The Problem with Voting Machines

Today, thousands of voters went to the polls to cast their ballots for the special election in New York's 20th Congressional District, which has come down to a choice between the Democratic venture capitalist Scott Murphy and the career Republican politician Jim Tedisco after Libertarian Eric Sundwall was thrown off the ballot. In nearby Schenectady, people have been showing up to their polling precincts all day long to support their candidate. The only problem is, Schenectady is not in the 21st CD, but rather the 20th. The Albany Times Union reports on the confusion:

Jim Tedisco, the man Schenectady residents have sent to the state Assembly for the last 27 years, is the Republican vying for a Congressional seat against Democrat Scott Murphy. While Tedisco's Assembly district includes parts of Schenectady County, the 20th Congressional District doesn't. Schenectady residents live in the 21st Congressional District. . . . An older couple in a red station wagon began to get out of their car. Asked if they were headed to vote, a stranger apprised them of the situation and apologized for their having wasted their time. They chuckled, shook their heads and turned back to their car. The man, in a thin plaid coat, paused to ask who, then, was their congressman. "Paul Tonko," the stranger said, referring to the Democrat elected in November to succeed U.S. Rep. Michael McNulty. "Tonko?" the man retorted. "Never heard of him."

The (Political) Simple Life

Billionaire media mogul and Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has re-consolidated his position of power in Italian politics with the creation of his new right wing bloc-party, the People of Liberty, bringing Italy closer to the formation of a two-party state, as Spontaneous Arising noted over the weekend. (Berlusconi justified the move by claiming that to date he has only wielded "false power.") Though maintaining a critical veneer, the opposition Democratic Party leader Dario Franceschini "said the creation of the People of Freedom party was “positive” because it moves Italy closer towards a two-party system and “simplifies political life,”" as Roman Forum has it.

Business and political elites' desire for the 'simple life' is not confined to Europe. As recently mentioned here, when Hillary Clinton stated that she has "never understood multiparty democracy [because] It is hard enough with two parties to come to any resolution," she perhaps unwittingly echoed the sentiment of former President Bush, who was at least honest enough to admit that things would be a "heckuva lot easier" in a dictatorship. Nor is this desire confined to the West. Defending India's regional parties against "elite intolerance," Seema Mustafa wrote last week: "The regional leaders are just about tolerated, with the elite making no bones about its preference for a two-party system in India." Political, business and media elites the world over clearly perceive a decisive opportunity to consolidate their power in the crisis of global capitalism.


Pursuit of Liberty tells the story: "once upon a time the Republican party stood for something different from the Democratic party, but somewhere that changed so that functionally (meaning without regard to what both parties say) they all stand for codifying the status quo." This latter is perhaps nowhere more clear than in the continuity of Bush era policies, both foreign and domestic, under the Obama administration, despite the latter's insistent calls for change. But don't take my word for it.

In an article at Front Page, neo-con David Horowitz voices his concern over right wing "Obama Derangement Syndrome" and urges calm, indicating that the conservative alarm is overblown. "Look again at [Obama's] approach to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. In both cases, as noted, he is carrying out the Bush policies – the same that he once joined his fellow Democrats in condemning. And that should be reassuring to anyone concerned about where he is heading as commander-in-chief."

Over on the left, No
am Chomsky was recently asked for his take on the Obama-Geithner bank rescue plan, and stated the obvious. "They're simply recycling pretty much the Bush-Paulson measures, changing them a little, but essentially the same idea. Keep the institutional structure the same, try to kind of patch things up, bribe the banks and investors to help out, but avoid the measures that might get to the heart of the problem."


When Republicans and Democrats, engaged in partisan dispute, each seek to demonstrate the various ways in which the other side is responsible for any given crisis, duopolist ideology does not allow them to draw the obvious conclusion, namely, that they're both right. A case in point: former IMF economist Simon Johnson explains how crony capitalist collusion helped create the current financial crisis: "lightweight regulation, cheap money, the unwritten Chinese-American economic alliance, the promotion of homeownership—had something in common. Even though some are traditionally associated with Democrats and some with Republicans, they all benefited the financial sector."

