Today, I posted a link to my Facebook, encouraging friends to check out the New York Times‘ story on the Tea Party (I’m using great restraint here to type Tea Party instead of my preferred Teabagger) Movement. In linking to the piece, I wrote, “An interesting piece. I’m still hoping that these people won’t destroy the Republican party (I think we need two functional parties for democracy to function) or the country.” A friend (whom I respect! and like!) left this comment: “I’ve got to disagree with you. I’m with Evan Bayh: the 2 party partisan system is killing America. Most people don’t adhere 100% to one side or another. There is definitely room for a Centrist movement.” Which is when I took to my blog to explain why I think a two-party system is crucial to the American way of government, and life. (I am leaving aside the part about how I think Evan Bayh is a hypocrite, a dirty rotten traitor, a selfish slimebag, and utterly in the pocket of big companies like Wellpoint.)
I got my college degree in both English and Political Science. As such, I’ve had the wonderful opportunity to take comparative government. It was in this class that I learned that our Founders (look at me! talking about the Founders like a Tea Partier! let me fetch my tricorn hat!) very deliberately chose a two-party system. More than anything, the Founders feared tyranny, and they believed that factionalism (we might say extremism) was the major cause of tyranny. In crafting a two party system in which the majority rules, our Founders created a system that would tend toward centrism. Each party would have to play toward the middle in order to secure the majority they needed to govern. In trying to secure a majority of voters, each party would have to tend toward moderation.
In contrast, look at governments that have more than two parties. I seem to remember my professor (himself a conservatve/libertarian, and yet my favorite in college) pointing at Italy as a particularly grievous example of the problem of more-than-two-party systems. In these systems, any party that can secure a bare minimum of votes is rewarded with seats in the legislature. This means that each party plays to its own small audience, and their specific needs and beliefs, in order to win their votes. If they don’t, those voters can simply choose from among a plethora of possible parties. In turn, with each party that can secure a bare minimum of votes being rewarded with seats, multiple parties have to form coalitions in order to govern– a coalition will elect the leader of the legislature and decide on committee heads, for example. While these coalitions might sound great in theory, they have a tendency to fall apart regularly, with each party holding the whole process hostage to get what they want, or leaving the coalition and forcing new elections if they don’t. Multi-party systems lead to every party playing toward the fringes, NOT centrism.
So this is why I believe a two-party system is the only way to centrism and moderation. I may not always personally LIKE the slow, incremental, glacial pace of change that results from a two party system, but it’s nothing compared to the gridlock that results in systems with more parties. The only reason I’d vote third-party is to teach my own party a lesson. And here’s where I break faith with the folks waving tea bags: I think that the current Democratic party is pretty darn centrist. Most of the proposals of the dreaded health care reform package, for example, are things Republicans were proposing back in the Clinton years. If anything, I find the Democratic party too moderate, and might consider voting Green Party in order to teach them a lesson about abandoning their Progressive base.
(I feel like I just took a test in one of Dr. Gitz’s classes. Give me an A!)