We’re already drifting into the 2016 presidential election season. And I already want to tune it out. I have absolutely no enthusiasm about what either party is going to do. I really don’t. Yes, I’m always going to vote. I feel a personal responsibility in that, but I’m fiercely cynical at this point. I don’t put faith in candidates, ever. Because I think most candidates at the national level, no matter their good intentions, are just bit players in a rigged game, which is entirely focused on maintaining the status quo for a select few. And if you don’t see this too, I don’t think you’re looking very hard. Yeah, that’s bitter for sure. But I’ve reached a point where there’s only one thing that could truly encourage me politically — loosening the two-party monopoly on everything political. Our two-party political culture sickens me. It has been reduced to a simplistic, binary exercise in good versus evil, of character assassination, of shirts and skins allegiances that skip over the substance of issues in favor of killing the other guy no matter who’s hurt. We are fiercely loyal teams and we are stupid as a country because of it.
In our partisan bickering, we seem to miss the bigger conflict that overshadows our red/blue divide: when politicians do the bidding of the highest bidders, a “democracy” becomes something else — an oligarchy (a small group of people having control of a country, organization, or institution.) And that’s what the two-party system has become. Every election cycle, our two parties present a very limited selection of candidates, each of whom say they’re going to bring substantive change for the better. And we seem oblivious to the obvious — the change we need isn’t rooted in personalities; it’s structural.
We need an expansion of choices and we need it bad. We need representatives from parties who aren’t tied to donkeys and elephants. We need easier ballot access for these new voices. This is not a crazy idea. Not at all. It’s actually entirely sensible. If this were a “free-market” political system, and not a two-party monopoly, we’d encourage and love such a competition of ideas. It would enrich the process, just as competition boosts the quality of any market. We’d see outsiders from all political sides raise new ideas. And this would require voters to consider actual platforms on issues instead of identifying themselves by the red/blue culture war, which simply reduces us to a stinky cesspool of blind hate and stupidity.
Yes, the two-party system has been in place forever. But there’s absolutely nothing in our Constitution that prohibits access for outside views. In fact, I think pushing for fresh voices and powers in politics is entirely in line with what this nation’s founders intended. The stagnant state of money-driven party politics leads good people who seek office to cow-tow to party-driven lines. That’s because they are pushed into a corner financially and feel they have no choice. If they challenge the status quo of their chosen party, then they don’t get the financial support they need. Thus, the status quo is maintained and new ideas are stifled before they’re even seriously considered. Those who have it good in our current structure funnel cash to those politicians who won’t rock the boat. So, no boats are every rocked. And no substantive changes ever occur.
So, what can you do? Do we just give up entirely? Is it hopeless?
John F. Kennedy once said: “Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.” I don’t think we’re anywhere near that, but the fact that small changes seem impossible doesn’t encourage me at all and makes me feel skeptical about our long-term health. For instance, wouldn’t it be good to see third-party candidates included in presidential debates as a standard format? Is this so radical? No, but will it happen? Uh, I doubt it. There are a number of issues that both parties actually agree on that should be challenged in the name of societal good. What about campaign finance reform? What about term limits? What about shutting down the pipeline of government officials and workers taking lobbyist positions?
Most of all, we desperately need to eliminate bribery from the arena of public policy making. It cheapens the whole thing. And we all see this. For instance, we don’t allow judges to take money from defendants or plaintiffs. No decent journalist or umpire takes a bribe. They’re supposed to be objective. But our lawmakers accept this influence on their decision making like nothing’s wrong. It’s so tied to the political culture that they can’t see the moral hazard that any reasonable person sees. But if every umpire took bribes from teams, would we accept this just because “every umpire does it.” Of course not, we’d protest and force any sport with crooked referees to change. The game would be a farce, right? Well, this is exactly how our political system works, but we basically sit silent about the farce we all see.
Perhaps we could at least take some baby steps in the right direction, like adding a third-party voice to our presidential debates. If you’d like to see a push for third-party inclusion in national debates, check out www.changetherule.org. If you scroll through that site, you’ll see that the Democrats and Republicans have worked together to stack the debate system with impossible obstacles for any third-party candidate. This organization is aiming to change that. I sure wish it would catch on and actually work.
More than that, I wish Tea Partiers and Occupy Wall Street people — and every passionate partisan in between — could see the bigger picture and the common thread that ties so many of our frustrations. We want a better system, one that is actually responsive to the electorate, not the cash. We just don’t know how to get it. And Republican and Democratic leaders have no incentive to loosen their grip on their centralized power. But it’s high time enough people act together to pull their hands off the nation’s neck. This needs to happen for the good of the country. Any Republican or Democrat who disagrees is more interested in party power than national health.
Zach Mitcham is editor of The Madison County Journal.