Partisan Consensus

On Meet the Press, David Gregory posed the obligatory bipartisanship question, asking John McCain whether Republicans and the Obama administration have heeded his call for compromise and the bridging of differences. McCain's response: "I think neither side, perhaps, has done it as much as maybe we should" (emphasis added). Despite his hedging, McCain eventually dropped the qualifiers. "There was never any serious negotiations over the stimulus package . . . Now there doesn’t seem to be any on the budget. Those are all party line votes. There’s not the negotiations." McCain should know by now, there's always bipartisan support for partisan hackery. How else could the duopoly parties sustain their ridiculous and incessant calls for bipartisanship?


At the Vermont Progressive Party's blog, Chris Pearson makes a strong case for third party politics: "What is the point of challenging the massive inertia that is the two-party system? There are good democrats. There are independent-thinking Republicans. Why aren’t we just some of those? To me it’s because we simply need new answers – bold answers that, so far, haven’t been on the minds of the big parties . . . solutions can’t be wrapped up in the perfect piece of legislation. Instead they require an over-arching mind-shift."

Two Dimensional Man

In his newsletter Capitol Comment, Iowa House Republican Mike May recently argued for maintaining the current Electoral College system and against the adoption of a national popular vote in a piece entitled "Why Trash the Constitution?" (Our representatives should ask themselves this question much more often.) Toward the end of the article, he provides us with a window onto the ideological prejudices of the duopolist politician. He contends:
Additionally, voters must consider this new initiative in terms of what it would do to the two-party system. Frankly, the present system favors two parties where a president almost always has the approval of a majority of the voters. If that were not so, minority party members could claim the winning candidate does not represent the will of the people.
Ironically, however, since 2006 a super-majority of Americans have consistently told pollsters that they do not believe the federal government represents the "will of the people." According to Rasmussen, "Less than a quarter of Americans (23%) believe the federal government truly reflects the will of the people . . . Those results [are] slightly more positive than those found in a survey taken last June, when only 17% said the government represented the will of the people and 68% said the opposite. In December 2006 only 16% believed the government reflected the will of the people, while 68% said it did not." May continues:
This fracturing of the American electorate might demand further changes of the Constitution to promote a multi-party system, and we need only to look at the modern history of, for example, France and Italy, to discover the chaos that can bring. (Or we may replicate nationally what is happening currently in the Coleman/Franken case in Minnesota).
By implying that the two party system is somehow mandated by the constitution, he effectively obscures that fact that it has rather been entrenched in myriad laws crafted by the duopoly parties themselves. On the other hand, while offering up France and Italy as examples of the "chaos" caused by non-duopolist political systems, he conveniently forgets that the Coleman/Franken case already represents the replication of the national Bush v. Gore debacle at the state level. However, May is not so blinded by duopolist ideology that he is completely incapable of registering its limitations, but with grave reservations:
While I sometimes think we would be better off with third party candidates that would offer voters more choices, that variety would come with a price. Radical groups on both sides could potentially gain more voice in promoting their agendas. (Emphasis added.)
This admission reveals the depth of the two-party delusion. Even when allowing for the possibility of more than two choices in any given contest, May still cannot conceive of the idea that there would be more than two sides in the equation! In the self-serving ideology of the duopoly, the two party system is necessary to keep Republicans and Democrats in check.

Election by Litigation

Reflecting on the forced exclusion of Libertarian Party candidate Eric Sundwall from the ballot in the upcoming election in New York's 20th Congressional District, the Think 3 Institute ironically suggests the idea of eliminating ballots altogether as a way of countering the 'bipolarchy':
Our electoral system is designed to encourage party-line voting, and the laws exist to make it as difficult as possible for anyone to challenge the reigning Bipolarchy of Republicans and Democrats. Our legislators may as well be Iranian mullahs, given their power to exclude independents from the sacred ballot. Lip service is paid to the principle of write-in voting, but the ballot certifies certain candidates as the "real" ones while implicitly relegating the rest to second class or worse. But if we really want to honor the principle, and if ballot space is so limited that there have to be laws to limit access, the fair thing to do is level the playing field and eliminate ballots altogether. Let's have every name written in, or spoken in if technology permits, and let's have each voter name whomever he pleases for any office, without any prompting from parties. I won't dare promise that outcomes would differ, but at least we wouldn't see any more repeat performances of the sort of legal farce that renders our elections less democratic and less republican.
As it stands today, the Republicans and Democrats seem already to be well on their way toward eliminating the ballot as the primary mechanism for the installation of their apparatchiks. In the dystopian future all elections will be decided by the courts.


