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The Party System’s Newest Flaw

August 6th, 2011 // 10:08 am @


I recently watched a televised debate on whether America’s two-party system is making our nation ungovernable.

During the debate, New York Times columnist David Brooks said something fascinating.

He mentioned that political scientists keep track of how much cooperation there is between the two parties in Congress, and that while there have been periods of major party fighting such as the 1860s and 1960s, we are at an all-time low in partisan cooperation to get deals done.

Then he noted that the major difference in our current party system is that always before each party included a wide variety of viewpoints.

Within the same tent of the Democratic Party, for instance, many views and policies were suggested, debated and decided.

The same diversity existed within the Republican Party.

Today, however, this is not the case—at least not when it comes to policy proposals.

“The problem is that each party has become more rigid in my own lifetime of covering this,” he said. “When I came to Washington in the early 1980s, I could go to back ventures like Jack Kemp or Newt Gingrich on the Republican side. They had all these weird ideas they were trying to push on leadership. That doesn’t happen [anymore]—the leaders control everything now. The nature of the parties has changed.”

In their drive to win, the party leaders have organized around single, central themes and strongly demanded that congressmen stay within the accepted partisan bounds on nearly all topics.

Most of our elected officials are reasonable and dedicated, and if we put a group of them in a room without party labels and the goal of solving a given issue—say debt, deficits, immigration, or health care—they would almost certainly be able to propose sensible and plausible solutions in a relatively short time.

But attach a party label to each person in the room, especially with the historical baggage now attached to the parties, and the cost, timeline and likelihood of success would suddenly and permanently change.

This is a serious problem for modern America.

Racism of Red and Blue

Calling someone a Democrat or a Republican today is fraught with danger—they may well take offense.

 I once watched a man stand at a public meeting and make a suggestion on how to solve the problem before the group.

The officials at the front of the room asked him several questions, and he answered them with common sense and a clear understanding of the situation.

A few members of the audience stood to add their support and small suggestions to improve his idea.

The room was moving toward consensus, when another participant asked if the speaker was a Republican.

When he answered that he was a registered Democrat, the mood in the room changed.

A few argued with him (making the point that they were Republicans, which literally had nothing to do with the topic at hand).

This fueled anger among Democrats and within minutes the room was deeply divided.

The official running the meeting took the floor and pointed out to everyone that the man’s idea had been almost universally supported before his political affiliation was mentioned, and tried to get the group back to discussing the merits of the idea.

partypolitics 273x300 The Party System’s Newest FlawBut it was too late: the Republicans in the room now disliked his idea and the Democrats supported it.

Many had to change their minds to get to this point, but it seems that was easy once they knew which party he belonged to.

This kind of divisiveness is all too common.

Even online, many, perhaps most, American citizens who engage in political conversation limit themselves to groups where the other people agree with their views.

Few discussions on political topics are inclusive or open to learning from diverse perspectives.

Squabbles and Solutions

Fortunately, the solution to this starts at the ground level.

Each of us can listen to the views of people who disagree with us on politics.

I don’t know when the idea that discussing politics is impolite came into vogue, but it has only hurt our freedom and prosperity.

Right now, today, we can learn from other political views, not to debunk them immediately and angrily like most people do, but rather to really understand their point.

This is not the same as forgetting one’s beliefs—it is in fact the opposite process of strengthening one’s most important beliefs by increasing your understanding of the world.

A move to a European-style multiparty system is not the answer, since this would create a structure where the winner still runs the whole government but is usually a lot more extreme than moderate.

Ideally, America could adopt a non-partisan model like that suggested by many of the American framers.

The Constitution is actually designed for a nonparty system.

In the absence of a major shift to a nonpartisan model, the best reform to our system would be for more American citizens to ignore party spin and think independently—and openly listen to and learn from others who do the same, even if they disagree with your ideas.

We all have more to learn, and in fact significant political learning is more likely when we are listening to those whose views differ from the thoughts we’ve already had.

New ideas spark increased thinking, even when you disagree with the details.

Of course, people shouldn’t simply accept ideas they find problematic or wrong, but free citizens need to be good listeners and open-minded thinkers.

