camps.
The problem is that the two smallest camps (Democrats and Republicans) have party representation in Washington while the largest camp (independents) does not.
In short, it’s not that our government is broken, but rather that we are stuck in a twentieth-century structural model even though the society has fundamentally changed.
Instead of a two-party nation sending its representatives to Washington, we now have a three-party society where the biggest “party” must divide its representation between the two smaller parties.
It’s not broken, it just acts like it.
The Great Fall
This situation began to develop when the Berlin Wall fell in 1989.
Up to that point, the two-party model was a natural reflection of a nation engaged in a long-term Cold War with an enemy capable of destroying our entire civilization.
This omnipresent reality colored all policy for over four decades.
Having sacrificed greatly to overcome major conflicts in WWI and WWII, the large majority of citizens from both parties stood firmly together against the Soviet threat.
When the Cold War menace significantly decreased, Americans took a long sigh of relief, and then they reassessed their priorities for government.
Some felt that the needs of big business were the top priority, others considered moral issues the lead concern, while still others deemed an increase in social justice the major challenge.
The first two pooled resources in the Republican Party, while social liberals and those emphasizing social justice combined in the Democratic Party.
The largest group of Americans rejected both of these extremes, feeling that government should indeed fulfill its role to corporations, societal values, and social justice, but also to a number of other vital priorities including national security, education, and fiscal responsibility.
But, because independents come from many viewpoints and also because they have no official party apparatus in Washington, the biggest political group in our nation today has little direct political power except during elections.
The consequence is that subsequent elections tend to sway widely in opposite directions.
When independents put Republicans in power, they are naturally (because they are not Republicans) frustrated with how the Republicans use that power.
When, in contrast, they vote for Democrats, they find themselves discouraged with what Democrats do in office.
This is a structural problem.
When Democrats elect a Democrat, the elected official can swing to the center once in office because while supporters may dislike their Democratic official’s actions they will almost always still vote for him/her in the next election—after all, in their view the Republican would be worse.
The same applies to Republicans electing a Republican.
All of this changes when independents put a Democrat, or a Republican, in office. Naturally, the elected official will disappoint supporters in some way, and independents are as likely as not to believe that a candidate from the other party will do better.
When similar historical realignments of politics with cultural shifts have occurred, a major new political group in society reformed one of the big parties to fit its new views.
For example, when the Declaration of Independence and hostilities with Britain changed the old Tory versus Whig debate, the Loyalists mostly joined the new Federalists while the Whigs split between the Federalists and Anti-Federalists.
When the new U.S. Constitution changed the makeup of society and made the Federalist versus Anti-Federalist debate obsolete, most of the Anti-Federalists joined the Jeffersonian Democratic Republicans while the Federalists split between the Democratic Republicans and the Federalists.
Other such changes have happened several times in American history, most notably in the 1830s, 1850s, 1910s, 1930s and 1960s.
Note that in the twentieth-century shifts the names of the parties (Democrat and Republican) did not change even though political philosophies were significantly altered during these periods of realignment.
The current repositioning may or may not adopt a new name for one of the parties, but a philosophical shift is occurring nonetheless.
Some believe that this shift is fundamentally rooted in social concerns, from issues of gender and sexual preference to values debates and immigration.
But this is a view left over from the twentieth-century style Democrat-Republican argument.
The rise of independents is not a morality-driven movement.
It’s mostly about the economy.
The New Party
The new party of the twenty-first century will emphasize economic growth and getting our financial house in order.
Many independents will flock to this party, whatever its name—Democratic, Republican, or something else.
This is the party of the future.
And while analysts say that independents are not joiners, it is likely that many would join such a party.
Note that a real three-party system is not likely to last.
A third party may arise, as Thomas L. Friedman and others have suggested, but history suggests that t will eventually take the place of one of the top two parties.
There is an important reason for this.
The American framers did not want the U.S. President to be elected by a plurality of the nation, so they wisely structured the Electoral College in a way that the President can only be elected by a majority of electoral votes.
This means that any third party will eventually have to gain the support of one of the other parties in order to win the White House.
This constitutional reality is one of the most important things keeping America strong.
Without it, any extreme party might win a given election and take the nation in even more drastic directions than we’ve witnessed to date.
To sum it up, the frustration with two-party infighting is a positive thing.
The framers rightly foresaw that the greatest danger to America would be an apathetic citizenry, and the Electoral College requirement for majority has caused a no-party or two-party structure and also incentivized citizens to stay informed and involved.
When a powerful third party arises in America, it has always come in response to a change in society and it has always worked to reform the two existing parties in ways that better reflected the desires of the people.
This is a huge positive, as chaotic as it may seem at times.
Today, it is independents that most dislike the party bickering, and as a result independents are more actively involved in government.
This is a powerful check on the aristocratic-political class, and shows once again the brilliance and inspired effectiveness of the U.S. Constitution as established by the framers.
Our government isn’t broken, but the current two-party system is outdated.
Neither party truly represents the views of the largest political “group” in America—independents.
Until this problem is fixed, the entire political system will look untenable and appear unable to solve major American problems.
But such realignment is already occurring, albeit slowly, and the future belongs to whichever party—Democrat, Republican or a third party—gets serious about three things:
- A moderate view that government has an important role to play in society and that it must also be limited to the things it really should do like national security, schools and basic social justice
- Actually getting our financial house in order
- Creating the environment for widespread enterprise and a true growth economy
The party that effectively and consistently champions these things will be the leading political group in the years ahead.
In other words, some major shifts in the parties are ahead.
He is the co-author of the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and USA Today bestseller LeaderShift, and author of A Thomas Jefferson Education: Teaching a Generation of Leaders for the 21st Century, and The Coming Aristocracy: Education & the Future of Freedom.
Oliver is dedicated to promoting freedom through leadership education. He and his wife Rachel are raising their eight children in Cedar City, Utah.