'The exchange' between CNN's Ed Henry and President Obama has generated a fair amount of media chatter since the March 24th press conference. Henry, too, has offered his take on "what happened." He concludes the narrative with an observation on the difference between the Republican and Democratic response to his question and the president's answer:
"More comical to me was the flood of e-mail I got from Democratic and Republican sources. Invariably, my Democratic friends tweaked along the lines of "how'd you like the smackdown" because they were pleased the president pushed back. But my Republican friends hailed me by saying essentially, "Thanks for doing your job -- he never answered the question." So the exchange was a great political Rorschach: Each party saw their own talking points in the reflection of the back-and-forth."
There are a number of points worth noting in this passage, from the blurring of the distinction between 'sources' and 'friends' to the idea that a reporter is doing a good job when his questions go unanswered. However, despite Henry's awkward phrasing, the "comical" aspect of the partisan split in the response is perhaps the most interesting, akin to an ideological vanishing act. Each side reads its spin into the scene, and the truth disappears from the political press.

Surveillance and the Sphere of Consensus

In an article for the Guardian, Matthew Harwood links together a number of news items from the last few years which shed light on the nature of "homeland security intelligence" and the development of the surveillance society within the national security state. He writes:
From 2005 to 2006, the Maryland state police, with help from DHS, surveilled non-violent anti-war and anti-death penalty groups and labelled 53 individuals and groups as diverse as the DC Anti-War Network and Amnesty International as terrorists.

[ . . . ]

This month a leaked February bulletin from the Missouri Information Analysis Centre said support for independent presidential candidates like Ron Paul or an affinity for Revolutionary war-era "Don't Tread on Me" flags could mean you're a militia member a la Timothy McVeigh.
And concludes:
If you hold a political opinion outside the conventional two-party system, you're suspect. How paranoid and self-defeating it is when analysts have to wade through mountains of information that smears unorthodox political opinions when real threats to security exist.
What Harwood does not recognize is that, from the perspective of the intelligence and surveillance apparatus of the two-party state, political opinions outside the bipartisan sphere of consensus are clearly perceived as real threats to the security of the system.

Checks and Balances

I mentioned yesterday how "defenders of the duopoly often confuse the two party system with the constitutional separation of powers . . . referring to the duopoly as if it were a state of equilibrium, a set of checks and balances," rather than, for instance, the hegemonic form of political antagonism and representation. This view is not limited to pundits and bloggers. Today, Chicago radio host Ray Hanania quotes Illinois Republican State Senator Chris Lauzen: "We have problems in Illinois because the checks and balances of the two-party system no longer exist. And we have to believe in the founding principles that the people are in charge, not the politicians." The duopoly does not ensure checks and balances, the separation of powers does. If "checks and balances" no longer exist, this is not a failure of the two-party system. Rather it represents the success of this system, its inevitable outcome, a constitutional crisis.