Such maturity is needed in any free society, and especially in one where ideological political parties dominate the discussion.

Our leaders, deeply mired in partisan squabbles, are unlikely to make this change, so it is up to regular Americans to take the lead in discussing and promoting needed solutions for many of our biggest challenges.


odemille 133x195 custom The Party System’s Newest FlawOliver DeMille is a co-founder of the Center for Social Leadership, and a co-creator of Thomas Jefferson Education.

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.

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World Stats

August 5th, 2011 // 9:57 am @

Sometimes a few statistics and quotes tell us a lot more than any commentary. Consider the following:

  • “Percentage by which a couple is likelier to divorce if one partner has a commute greater than 45 minutes: 40” (Harper’s, August 2011)
  • “Estimated percentage of the U.S. college class of 2011 who are moving back home after graduation: 85” (Harper’s, August 2011)
  • The average 2011 college graduate has $22,000 in student loan debt, even though jobs are especially scarce for this group. (The Huffington Post, July 2011)

    grand street texting 300x300 World Stats

    Image Source: AdvancePhotography.net

  • “On any given day, 1.6 million of us are blogging, 27 million are tweeting, and 1.5 billion are posting on Facebook. We’re emailing during meetings, texting during lectures, and talking on our cell phones as we tackle rush hour traffic.” (Spirituality & Health, July/August 2011)
  • Americans were asked in a poll who is the most trusted political journalist. The number one answer was, “Don’t Know,” and number two was, “None.” (Harper’s, August 2011)
  • More than half of Americans do not know the recession is over. (Harper’s, August 2011) Part of this is rooted in the way economists define growth and recession. It takes 2.5% growth in the economy just to keep up with the natural growth of the working population, and we haven’t seen 2.5% economic growth for some time. So even though we haven’t technically been in “recession” for over a year, we are still falling further and further behind.
  • “By 2010, [federal entitlement] payments to individuals were 66% of the federal budget, up from 28% in 1965. We now spend $2.1 trillion a year on these redistribution programs, and the 75 million baby boomers are only starting to retire.” (Wall Street Journal editorial, July 29, 2001; cited on Meet the Press, July 31, 2011.)
  • The real unemployment rate in July 2011 is over 20%, including those unemployed and underemployed. (The Huffington Post, July 2011)


odemille 133x195 custom World StatsOliver DeMille is a co-founder of the Center for Social Leadership, and a co-creator of Thomas Jefferson Education.

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.

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A New Definition of Success

August 3rd, 2011 // 10:46 am @

 The Religion of Prosperity

The lasting legacy of the twentieth century may be its materialistic definition of success.

Indeed, the “religion” of prosperity has grown to dominate politics, philosophy, religious debate, family and community culture and even education (people sent their children to school with patently career/financial goals).

Even the enemies of prosperity have learned to argue in blatantly materialistic language: Marx believed in a world dominated by conflict between poor and wealthy classes, Hitler argued for economic supremacy of one nation (based on his horrific view of racist supremacy), and Stalin, Mao and a host of dictators amassed power and wealth to themselves and those who served them.

Altruistic movements from various religions and important philosophies (such as feminism, tolerance, environmentalism, etc.) struggled to gain support until they learned to make their case in terms of profitability.

The typical approach to materialism by intellectuals has usually been either to denigrate mankind’s natural materialism and its excesses as “unfettered greed,” or, less frequently, to side with the “virtue of prosperity” perspective.

This debate between the so-called “virtuous poor” and the “virtuous wealthy” made its rounds through politics, academia, media, religion and art.

Science tried to arrive at conclusions based on various studies of socio-economic behavior.

Economists even got into the mix—for example, John Maynard Keynes said that as societies become more and more prosperous, they begin to seek success in things beyond financial increase.

A New Consensus

In the twenty-first century, it appears that a new consensus is emerging—and it’s not what you might think.

In fact, like the earlier materialistic debate (Success 1.0), there are two main perspectives on the new definition of success (Success 2.0).

The first is the “meaning” view, which has become well-known through our modern entertainment.

In this worldview, depression and poverty are bad, financial prosperity is good, and financial prosperity along with a life of real meaning is success.

