The Suspension of Disbelief and the Ideology of the Two-Party State

One of the most revealing aspects of our politics under the Democratic-Republican two-party state and duopoly system of government is the fact that dishonesty is taken as an operational given.  The idea is expressed most succinctly in the old joke: How can you tell if a politician is lying?  His lips are moving.  To assume that we are being lied to – by our representatives, by government agencies, by their mouthpieces and cheerleaders in the mainstream and "independent" media, by advocacy groups, by corporations, etc. – is not cynicism.  It is realism.  To assume the opposite – namely, that we are not being lied to – is hopelessly naive. 

Ironically, however, in many cases such naivety reveals itself as just another form of dishonesty.  Americans know very well that their interests are not represented by the Democratic and Republican parties.  This plain fact is evidenced, for instance, in the prevalence of the argument in favor of the "lesser evil" between the two major parties by hucksters on both sides of the duopoly divide.  How then can we make sense of continued support for Democrats and Republicans by the American public?  Perhaps the simplest explanation is that such support is predicated on a willing suspension of disbelief.  Voters must ignore what they know to be true of political reality under the two-party state in order to justify their continued participation in the system.  They want to believe.  This was as apparent in the Obama campaign's "Believe in Change" slogan, as it is in the Tea Party's continued faith in the GOP.  In this way, people who know better sustain an ideological fiction that runs counter to their lived experience.


Samuel Wilson said...

If America is a one-party state, as you claim, then the party is a conservative one, founded on Margaret Thatcher's premise that "there is no alternative." What you see is pure resignation, an intellectual capitulation to the oft-made argument that any attempt to change things will only make things worse, while things keep changing for the worse on their own all the while. People will have to regain the belief that they can improve their condition through political action before they even consider new political parties, and that may not happen until they reach a point when drastic political action could only improve things. The question is how bad things have to get before that point.

d.eris said...

I don't think 'conservative' is the right term. I'd argue that it is more appropriate to call the two-party system/one-party state fundamentally reactionary in character, almost in a literal sense, i.e. its primary action is always reaction. Of course, a lot of liberals and lefties are very quick to equate conservatives/Republicans with reactionaries, and they are not necessarily wrong to do so in many cases, but I think it is important to maintain the distinction between reactionism (for lack of a better term) and conservatism. After all, Democrats and liberals are capable of being just as reactionary as Republicans and conservatives.

But maybe I'm confusing things by using the term "reactionary" in a sense that is quite different from its usual meaning. How about a term like "over-reactionary" to capture the hysterical/neurotic character of Democrat-Republican party politics? :-)

I think you are completely right about the general feeling of political resignation and powerlessness. It might even be one of the primary conditions for the perpetuation and reproduction of the status quo.

TiradeFaction said...

I think if we want more people to consider third parties and Independents, we need organized muscle that could communicate, and organize the American public around the idea of why artificial barriers created to maintain a "two party system" are not in their best interests. There seems to have been *some* attempt by the "Free & Equal" folks, but I've observed their organizing skills still needs a lot of work and they're going about very slowly...

David Weller, OSL said...

I think the internet has brought more public voice to individual people; unfortunately, the people's civics and deliberation education needs to improve.

I sense more talk these days to bring back civic education into the classroom. I fully support this, but it should go further, through leadership by our elected officials to the general public, too.

d.eris said...

imho, self-described independents also need to start speaking up a lot more for themselves (individually, as a group, as a constituency etc.) rather than continue to let themselves be spoken for by the strategists from the major parties.

But then we bump into Sam's point on resignation.

Jon said...

So what it comes down to then is a need to find a party or organization that allows Independents or anyone who doesn't directly associate with one wing or the other that actually functions on the low-energy or displacement of the Independent movement.

As Tirade said, there are movements out there but they are slow to gain support and often fizzle out before making any major impacts. In large part, this probably plays into the points about political powerlessness felt by most Americans. But Sam also mentioned that there would be a time when things were "so bad" that we'd be forced to confront the third party option.