Not in the Constitution

In a guest article at the Cincinnati Beacon, Mark Lause defends socialism against its corporatist detractors within the duopoly.
Confusion over what socialism actually means is part of the larger muddle of political ideas with poorly considered policies and practices. A political party, calling itself Republican introduced a level of authoritarianism and secrecy incompatible with representing an informed and engaged electorate. Its rival, the so-called Democratic party vies with it in embracing undeclared wars and the metaphysics of trickle-down economics. If the basic politics of the Democratic and Republican parties are neither republican nor democratic, who can be surprised if the meaning of “socialism” is confused?
This 'muddle of political ideas' is perhaps most clear in explicit defenses of the two party system, but it is not absent among the latter's critics either. Defenders of the duopoly often confuse the two party system with the constitutional separation of powers, for instance, referring to the duopoly as if it were a state of equilibrium, a set of "checks and balances." (How many then complain about gridlock in Washington?) This belief is confined neither to Republicans nor Democrats, and can be found among both liberals and conservatives. As a critic and advocate recently stated in an article on bipartisanship in South Carolina: "somebody needs to remind these people that the two-party system is not built into our laws." Of course, as the article itself testifies, the two-party system is in fact built into our laws (ex. bureaucratic hurdles for third party candidates, ballot access issues, five percent minumum etc.). It is not, however, enshrined in the constitution.

Partisanship by Another Name

Despite worthy attempts to kill the meme (such as Sam Haselby's recent article on the problem with bipartisanship), the bipartisan fetish continues to metastasize, and has found its way into The Onion. "In an effort to stimulate discussion, resolve party conflicts, and increase legislative productivity, members of the 111th Congress were once again required to watch an instructional video on bipartisan collaboration this week." As Rush Limbaugh pointed out at CPAC, however, 'bipartisanship' is simply partisanship by another name. "We check our core principles at the door, come in, let them run the show and agree with them. That’s bipartisanship to them. To us, bipartisanship is them being forced to agree with us after we politically have cleaned their clocks and beaten them."

The limitations of Limbaugh's duopolist ideology are clear in this 'definition' of bipartisanship. In a wider sense, 'bipartisanship' is the face of the two-party system's united front against real political competition and it is rarely lacking when it is a matter of excluding third parties from the ballot. In South Carolina, "Democrats and Republicans are working together to limit petition candidate challenges to their nominees" (emphasis added). The article quotes SC Republican Party director Jay Ragley justifying the move strategically, "we don't want to see a wave of people playing spoiler," while his Democratic counterpart, Jay Parmly, defends it reflexively, "Our job also is to protect our brand." The critical 'voting rights advocate' consulted in the piece, Brett Bursey (likely of the SC Progressive Network), observes, "There's something about democracy that they're not quite getting."

The Five Percent Minimum

In a political commentary on the recent resignation of Hungary's prime minister, John Horvath argues that the move is nothing more than a political ploy rather than, for instance, the tragic end of a political career. What caught my attention, however, was a comparison offered more or less as an aside in Horvath's analysis. He observes that the conservative and liberal parties are struggling for their political survival - they may not reach the "five percent minimum" necessary to remain in parliament - and states:
if this does happen, Hungary will then officially revert to a two-party system much like in the US. This, in turn, will be a testament to the degradation of democracy in Hungary since the end of communism in 1989. When multi-party elections were first held twenty years ago, there were a large number of different parties representing a broad spectrum of political views; nowadays, political discourse in Hungary has reverted to the simplistic bloc partisan politics of left versus right.
On a related note, the "5 percent minimum" has just consolidated the duopoly's strangle hold on politics in Nebraska: "Libertarians, Greens and the Nebraska Party are no longer officially recognized in Nebraska. The parties lost their legal status after none of their candidates for president or U.S. Senate garnered 5 percent of the vote, as required by state law."

Limitations of Term Limits

In a post on Dialectics Simplified, Langalibalele makes a strong case against the concentration of wealth and power and for their dilution through cooperatives and collectives. The chief reservoir of concentrated political power today is, of course, the two party system and so he argues for the modest aim of imposing term limits on entrenched political elites. He writes: "How do people dilute political power, that is, how to strip it from the control of a bloodsucking, capitalist two-party system? This same two-party system has led the world economy directly to this seething crisis point. So by imposing term limits the masses can erode this power and the influence of the corporate financiers who back them. Build upon the outrage against the current Congress and other politicos. Demand term limits; even build work for a referendum. This must be done."