Steve Jobs popularized this view when he told a graduating class that we should all spend our work lives doing things we really care about and enjoy.

Popular courses at Harvard, Stanford and other prestigious schools on Happiness in Life, or How to Be Happy, have received a great deal of media coverage—and more students than typical science, history or even finance classes.

And why not?

After all, happiness is a concrete feeling that brings its own rewards.

Positive Psychology

A whole new academic field, Positive Psychology, has risen in just the past two decades with a focus on happiness as the real measure of success.

The findings of Positive Psychology are interesting: people typically have more power over their immediate happiness than their immediate wealth or attractiveness, our thoughts have great impact on our happiness, and focusing effectively on happiness brings instant results that are often more pleasant than the noticeable rewards of food, alcohol, sex or even exercise, for example.

Moreover, the growing Success 2.0 movement has adopted some of the assumptions from both sides of the twentieth century debate on materialism: it argues that some material success is needed to maintain long-term happiness and also that at some point enough is enough and people will find more happiness by enjoying family, fun and giving to those in need than by seeking more money.

This view rejects the extremes of both the “unfettered greed” and “virtuous poor” arguments, while adopting the moderate views of both: meaningful work and a liberal flow of money helps one’s happiness, as does working to live (rather than living to work), spending time with family and friends, and giving needed service and monetary donations to help others.

In short, the new definition of success argues that financial prosperity is good and that those who attain it will find more happiness by seeking lives and work with real meaning including service to others.

As a review of Martin Seligman’s book Flourish put it:

“These days, we are hungry for a new definition of the ‘good life.’ Fractured relationships, crumbling economies, environmental crises, and a continuous state of war all have played their part in chipping away at what was once thought to be the basis for happiness…

“Dr. Seligman introduces the ‘New Prosperity,’ a concept based in optimism, and he shows how it affects everything from the health of a marriage, to recovery from illness, to the fluctuations of the stock market. Rather than focusing on gross domestic product, his new vision of prosperity, combines wealth with well-being…” (Spirituality & Health, July-August 2011).

But not everyone is buying the new definition of success.

For example, while men are three times more likely to find a happy woman more attractive than a proud woman, women are five times more likely to find a proud man more attractive than a happy one (Harper’s, August 2011).

And as the Tiger Mom debate shows, a lot of parents are still convinced that success for their children means prosperity through an Ivy League degree and a highly-compensated profession.

The fact that such a life is likely to be less about leadership or deep meaning than “high class drone work” is usually ignored by proponents of old-style success (Sandra Tsing Loh, “My Chinese American Problem—and Ours,” The Atlantic, April 2011).

Likewise, there is a second, darker, side of the Success 2.0 movement.

The Glory Years

Instead of a moderate combination of the following mantras 1) “work hard to build financial success,” and 2) “don’t lose your life in work, but use work as a support to a great life with family, friends and meaningful service,” some are taking the de-emphasis on career success as permission to avoid work and accomplishment altogether.

“Have fun, hang out with friends, party, live with your parents to avoid expenses, and forget about anything that takes hard work,” is gaining popularity.

This view is not lost on marketers who see college as the “glory years” of partying rather than the hard work of study to obtain an excellent education or prepare for one’s career.

For example, I recently purchased notebooks and pens at Wal-Mart’s “Back to School” sale.

A number of shelves were dedicated to supplies parents, kids and teachers will need for school—calculators, binders, pencils, backpacks, filler paper, markers, and more.

On an adjacent display, several large signs announced: “Back to College Sale!”

Interested, I walked over to see what the college sale had to offer different from the elementary/high school displays.

Imagine my surprise when the entire “Back to Colllege” sale, which took up a lot of floor and shelf space, consisted of toothpaste, deodorant, mouthwash and shampoo.

I suppose these are important for college students as much as anyone else, but why was there absolutely nothing related to academics?

I think this is rather poignant.

The tools of college “success,” at least for the Wal-Mart marketers (and I think they have a pretty good sense about the views of their target audience), centered around social acceptability and having fun.


Of course, any university campus probably includes students seeking a fun social life, a quality education, and preparation for a meaningful and rewarding career.

