Reformism and the Politics of Infinite Deferral

Tirade Faction forwards a link to an article by Jon Walker at FireDogLake which argues that "if you want more bipartisanship, promote more political parties."  Comparing the Republican-Democrat two-party state with the UK's current government, which has three major parties, Walker points out that if no party has an outright majority in government, compromise becomes a necessity.  Excerpt:
The Conservative Party and the Liberal Democrats have been working together extremely closely. What is the cause of this outbreak of bipartisanship? The answer is simple, the UK has three big political parties and two of them were needed to form a coalition with a governing majority. This gave the Lib Dem-Conservative coalition a huge incentive to embrace their bipartisan relationship and do everything they could to make bipartisan compromise work . . . If they fail to work together to produce good results, both stand to lose seats, mainly to Labour. . . .  The reason you see little sustained, genuine bipartisanship in America, despite most beltway pundits acting like the mere hint of it sends them into ecstasy, is that there is no incentive for doing it . . . If you really want more bipartisanship, the only real solution is to promote more viable political parties.
Walker then goes on to list some of the ways to promote a multiparty system:
To have more viable parties requires systematic changes to our political system. You need to switch to a voting system like proportional representation and, to a lesser degree, instant runoff voting that promotes more than just two parties.
While such reforms would be a boon for third party and independent activism, we should disagree that they are "required" or "necessary" to elect third party and independent candidates to elected offices.  To elect third party and independent candidates to office, the only thing that is required or necessary is that voters cast their ballots for them.  To maintain that the government must pass a series of systemic reforms before it would become feasible for the people to support third party and independent candidates is just an indirect way of saying that opposition to the two-party state is futile, thereby deferring any active opposition until some unspecified date in the future.  Arguably, implementing systemic reforms to the political system should be secondary to inducing a change in the way Americans think about politics as such.  The two-party state is, first and foremost, a state of mind.


TiradeFaction said...

Exactly. We need to organize viable minor parties now, so when we do in fact get to the point of electoral reform in the future, these parties can exert their influence, even if only minor, to getting a better deal for themselves, and opening up our political process.

Samuel Wilson said...

d., your point is well taken, but the way voters think is inevitably structured by institutions. If Americans could simply will themselves to elect third-party candidates, wouldn't they have done so more often by now? Exhorting people to think and vote independently should go hand-in-hand with agitation for election-law reform, even if you think that success on one front makes the other campaign unnecessary.

d.eris said...

I definitely agree about the "hand-in-hand" strategy, Sam. I just think that, as a matter of strategy/tactics, lack of reform should not be framed as an argument against supporting alternatives to the duopoly. Maybe we should turn the argument around: strategically supporting individual third party and independent candidates is an ideal way to advance the election reform agenda at all levels of government, because they will be vocal advocates of such reforms – which kind of brings us back to TF"s point above.

Solomon Kleinsmith said...

You don't NEED there to be proportional representation, you just need a big enough of a section of the electorate that isn't covered by the major parties.

That exists between them now, among moderates and centrists. There just aren't enough folks on the outside of the spectrum. The center is just almost entirely unorganized. If you want this to change, help start something at your local level.

Solomon Kleinsmith
Rise of the Center

TiradeFaction said...

The problem with organizing the "center" is the "center" is neither a solid political standing nor is there universal agreement between folks who inhabit that nebulous space. In fact, there's seriously disagreement with the socially progressive laissez faire economically anti social support centrists (think Eliot Cutler, the current standing of the Minnesota Independence Party) versus the socially regressive pro social support more hands on regulatory centrists (plenty for the taking, I'd imagine American Catholics would make up a large portion of this group, and in a multi party system we'd probably call them "Christian Democrats") either factional infighting and sincere disagreements will probably prevent any sort of "rise of the centrists" movement, or it will become a big tent where some factions are downplayed at the expense of others, just like the Democrats and Republicans.

Hell, just look at the MNIP, which seesaws from a more centre left economic position to a more centre right economic position, while staying neutral to progressive on social issues.

I also disagree that only "centrists" are out there needing independent organizing. Plenty of factions in high numbers (Progressives, Libertarians, etc.) are being sold out in the river by their respective Major party counterparts that could very well appeal to opening the political process. Also including large marginalized groups that almost never participate in the political process, such as the poor.

Pete Healey said...

They go "hand in hand" because you don't get one without the other. Look at the experiences of the proportional countries. They have higher turnout rates and healthier political cultures, and depending on the style of PR system, several or dozens of parties representing the full, complicated spectrum.
Here in my homeetown we have elected third party types who have eventually walked away from their commitment to proportional politics, partly because they began to believe that they could survive inside the two party system. How wrong they were!
Third party types need a fundamental commitment to proportional politics. Without it any gains are temporary and ultimately futile.