The underlying paradox here is that people who desire to 'throw the bums out,' as the saying goes, nonetheless continue to re-elect them term after term. Term limits would indeed force some amount of change in this regard, but, absent third party activism, their imposition would do nothing to dilute the power concentrated in the hands of the duopoly parties and likely lead only to a higher turnover among representatives of the duopoly. On the other hand, term limits would also constrain the potential political effect of non-duopolist candidates who succeed in obtaining office. In this regard, ensuring ballot access to parties typically excluded from the political process would provide the disenchanted and discontented among us with greater latitude in effecting political change than the imposition of term limits.

Fear and Loathing

Tolik points out, in an article on competition in a duopolized market (Why Are Duopolies So Competitive?), that scapegoating is built right into the system. "In addition to a healthy dose of fear, there is an often unhealthy dose of hate in duopolies. There is always just one scapegoat in a duopoly."

The Wretched Coin

Leap Second provides a good amount of insight into the trappings of the two-party state in a post on Democrats and Republicans, arguing that since Republican policies infringe on social liberties and Democratic policies infringe on economic liberties, then the two party system necessarily curtails both economic and social freedom: "the Democrats and Republicans are two sides of the same, wretched coin." No truth is more vexing to partisan ideologists of the duopoly than this. They are ready and waiting with a laundered list of dissimilarities, from specific policies to grand visions, and point to the great partisan divide that separates the Demoblicans from the Republicrats. For instance, in a post on bipartisanship in the age of Obama, Jay Cost at Real Clear Politics writes, "Ultimately, partisan rivalry is generated by competing visions of the public good. Sometimes, the competition is more intense than other times. For whatever reason, this is a fiercely partisan era." How then to explain the apparent paradox? Perhaps a consideration of the narcissism of small differences could be of some help here.

Mainstream Media and Political Protest

In its minimal coverage of the Tea Party protests held over the weekend, Fox News reports that in Cincinnati "4,000 people showed up Sunday for a grassroots protest of wasteful government spending in general, and President Obama's stimulus package and budget in particular." The article quotes Noel Sheppard's critique of mainstream reporting on the events at Newsbusters, namely, that it was more or less non-existent. There, Sheppard notes that few television or print news outlets have covered the Tea Party protests, and submits: "Compare that to how these networks practically fell all over themselves to report war protests after the public's opinion changed concerning Iraq in late 2003." Yet this contrast does not hold. FAIR reported as late as 2005, that mainstream media in both television and print largely continued to downplay massive demonstrations against the Iraq war. What does hold in this comparison is the fact that the mainstream media generally ignore such manifestations of public activism regardless of its ideological slant or the object of its ire. In an interview from late 2002 on the media's coverage of the anti-war movement, FAIR's Peter Hart stated, "most reporters and editors find a statement from a single administration official more newsworthy than tens of thousands of citizens demonstrating." When the establishment media do take an interest in massive demonstrations by citizens, on the other hand, it is often not the message or the number of protesters that attracts them, but rather the number of riot police.

Note: it will be interesting to see how the media cover the national protest to take back the economy on March 19th.

Apology for the Duopoly

In an opinion piece in the DC Examiner, Matt Patterson makes the case for the two party system in general and the Republican party in particular. He writes, "Compared with the multi-party, parliamentary arrangements favored by other democracies, where the proliferation of voices often produces gridlock and instability, our bicameral political architecture ensures that only one side need give way in any dispute. The result is that compromise is reached more often than not." Patterson thus explicitly argues that the strength of the two party system is that it excludes the positions and fails to represent the interests of large swaths of the population. At least he's honest. Noteworthy here, aside from the idea that there is no partisan gridlock in US politics, however, is Patterson's implicit equation of the two party system with "our bicameral political architecture." Of course, the bicameral legislature has no inherent link with the two party state and would work just as well in a multi-party system. It is rather disconcerting to see how many believe that the two party system is one of the "checks and balances" necessary to curtail the power of government over individuals, rather than the condition of possibility for the radical expansion of government power to the detriment of individuals, many of whom are admittedly excluded from the political process.