Do you think that time is now? We're facing some pretty dire situations nowadays, is this the time for a third option to emerge?

Solomon Kleinsmith said...

I love the folks at Free and Equal, but they focus a lot of energy on fringe ideas. If they focused on things that actually have some support in the populace, or could with a little peeling back of the veil, then they'd be more successful.

Organized muscle is one way of saying what we need... we need several organizations that are on the ground, ala Tea Party and MoveOn style.

Resignation is a HUGE problem. The vast majority of people will never even consider starting grassroots groups on their own... it falls to people like us to start them, so people like that, who get fed up, can express their civic frustration through organized efforts.

This already exists in a few places (like the Independent Party of Oregon)... and some new organizations are forming (OneMaine in Maine)... other states need to learn from those who are successful, and bring those models to other states.

One correction though... there are NOT movements out there that are working on this. A movement is a force of nature, not an organization. When a movement among independents happens (which I think it will eventually), it will be unmistakeable. That just plain isn't happening right now.

"Do you think that time is now? We're facing some pretty dire situations nowadays, is this the time for a third option to emerge?"

I'd love to say yes... but I don't think so. I just don't see enough moderates who are pissed off enough yet, although we're getting there.

I *DO*, however, think it's time for people like us, the early adopter/wonk/activist types to start building the foundations of a movement, so when that does spark, it will have a better chance of succeeding.

TiradeFaction said...

I'm not affiliated at all with Free & Equal, but I'm not sure what you mean by "fringe ideas"? They're whole purpose is to combat draconian ballot access laws and open up the political process. Maybe those are "fringe" ideas, but as I suggested, they should focus on efforts so those ideas are no longer just "fringe".

TiradeFaction said...

Also, I should add there is a lot more than just "moderates" that are increasingly getting fed up with the system. The "Progressives" in the Democratic Party, the trade unionists in the Democratic Party (are any still in the Repubs? I guess the Teamsters?), the Libertarians in the Republicans, the Christian Conservatives (especially now that Republicans are blatantly promoting anti Christian atheist Ayn Rand) and so forth. We need to communicate with all those branches and organize around a mutual distaste of politics as usual. The enemies of my enemy are my friend!

scott ehredt said...

Wow, great introductory post. Who wrote that!?

This is my first post on this site. (I’m sorry, I don’t get out much.) By means of introduction, I’m 46, father of two boys (8 and 10). I work for Wells Fargo as a database administrator and, as a former Republican, I co-founded the National Centrist Party with a former Democrat, Brad Schabel.

I have so much to say I’m not sure where to start.

scott ehredt said...

(...having some trouble posting this so I'm breaking it apart to find the offending text.)

First, I agree entirely with Solomon. What we need is an “infrastructure of organizations” that are all working with each other so that when the historic moment arrives, the “movement” has already been incubated, grown past its infancy, it is ready to take off, it is ready to become Goliath (or at least David). There are good groups at the state level, building, as Solomon mentioned. I would like the NCP to work with these groups to refine the NCP so it can be the national group growing in a way that it is easy for the state groups to affiliate with the NCP when the time comes. (We don’t want a national group evolving all on its own which is then difficult to integrate with the state groups. Instead we want the national group evolving and growing in a way that is in harmony with what will be acceptable to the state groups, building trust and relationships before the time is at hand. Without such a national group, it will be difficult for state groups to come together in a cohesive way, partly because they will each have different processes, philosophies, and aspirations.)

d.eris makes a fine point. Whoever is reading this blog…YOU are the leaders of your time. Most independents will sit back and wait for you to lead the way. Maybe the NCP offers a way forward. (Maybe I’m an arrogant fool.) In either case, I hope YOU will check out what the NCP is offering. You can demand what the NCP is offering (i.e. pragmatic government according to the will of the informed center and reform of the political process) by signing up. There is no better way both to encourage those of us working on the project and to demonstrate to media that the NCP is offering something people want.

scott ehredt said...

