Saturday, June 17, 2017

The Four-Party System

Are we a two-party system any longer?  I don't think so.
Many of our friends from Europe criticize our American two-party system. They claim their Parliamentary system which has a plethora of different parties each representing different interests, is superior to our own.

To begin with, I don't think such a system is necessarily superior, as recent events in England or United Kingdom or Great Britain or whatever the hell they're calling themselves this week demonstrate.  The British have a system which allows anyone, such as Lord Buckethead or Elmo can run for Parliament and participate in debates.

Not only that, if no party wins a majority, a functioning government can only be formed when a number of parties form unsavory alliances such as happening today where Theresa May is embracing the odious DUP of Northern Ireland.  I think the time is past where the British can throw brickbats at our system, as demonstrated by recent events.

And don't get me started on Brexit.  I sent in my vote today.   To dissolve our condominium it requires a staggering 80% vote.   Dissolving the EU requires only a simple majority.  Sorry, but the Brits really don't have a leg to stand on, and the only thing holding them together today is the Queen  - with everyone living in denial about "King Charles" who will ascend to the thrown in only a few years.  Oh, the fun is just beginning for British.

The other problem with this argument is that it mis-characterizes our American political system. Maybe at one time we had a two-party system in the United States, but today we have what amounts to a four-party system.

And it bears mentioning that our parties have flipped and changed over the years.  Maybe this is also true overseas, in some countries, where parties with names like "conservative" end up being liberal and those with names like "labor" end up being conservative.

Our Republican party was formed from the ashes of the Whig party and traditionally was a party of northern industrial interests, favoring "God, Country, and the Tariff."   Today, the Republican party is still the party of business and finance, but it is also embraced more rural social values such as fundamentalist Christianity.  Also, it no longer is in favor of the Tariff -  today mainstream Republicans are in now favor of free trade, or were.

The Democratic party was the party of the rural South - the slave owners of the pre-civil War era. Somehow that eventually morphed into a labor party of the North, pro-civil rights and very liberal. As a result, in the 1960s (what took so long?) the South eventually changed from "the solid South" for Democrats to the "Red State" South of today.

And maybe it is this schizophrenia of our current parties which is basically divided them into two parties each, giving us a four-party system.  On the Republican side we see the emergence of the so-called "Tea Party" far right-wing Republicans.  Unlike traditional Republicans, who want to work across the aisle and develop policies which promote their agenda but can be pasted in a bipartisan manner, this new breed of Republicans wants everything their way or not at all.

The new far-right Republicans are vehemently anti-abortion, anti-gay rights, and very right-wing on other social issues.  They are also perceived as closeted racists and wish to roll back many of the protections for minorities in this country.  They are also huge deficit hawks and would rather shut down the government than compromise on any kind of spending plan.

Thus, the Republican party has to radically different wings.  We have traditional Republicans such as John McCain, who want to do the business of government, and then we have the new Republicans who want the government shut down or destroyed.  As one commentator noted, today people attack the very institutions of our government rather than work with them.  They claim to want to "drain the swamp" and throw out the incumbents.  However once they get into office and become part of the machine of government they don't quite seem to know what to do.

The far-right Tea Party really started to emerge during the Obama Administration.  But on the Democratic side, we see a similar bifurcation.  We have traditional Democrats who largely want to get along with their Republican colleagues and try to pass legislation that favors Democratic interests, but on a bipartisan basis.  These are liberals, but liberals who realize that their expectations have to be tempered with reality.

The new far left, sometimes called "Progressives" is embodied by the likes of Bernie Sanders and his followers.  The irony is, of course, the Sanders was not a Democrat - and still is not a Democrat today, even though he ran for the Democratic ticket in the primaries.  Even though Sanders lost and arguably caused the loss of Hillary Clinton, he is still being pandered to by many in the Democratic party as a means of appeasing the "base" of the Democratic Party.

And that's the irony right there, because this so-called "base" is not really the base of the Democratic party any more than Tea Partiers are the "base" of the Republican party.  Both parties are pandering to these extreme factions, thinking there are more important and more powerful than they are.  As a result, they are losing their real base, the moderates who make up the majority of the population.

This new breed of Democrats isn't content with the amazing amount of social change we have achieved in this country over the last 50 years.  Rather, they are chasing smaller and smaller injustices and creating out of whole cloth new ones to protest about.  They are tapping into the anger of the younger generation, or actually fomenting it, convincing anybody under the age of 40 that somehow they got a raw deal in life by being born in the wealthiest country on the planet in an era of record low unemployment, low inflation, and low interest rates.  And let's not forget $2 gas.

It's funny, but when I came of age, we had record high inflation, record high interest rates, and while the unemployment wasn't quite as high as the depression, it was well over 10%.  Oh, and back then gas was under $2, but it was rationed, and on some days you couldn't even buy it.  And I guess the funny thing was is that our generation didn't complain about this too loudly, as if we did, our parents would sternly remind us how shitty things were during the Great Depression and World War II.

So, we kept our mouths shut some went out and got jobs and worked and didn't bitch too much about the q"raw deal" we thought we were getting, because quite frankly, we thought America was a pretty good deal.  Most of the people of my generation, sort of a forgotten generation between the Baby Boomers and the Gen Xers or whatever the hell is the next Generation, pretty much kept their heads down in their mouth shut.  We saw what happened to our older siblings who protested and smoked pot and became hippies.  Nothing much came of it, other than most of them eventually became coke heads and disco dancing me-generation jerks.

On the other hand, the new far-right is also trying to stoke the fires of discontent to fill their ranks with supporters.  They are convincing the younger blue collar workers and people from more impoverished areas that the reason why they have such an awful life (again, so awful that the rest of the world envies it) is that the government has been giving away all their money to minorities. Of course, this is a code word for racial prejudice, which is why this new far alt.right is imbued with antisemitism and racism.