Patterson continues, "by ensuring that the party in power always has a sizable and organized opponent awaiting the inevitable electoral transfer, the two-party system acts as a brake to radicalism and overreach on the part of those temporarily holding the reins of government." In other words, the two party system maintains the status quo, no matter who's in power. He sees a threat to this equilibrium in the current economic crisis, which is "a result of mismanagement in both the private sector and governments run by both parties" (emphasis added). Fear of change, specifically, a re-alignment of political forces which would upend the two party system, thus forces Patterson to call for the rebuilding of the Republican party, laughably, as the only party capable of saving capitalism, "which has had in the Republican Party its most ardent, and at times its only, champion. Conservatives and libertarians, Randians and Reaganites, must all rally to the Republican banner in this, the time of its great sickness." In this perhaps unwittingly ironic, quasi-Marxist call for capitalists of the world to unite (all you have to lose is a higher marginal tax rate!), one detects the fear that perhaps the two party system cannot save capitalism, and even, on the contrary, that the future development of capitalism will destroy the two party system. Perhaps there is hope.

Negative Politics

We are all familiar with the lesser-of-two-evils argument, according to which you vote for the duopoly candidate with whom you disagree less, whether or not there is a third party candidate who represents your positions best because otherwise the duopoly candidate with whom you disagree more may win. Arguably, a significant number of voters cast their ballots on the basis of this logic. Ironically, many then wonder why politics is so negative. Yet even this is not the height of negativity within the two-party system.

Elisabeth at Talking to Myself is sad because her best friend voted for Obama, whom Elisabeth thinks is "a con artist and salesman with no moral center" (he is a politician, after all). After visiting, the friend realized that Cynthia McKinney best represented her views, but since the Green Party candidate did not appear on her state's ballot (Georgia), she ended up voting for Obama. Curious, Elisabeth took the Glassbooth political quiz herself and found that she was most in line with the positions of Bob Barr. However, because Elizabeth ascribes to the lesser-of-two-evils argument, it is likely that she voted for McCain. She writes: "if you disagree with someone, I think it is important to vote for the person most likely to keep them out of office." In other words, she cast her vote not for the candidate with whom she disagreed less, but rather against the candidate with whom she disagreed more. The duopoly is maintained, in this case, by a double negation. But this logic may proove unsustainable. Elisabeth continues, "I don't know what I think about the two party system . . . but I know I don't want to be part of the Republican party itself."

Imagine That

Steve Newton at Delaware Libertarian engages in a speculative fantasy in which hell freezes over, "the GOP makes a push for a parliamentary system in Congress" and each duopoly party effectively fractures along the lines of its constitutive coalition: libertarians and conservatives on the right, greens and progressives on the left, etc, coexisting side by side with the former duopoly parties, one imagines. Returning from his flight of fancy, DL notes, however, that "there's really no mechanism in existence" to make this happen. On the contrary, such a mechanism exists, but goes unexploited. Ironically, it is actually quite simple: join a third party, support its candidates and vote for them.

Throw Your Vote Away

In a post on 'Politics and Truth,' the Niagra Journal delineates the fault lines that structure our political landscape:
The Republi-crat duopoly . . . exists to control the mechanisms of power and domination of the New Class, i.e., the new political/financial class, that rules international capital and related policy. The real conflict and tension . . . is between the Republi-crats and the Client Class, i.e., the rest of us who are not in contention to get our hands on the reins of power and domination. The real political conflict is not that within the so-called Republican party nor that between the so-called Democrats and Republicans. It is between the capitalist interests of the New Class and the Client Class consumers.
This configuration, he argues, is sustained by the ignorance among large swaths of the 'client class' as to their own political interests and maintained by the distortions and deceits of the propagandists who reproduce and reinforce duopolist ideology. Though this thesis is widely accepted among third party and anti-incumbency activists, it is not entirely correct. Voters across the political spectrum recognize the two-party system for what it is, namely, a political straitjacket, and can see through the manipulations of politicians and their enablers in the corporate media. What they cannot see is the sense of voting outside the two party ticket. Americans love a winner. Why throw your vote away on someone who has no chance of winning? -they ask themselves. One potential response to such a question is: why throw your vote away on someone who does not represent your interests and may very well win the opportunity to thwart or otherwise undermine them?