The point is that in the twenty-first century students are more likely to want all three, while last century these three groups were more frequently divided into distinct cliques.

Even where past students combined two of these goals (e.g. a fun social life and career preparation), they tended to clearly prioritize one over the other. Most of today’s students seem to want all three—at the same level of priority.

In short, the old formula of Success = Financial Prosperity is being replaced with a new view that Success = Real Happiness (Financial Prosperity + Meaningful Work + Flourishing Relationships + Significant Service).

With this new math, keeping score may be more complex and more accurate.

Daniel Pink pointed out that the theme of people giving up relationships for their work has been replaced in Hollywood and television productions with people putting relationships above career but finding ways to make them both work.

iStock partycake A New Definition of SuccessThey want to have their cake and eat it too—or, on the “dark” side, to just enjoy cake.

There is probably little need to worry about those who have decided, for now, to loaf through life.

It almost certainly won’t last.

Success, both the 1.0 and 2.0 varieties, is a kind of widespread de-facto American religion.

As one author wrote of Americans:

“What a curious people. Their mania for self-improvement encompassed everything that touched them, and they resented the cost of every change. They were proudly self-reliant and quick to assign blame to others for their disappointments.

“They were certain theirs was the most enlightened and envied society on earth, that human history was mostly a chronicle of their achievements, and were convinced, too, that their country was constantly in need of repair. Everything they had was better than what any other people had, including their form of government, and nothing was good enough. They believed in themselves…

“For all its power and influence, its abundance and enterprise, [America] was still an immature society: impatient, demanding, not comfortable with introspection, frivolous and audacious” (O, anonymous).

But when it comes time to do the big things, America has repeatedly risen to the occasion.

It has sometimes taken crisis to bring Americans to the table, but once they come they sway everything in their path.

I am convinced that the current generation will do the same.

Churchill quipped that Americans can be counted on to do the right thing after they have exhausted the other possibilities.

Seligman suggests that there are ways to do important things that are not rooted in crisis.

For example, he “presents a rather startling idea, given the current state of affairs: that if history were to repeat itself, such a focus might result in a new Renaissance, appropriate for the twenty-first century but similar to the one that occurred when mid-fifteenth century Florence—rich, well-fed, and at peace—decided to invest its wealth in beauty rather than in conquest” (Spirituality & Health, July/August 2011).

We need to overcome a few challenges before we fully engage the idealism we are capable of.

An estimated 85% of 2011 college graduates are moving back home after graduation (Harper’s, August 2011), an alarming reality for their Boomer generation (born 1946-64) parents.

Likewise, the X generation (born 1965-1985) has reluctantly avoided taking on the responsibilities of past generations.

Up and At It

But when the times require, these generations will grow up and lead out.

Like Shakespeare’s Henry V, generations X and Y (born 1985-2005) grew up being told that world crisis was ahead and that they would have to sacrifice and lead to improve the world.

They subsequently attempted to prolong and enjoy their youth as long as they could.

But like young Henry, when they are called upon by world events, they will be up to the task.

Many members of Gen X and Gen Y worried that 9/11 was such a call, then relaxed as things seemed to normalize.

They worried that the Great Recession was their call, and they are still keeping one eye on this possibility, even while they cling to disappearing hopes for lives of perpetual youth.

Despite their fears, history makes it clear that their time will come, and current trends indicate that they will approach it with a new view of what success means.

In the 1980s and 1990s, a lot of people wanted to “get rich and get out.”

Today, many Americans are restructuring their careers or engaging entrepreneurial and other non-traditional enterprises specifically to combine their hard work with more money, more time with family and hobbies, and more service and charitable contributions.

Success 2.0 is a good change for America, and it broadens the opportunity for everyone in a free society to truly succeed.


odemille 133x195 custom A New Definition of SuccessOliver DeMille is a co-founder of the Center for Social Leadership, and a co-creator of Thomas Jefferson Education.

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.

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Debts and Deficits: A Jane Austen Story

August 2nd, 2011 // 10:54 am @

Chapter I: A Truth Universally Acknowledged

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that when a nation treats business badly, corporations with extra capital take it abroad and the home nation faces job losses and economic challenges.