But of course, it is not just the youth of today who are buying into these extreme political movements.  It's a game anyone of any age can play.  And like windup soldiers, you hype these extreme narratives to people who are mentally and balanced and eventually you will set them off. You don't need an ISIS recruitment video to incite violence you just need to keep telling people that everything bad in their life and that this is the result of the opposing political party. And if people start to believe this, they will do bad things.

It's hard to say how this all got started.  Maybe it has always been going on.  Deranged individuals fueled by partisan politics have committed assassinations in the past.  President Lincoln, President Garfield, even Theodore Roosevelt was shot at.  I guess you don't get elected unless you convince the voters that not only is your side right but that the other side set out to destroy the world as we know it.

But then again, maybe no.  Because I can remember in my lifetime where the political parties, although they disagreed about things, tended to get along.  During the 1960's, there certainly was a lot of strife in our country and a lot of disagreements over a lot of policies.  But it is interesting to note how most of the appointees to the Supreme Court and other positions were fairly moderate in nature, on both sides of the aisle.  Not only that, lawmakers from both sides tended to vote for each other's bills because they wanted to do what was best for the country and the bills themselves were compromises. People may disagree about policy, but they never made the implied threats that the other guy's policies were threat to civilization as a whole.

Maybe that changed with Watergate.  Republicans tended to view the Watergate hearings and the eventual impeachment of Nixon and his resignation as a hit-job by the Democratic party and the liberal media.  Whether you perceive this to be true or not is irrelevant, it is what a lot of people perceive.  Of course, it didn't help any that Richard Nixon had a band of merry pranksters who were performing political stunts, much as people do today, planting fake memos and breaking into people's offices rather than just running a campaign on the issues.  They called him "Tricky Dick" long before he was President.

It seems that since then, it has been a matter of getting revenge over Watergate for the Republicans, and then the Democrats playing tit-for-tat.  The Russia investigation of today seems to be occurring more in the press than in any kind of investigative office.  We are being fed more rumors and innuendo then we are facts.  The Press reports that the President is being investigated, is it not only that isn't indictment, but a conviction.

This is not to say that no illegal activities have occurred, only that they really have yet to be proven and for some reason to press feels need to jump to the conclusion before hearing any of the evidence. It seems the press is arguing that any contacts between anybody and Russia amounts to conclusion conclusion two camps, and primae facie evidence of tampering in the election.

Presdent Obama and even Joe Biden have said that although they knew about Russia's attempts to tamper with voting machine voting records and other efforts to sway public opinion, they remained silent for fear that their comments themselves would be perceived as election tampering.  Of course the other unstated reason is they thought that Hillary would win, as all the polls showed her way in the lead.  We keep forgetting that it was Hillary's election to lose, and lose it she did by failing to campaign in the most important States.  She lost the election to hubris plain and simple, and even today she is trying to argue otherwise.

And although no one has ever proved that she did anything really illegal with her email server, I still scratch my head as to why exactly she did this.  The only real reason you'd want to have a private email server is so that you could send and receive emails and not have them up here as discoverable government records.  Maybe she had nothing to hide, but she certainly made it look like she did.

But the real problem for Hillary wasn't her email server it was Bernie Sanders.  The four-party system caused her to lose the election.  During the bruising primaries, Sanders managed to attack Hillary and discredit her, doing Trump's work for him.  He divided the Democratic electorate viciously, convincing the younger progressives (and even the older ones) that the only viable Democratic candidate for the general election was someone who wasn't even a Democrat.
And make no mistake about it, Bernie Sanders would have not won the general election.  The majority of Americans are not ready for a socialist President - someone who wasn't even willing to join the Democratic party to run for president on the Democratic ticket.  And of course, a majority Republican House and Senate certainly would not have gone along with Bernie Sanders crazier ideas if indeed any of them.

So Hillary lost mostly because this ideological far-left Progressive part of the Democratic party simply stayed home and didn't vote.  But even worse, a number them actually went out and voted for Trump as odd as it may seem.  It's hard to believe that someone who smokes pot would vote for Trump, other than as I've noted before smoking marijuana clouds your judgment.  And now we have Jeff sessions trying to undermine not just recreational marijuana but medical marijuana as well.  We're only a few months into a four-year Administration, the worst is yet to come.

And today the far left "progressives" are still living in a dream world.  They believe they've succeeded in preserving Obamacare because the Republicans have failed to vote on a replacement in the first 100 days of the Trump Administration.  What they don't realize is that there's 365 days in every year and three more years after this one.  A lot can be changed over time.

And again, this hyper-partisan far-left group believes that they can prove that Trump did something wrong to throw the election when in fact all the evidence to date shows no such collusion took place, and moreover that while the Russians tried to influence our election through social media and planted documents and other data releases, they did not tamper with voting machines or the vote count.

The hyper-partisan far-left believes they can impeach Trump, and the mainstream Republican party and even the far-right Tea Partiers are secretly hoping they will.  Because if Trump is impeached, his replacement will be Mike Pence, I'll far-right evangelical homophobic discredited former governor of Indiana.  He is the President that many Republicans really wanted in the first place, not this loose cannon Trump who is unpredictable and has democratic-leaning people in his inner circle.

Time was, various factions of a party would unify for the sake of the party.  People on the far left realized that their dreams of a socialist utopia we're not likely to be implemented anytime soon, but were content for incremental changes over time, which have over the last half-century produced dramatic changes in our social system.  Similarly, those on the far right were content to have incremental changes that moved the ball back down the field in small jumps. Today, both radical wings of both parties want nothing less than a touchdown or they will burn down the stadium.

The rest of us just want to play the game by the rules and see who wins.