Declarations of Independence

Conservative discontent with the Republican Party and the overall structure of the two party system leads to more calls on new blogs for third party activism. Free Conservatives advocates for building the Constitution Party, while the Political Zone sees hope in a new "Patriot Party." (Interestingly, both seem to be inspired by talk show host Glenn Beck.) From Political Zone: "all people who recognize the problem, whether you call yourself a Libertarian, a Conservative or the Moral Majority, [must] unite under one banner." Free Conservatives is a bit more circumspect: "Please consider joining into one large group instead of being scattered." Perhaps these two should get together.

Against Infiltration

Libertarian leaning Steve V from Sacramento makes the point that "the U.S. constitution and the ideals of our founding fathers were based on libertarian values," that is, individual liberty, but argues that "neither republicans nor democrats are the friends of libertarians." It is therefore surprising to find that he thinks the libertarians' "only hope is that we infiltrate these parties with liberty-minded individuals, such as Ron Paul in the Republican party." The hope of infiltrating the duopoly parties with ideals which are effectively counter to their political agendas has been dashed by the structure and organization of the two party system time and again. Ron Paul's own position in the last presidential election was that people whose values and interests are not represented by the duopoly parties should vote third party. Why infiltrate a party that is either indifferent or overtly hostile to your political ideals when you could support one which explicitly espouses them, in this case, the Libertarian Party of California?

Surprised Party

Arguably, the Republicans' defeat in 2008 was as much a function of conservative discontent with the party's trajectory under the Bush administration as it was of the liberals' enthusiasm for the Obama campaign. Many such conservatives have come to the conclusion that their interests are simply not represented within the confines of the two party system, leading to calls for a "strong third party." (Wandering in the political wilderness, others are not as willing to give up on the GOP, and jokingly call for the organization of a strong second party, and the restoration of the two party system.) Ironically, however, some liberal Democrats, who have just returned from the political wilderness, have apparently learned nothing from the experience of their conservative counterparts, and are surprised to find that the party apparatus continues to frustrate their political aims. Chris Bowers complains that he has "helped raise over two million dollars for Congressional Democrats . . . who, upon their arrival in Congress, do whatever they can to openly distance themselves from both me and the causes I believe in. Why do I keep giving money to people who will respond by publicly slapping me in the face?" It is a good question, one which more people should ask themselves. Why would anyone raise money for a political party which does not represent his or her interests?

American Opportunism

Over on the left, the Unrepentant Marxist critiques Barbara Ehrenreich's modest call for socialist planning, and argues that "the main task facing socialists today is breaking with the two-party system, not coming up with blueprints for socialism . . . Most people vote for Democrats because they fear and hate the Republicans. In order for the class struggle to move forward in the U.S., a class alternative to the two big capitalist parties must be forged." A paradox to consider here is that many on the left who consistently vote Democratic nonetheless also agree that the two-party system is part of the problem. Just like their counterparts on the right, they know very well that the Republicans and Democrats are both beholden to the same corporate interests, that both are complicit in the various debacles, crises and failures of the "system," that neither party has a monopoly on corruption etc., but still they often cannot bring themselves to act, that is to say, vote, in a manner consistent with what they know to be true, and, in good old American fashion, call it pragmatism. (Lenin called it opportunism.) On the other hand, the parties' actions are clearly informed by this knowledge: bipartisanship is easy to come by when it is a matter of rigging the rules to exclude voices beyond the duopoly.

What Should Be

At What Should Be, Kevin Bliss cannot see any way forward in our "broken political [read: two-party] system" and recognizes the need for "a viable third party or at least a third force, of independents, who could advocate for the rational without concern for party identification or special interests." Indeed. However, it should be noted that such a 'third force' already exists. As a block, they are generally referred to as independents, or swing voters, and their support is highly valued by both sides of the duopoly come campaign season. Independents cannot supply the change K.B. thinks is necessary because they are 'independent' only in the sense that they may vote Republican one cycle and Democratic in the next, or split their ballots between the two for different races in the same cycle. Such voters are thus not independent of the system which forces them to vote for one of two evils, whichever one they think is the greater or lesser. A viable third party is needed. But what is needed even more is people like K.B. to support them. That is the difference between a viable and non-viable third party.