Such nations experience widespread anxiety about their future, problems feel overwhelming, and the leaders seem unable—or unwilling—to find and implement effective solutions.

But the answers are actually quite clear, if only the people and their leaders have the courage to apply them.

When great nations struggling with debt, deficits, sluggish growth and high unemployment cultivate the most friendly global environment for business investment and economic growth, their economy booms and flourishes.

The current debate in Washington about debts, deficits, taxes, spending cuts and political parties is a lot like a Jane Austen novel.

There are attractive, well-spoken charmers who turn out to be villains, shockingly inappropriate self-promoters, and well-meaning individuals of influence whose personal flaws and arrogance cause problems around them—even as they are entertaining to the audience.

There are also regular, good people who stand to gain or lose a lot.

And, above all, there is the romance of important things happening, things which touch us on a level deeper than the intellect.

The most striking similarity, however, may be that the first paragraph of the story—and even the title—contain the whole answer.

Readers who carefully ponder the thoughts of the first paragraph of certain Austen novels get a preview and veritable overview of the whole plot to come.

In Pride and Prejudice, for example, the reader discovers in the first several sentences that the daughters of a modestly-situated family are in need of marrying well and that their prospects have just improved due to the proximity of a promising young man.

The plot is pretty much determined at this point.

The girl will get the boy, after some courtship, disappointments, major crisis, and so on.

And since we are told right off the bat that more than one girl needs to get a boy, we can be sure that at least some of them will succeed.

The title helps too: we can be fairly certain that the disappointments and crises will have something to do with pride, prejudice and misunderstandings, and that when these flaws are overcome the crises will be over and the story will find resolution.

The same is true of our current national narrative, which could be entitled Debts and Deficits.

Chapter II: A Rocket Science Conclusion

It really isn’t rocket science to conclude, even without going into detail, that deficits will be solved by spending less than we bring in, and that debt will be overcome either by not borrowing too much in the first place or by growing the economy to bring in surpluses that pay off the obligated amount.

Of course, it is in the details, dialogues, relationships and minutiae that the real fun is found.

Who will succeed?

Who will show their true colors?

Which characters will face reality and change?

How will the audience respond?

Still, whatever the particulars, the plot is generally known from the beginning.

Yes, it is within the realm of possibility that the whole thing could turn strangely off course.

 The story could progress, develop and build toward crescendo only to suddenly go in some strange and totally unexpected direction, but only by refusing to overcome the debts and deficits.

These are what the story is about, after all, so dealing with them is vital—and eventually this is what will happen.

Americans want two things which seem to be in conflict with each other.

Chapter III: Greedy Americans

First, they want freedom, opportunity, prosperity, low taxes and non-intrusive government, and, second, they want a lot of government programs that provide significant benefits which they have become accustomed to enjoying—from roads and schools to trash collection, national defense, personal protection, prescription drug benefits, retirement checks, and much more.

At first glance, it seems impossible to simultaneously increase both.

Either government spending must go down or taxes must go up.

This is the crisis.

Darcy wants massive new programs that will require huge government spending increases, while Lizzie wants tax cuts and decreases in government red tape.

You can imagine the letters they would exchange on the subject.

As the disagreements escalate, both sides eventually resort to name calling: “inferior connections,” “lack of gentlemanly behavior,” “tax cuts for the rich,” “socialists,” “party of no,” “the President has no plan,” etc.

Still, the plot is basically set: overcome your pride or you won’t get what you want, realize that your prejudice has caused you to misread people and their real character, spend less than the nation takes in or see fiscal problems exponentially increase, become attractive to business investment and hiring or watch the economy and unemployment continue to sputter.

Mrs. Bennett’s behavior is shocking; no wonder Darcy feels pride in comparison.

The corporate tax rates in the United States are double those of our top competitors; no wonder jobs are scarce in the United States.

Sometimes the context tells the whole story.