And to your point, d.eris, about ‘over-reactionary’, I’d just like to add that the parties are initially ‘under-reactionary’ to an issue and then they overreact. Reason: they spend so much time on activities that poorly meet the needs of the people (spin, fundraising, deceipt, positioning, etc.) that they aren’t spending hardly any time doing what they are elected to do, which is represent the people. NCP officials are required by oath to spend their time understanding the issues and what elements of legislation are supported by the NCP constituency of informed centrists.

To Sam’s point about regaining belief that voters can improve their situation… it is up to us to do the work that we know must be done to build the infrasructure Solomon talks about that will give people (even ourselves) reason to believe that a third party can replace or center the outer parties. For each of you, this is a call to action to work on some piece of that infrastructure, whether it be an organization like No Labels, a state party like the Independents of Minnesota, or a national party like the NCP.

Regarding the initial post, deceipt and hypocrasy in politics are one of the main reasons I feel we need something like the NCP. That’s why we created an Oath for NCP representatives to take stating in part that representatives will always represent their own views as well as those of their opponents as completely and forthwrightly as possible. Failure to uphold this oath is cause for stripping that representative of their NCP affiliation. This will prevent them subsequently from running for elected office as an NCP candidate. The days of misrepresenation in politics can be confined to the history books, but only if people embrace NCP efforts to recreate the political process from the ground up as it should exist. How many modeate voters would “tune in” for such a brand of politics? How many talented and successful citizens would step forward to run for office in a political environment that ceased being repulsive. This is exactly what the outer parties fear, an evolutionary step forward in politics that severs their grip on power. Obama may have wanted to create this change but I fear it cannot be done from within the existing process because those who control the process would have to be willing to give up the reigns of power, which they never will do, unless they see they have no other choice. It is up to us to show them that they do not have any other choice by creating an alternative political process that the people are hungry for.

If anyone has questions about the NCP, I would be happy to field them. If you prefer a private discussion, email questions to scottehredt at NationalCP dot org. Maybe the site admin would allow us to submit an article about the NCP for discussion. I’d also be interested to get ‘National Centrist Party’ listed in your POLI-TEA PARTIES list.

Thanks to everyone for your time.


d.eris said...

Hi Scott, welcome! Thanks for your comments. All posts at Politea are by me unless noted otherwise. I'll add the NCP in the sidebar when I get a chance, and send you an email about a potential guest post. I hadn't heard about your group before.

You're definitely right about the fact that over-reaction stems from under-reaction. I can think of a ton of such examples off the top of my head.

d.eris said...

I would second TF's question to Solomon re: Free and Equal. I'm not familiar with their advocacy program, but I like a lot of what I've seen them do, especially their third party/indy debates last year.

Regarding the necessity of multi-partisan organizing, I would alter slightly your motto at the end though, TF: the enemy of my FRIEND is my enemy. The Libertarians and Greens seem to do a lot of good work in that vein, circulating petitions together, filing joint lawsuits against restrictive ballot access laws and such.

Samuel Wilson said...

d., I appreciate your distinction between "conservative" and reactionary," and I agree that there are reactionaries everywhere along the ideological continuum. Ideology is arguably reactionary by nature. But there's also a complacency at work that partly justifies my "conservative" label, though conservatism in this case is something different from the ideology of the Republican party. Obviously, as everyone's been saying, someone's got to start telling other people that other options are possible. People also have to start aggressively debunking the entire right-left diode to make clear that there are always more than two stark choices on political questions. Independents who only want to perpetuate the right-left debate are ultimately of limited use. Greens and Libertarians are to be commended for their tactical collaboration on several fronts, but the bigger challenge for both elements may be to work toward a post-ideological reconciliation that would expand the political imagination while still leaving room for principled and pragmatic debate. Toward that end, we need committees of correspondence that utilize all media with the long-term object of building mass movements that reclaim the people's right from the parties of choosing the nation's leaders.