The more things change . . .

No one should mis-over-estimate the secretary of state. David Brunnstrom at Reuters reports, "Hillary Clinton raised eyebrows on her first visit to Europe as secretary of state when she mispronounced her EU counterparts' names and claimed U.S. democracy was older than Europe's." One of Clinton's slips reveals an aspect of the logic that sustains the two-party system. In an apparent attempt at self-deprecation, she confessed: "I have never understood multiparty democracy. It is hard enough with two parties to come to any resolution." Duopolists literally cannot comprehend a form of political organization that allows for the possibility of more than two parties. Taking this line of thought to its logical conclusion, we would have to surmise that the best system would be a one-party state. Clinton thus unwittingly demonstrates the totalitarian and fascistic impulse that runs through the highest levels of the two-party state. As Bush 43 put it, "if this were a dictatorship, it'd be a heckuva lot easier."

Duopoly and its Discontents

The ideology of duopoly is remarkable for the ways in which it generates contradiction. Today's disaffected Republicans provide a case in point. Notes From a Burning House makes a desperate call to "take back the GOP," yet concludes: "In short, there is no longer a single reason to take the Republican Party seriously." What's there to take back then?

Accountability Now and Then

J.D. at The Modern Left reflects on the tension between centrist and liberal Democrats apparent in the opposition of so-called "top Democrats" to the new PAC Accountability Now. (In the AP report on the rift, we read: "Sen. Robert Menendez of New Jersey, the Democrats' Senate campaign chief, said he wasn't familiar with the group, but called it "a bad idea."" If only "top Democrats" were spontaneously skeptical of the positions held by their corporate bosses.) Accountability Now states that its core missions is "challenging the institutional power structures" entrenched in the Congress. One wonders whether it has occurred to the folks at the new PAC, staffed and supported as it seems to be by Good Democrats, that the broadest institutional power structure that supports an accountability-free government is the two-party system. On this score, J.D. makes a good point: "Maybe Accountability Now will be able to push more progressive candidates, but hopefully they won't limit themselves solely to Democratic progressive candidates. Other voices need to be heard, too." Indeed.

Right/Left Convergence

The uniform reaction, on the left and the right, to news that "a dozen former top Countrywide executives now stand to make millions from the home mortgage mess" they themselves helped create, demonstrates the breadth of grassroots opposition to the Republican/Democratic kleptocracy. At the Astute Bloggers, whose stated mission is to "expose leftist propaganda," we read: "SICKENING . . . the vultures . . . couldn't do it without the cooperation of the politicians." On the other hand, the Democratic Daily, which provides readers with "progressive commentary and liberal opinions," is similarly incensed: "Un-freakin-believable. Greed and avarice at its highest and lowest."

Third Party Calling

Reflecting on the performances of Rush Limbaugh and Newt Gingrich at the recent Conservative Political Action conference, Stan Graham at ichabod's reason considers the implications of the current state of our national politics and hits the nail on the head: "Both parties have come to view the constitution as an obstacle to federal power, rather than a necessary restraint. The power of the government to infringe upon or deny its citizens the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness has become the primary preoccupation of those in power . . . neither party represents the electorate. They represent those in power: themselves."

The Two Party Delusion

David Lindorff writes today on what he calls the "third party delusion and the need for a mass movement for progressive change." Typical of those who suffer from the two party delusion, he offers up the usual duopolist arguments against third party politics (ex. national third party candidacies are not politically viable, the duopoly parties would never let it happen etc.) while agreeing, in principle, that a multiparty system is more desirable than perennial rule by the lesser or greater of two evils. The contradiction is readily apparent in his logic. He writes: "Today there is no mass base for a socialist party." Yet, responding to critics in the comment thread, he elaborates upon his call for a mass movement for progressive change, suggesting "a jobless march on Washington, with a goal of 2 million unemployed workers and their families calling for" the usual list of socialist and labor party programs. In the two party delusion, there is no basis for a third party, except for all the people who are fed up with the policies promulgated by the corporate duopoly.