David Cote said on Meet the Press:

 “Right now the problem we’ve got is uncertainty of demand. Businesses don’t add until they’re sure that somebody is going to want to actually buy something. To that we’ve added uncertainty of regulation, and when you combine those two it just causes businesses to say, ‘I’m going to wait a little bit.’ And I always find it interesting when I hear government say, ‘We need to create jobs…’ Actually, government doesn’t create jobs. Government can create an environment where jobs can be created, and I think it’s important to start to distinguish between the two.”

Ohio Governor John Kasich added, in the same conversation:

“In my state, where we faced an $8 billion deficit, we wiped it out and eliminated it, and here’s the interesting thing: we have just been taken off of negative watch [credit rating]. In the middle of this we also have jumped—according to CNBC—11 places in terms of business friendly [states]. We’ve been able to cut taxes, improve and reform government, and you know why? We looked it square in the eye because Ohio was dying, and we are beginning to really become business friendly. That is what they’re not doing here in D.C. right now.”

Ohio faced a massive deficit, and overcame it by becoming business friendly, by attracting business growth.

As a result, they were able to cut taxes and drastically improve their economy.

But Washington has yet to make such changes.

As Senator Marco Rubio said on Face the Nation,

“If you talk to job creators, not politicians, not presidents, they will tell you…they’re looking for some regulatory reform….because they think these regulations that are being imposed make America a more unfriendly place to do business. When people tell you, ‘communist China is a better place to do business than America,’ you know you’re in trouble.”

As Jack Lew, Director of the White House Office of Budget and Management said on This Week With Christiane Amanpour,

“It’s not enough for us just to do what we have to do. We have to do as much as we possibly can to deal with the fiscal challenges.”

Chapter IV: A Strategy for Washington

The strategy for Washington is clear.

Become business friendly.

Cut spending to get our fiscal house in order.

Cut the corporate tax rate to make America’s business environment competitive with other nations.

That’s the only jobs program Washington needs.

I recently heard a radio talk-show discussion that suggested the United States can’t make the needed changes without a huge crisis.

Unless we engage a massive military conflict, one commentator argued, the American people will never be willing to fund the level of government spending needed to get our economy turned around.

This kind of thinking is entirely wrong.

Yes, Darcy must have become even more attached to Lizzie by facing the Wickham crisis and bringing it to resolution, but every indication is that he would have fully pursued her anyway—and everyone would have been better off without the crisis.

We may need crisis to get us to do the right thing with our economy, but we really should just do it without waiting for calamity.

The Great Recession, continued unemployment and our sluggish economy are crisis enough.

And, again, the solutions are clear.

They were inherent in the plot before the economy ever started struggling.

When you spend more than you have, stop.

When you need more than you have, become attractive to business opportunity.

Pay your bills.

Don’t default.

Don’t keep increasing the debt without reducing spending and following a valid plan for fiscal prosperity.

Make hard choices because they are the right thing to do, regardless of what the Lady Catherines or Mr. Collinses of the world will think.

There is only one way this can end: We have to get our fiscal house in order.

Chapter V: Happily Ever After or…Not So Much

Lydia and Wickham Debts and Deficits: A Jane Austen Story

Image Source: Pride and Prejudice, A&E. 1995.

We can do this right now, with celebrations and smiles, or we can refuse to make the right choices and let world markets force our government spending, regulation and excesses to change.

But change they will.

We can marry Darcy or Wickham, but marry we shall.

That ending was foreshadowed when the first page was written.

The story of the United States right now is Debt and Deficits, and there can only be one ultimate conclusion.

Debts and deficits are real, we have them, and we must overcome them—by choice or natural consequences.

How much we suffer between now and the last page depends on us.


odemille 133x195 custom Debts and Deficits: A Jane Austen StoryOliver DeMille is a co-founder of the Center for Social Leadership, and a co-creator of Thomas Jefferson Education.

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.

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Our Government Isn’t Broken

August 1st, 2011 // 10:22 am @

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.

Historical Realignments

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

third party hat Our Government Isn’t BrokenThe 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:

  1. 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
  2. Actually getting our financial house in order
  3. 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.


odemille 133x195 custom Our Government Isn’t BrokenOliver DeMille is a co-founder of the Center for Social Leadership, and a co-creator of Thomas Jefferson Education.

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.

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