Political Competition and the Ideology of the Two-Party State

The common assertion that the two-party system fosters political competition reveals the perfectly Orwellian character of the ideology that underpins the two-party state. Among the ideologues of the Democratic and Republican parties, the two-party system is equated with political competition as such. Consider but one revealing statement by Dick Morris, professional mouthpiece of the corporatist political establishment, commenting on politics in the state of Illinois: "It's very important that you get a two party system in Illinois, because competition is essential to making politics work." As we know, in reality the two-party system is based on the outright suppression and repression of any and all political competition.

As I noted earlier this week, Democrats and Republicans in Pennsylvania succeeded in purging the November ballot of numerous third party and independent candidates for state-wide office, including Greens, Libertarians and at least one Tea Party candidate. At the Libya Hill Report, Regan Straley writes that, "Un-American Republican and Democratic cowards steal your right to vote for the candidate of your choice . . . again! Pennsylvania's electoral system is a national disgrace that demands your immediate attention." He continues, noting the double standard instituted by Democratic and Republican legislators that has allowed their party machines to hijack the political process:
Principled third-party and independent political candidates for statewide office in Pennsylvania were required this year to obtain 19,082 petition signatures from registered voters in order to appear on November's ballot alongside the soulless Republicrat sell-outs who are allowed on with a mere 2,000 signatures.
For Democratic and Republican political strategists alike, the ideal electoral contest is one in which the incumbent faces no challengers whatsoever. Taken to its logical extreme, current Democratic-Republican political practice would likely result in the abolition of elections altogether. It is no coincidence that the great majority of elections in the United States are non-competitive, as most offices are considered "safe seats" for the professional Democratic or Republican politicians who keep those seats warm for the corporatist interests that have bought and paid for them.

However, when Democrats and Republicans give up on maintaining the charade of political competition between the ruling parties, there is a strategic opening for third party and independent candidates who seek to offer voters a choice which they are so often denied. In Virginia's 6th congressional district, incumbent Republican Bob Goodlatte will face no Democratic opponent this November, yet he will nonetheless face two challengers, Libertarian Stuart Bain and Independent/Whig Jeff Vanke. In one of the few polls tracking this race, Goodlatte leads his rivals by a wide margin, to say the least, garnering 71% support to Vanke's 12% and Bain's 7%. Yet, because there is no Democrat in the contest, Vanke and Bain have a golden opportunity to obtain media access, shape coverage of the race, and gain traction among the electorate.

Bain is running on a Libertarian platform of smaller government and expanded liberty, and has begun holding virtual town hall forums to raise money for his campaign. Vanke, on the other hand, has been endorsed by the Modern Whig Party as well as the Independent Green Party of Virginia, and is running on an explicitly moderate, centrist platform. Solomon Kleinsmith recently profiled Vanke at Rise of the Center, writing:
I had the pleasure of talking to Jeff by email, and liked a lot of what I heard. Vanke has a bio a campaign manager would die to have in a candidate. He literally does work as a budget consultant, has a PHd in Political History and even published a book recently, by the name of “Europeanism and European Union”. In other words, the guy has chops. On the personal side – another ideal list of attributes. He’s actually an Eagle Scout, PTA volunteer, sings in his church choir and is a Sunday school teacher. Much like any other independent, his campaign’s biggest problem is lack of infrastructure. . . .

All the necessary pieces are there for a potentially winning upstart campaign. What remains is Jeff hitting the canvas every day, knocking on doors and making phone calls… raising money and pressing the flesh at events. He polled at just 12% a few weeks ago, so he’s got quite the mountain to climb in a short time.
With the devolution of the two-party system into what is effectively a one-party, corporatist state, the choice between a Democrat and a Republican is no choice at all. Thus the choice before voters is clear: perpetuation of joint misrule by the Democratic and Republican parties, or political freedom and independence.


Unknown said...

How many parties do you think we should have? I think 4 or 5, with likely only 3 of them having a legitimate shot at the presidency itself while the others hold minority seats in the legislature. If you concur, which parties/ideologies do you think/hope will be represented?

d.eris said...

That's an interesting question, and I don't know that I've ever thought about it in quite those terms before, i.e. how many parties *should* we have. There are, obviously, dozens of political parties in the United States. I'd probably have to say there is no optimal number, except there should be as many parties as people are willing to organize. But your question also seems to be, how many parties should be represented in government. I do wonder how many parties would be represented in government if we had fair, open, free and equal elections.

I think there would be at least four or five, as you say, but there would likely also be independents of all political stripes and persuasions. Probably, there are already more than that if we were to consider all elected offices, ex. the Progressive Party in Vermont, Libertarian and Green mayors, independent US senators, state legislators, etc.

Coming from New York, I've been able to vote for candidates from numerous parties as well as a couple independents, if I remember correctly. I would like to see Libertarians, Greens and Independents elected to local, state and federal office.

What about yourself?

DLW said...

I don't mind there being two major parties, so long as there are lots of local third parties and at least a couple of intermediaries that might be among the top two parties in at least one state.

What's most necessary is that the de facto center that the two major parties strategically position themselves around be more dynamic and responsive to more people-groups.

I think it's not wise for most third parties to spend (much of) their limited political capital on trying to win offices in state-wide elections.

d.eris said...

Hey DLW,
I've been reading up on the results of the recent Australian election, which was conducted under what they call "alternative voting." Are you familiar with the Australian system? How would this compare with your ideas on APR?

See, for instance: