Sunday, January 24, 2010

American Politics

When I started this blog, the purpose was not to carp on either of the American political parties, since they are both really screwed up by the nature of politics in this country. I estimate that one of them is about 35% wrong and the other about 55% wrong on the issues, and not all in the same direction. In the blue to red scale, I'm on the red side of purple. In most of the world that would label me center-right, I guess. But really, that whole left-right or blue-red metaphor is an artificial paradigm fraught with mistaken assumptions.

First of all, it assumes that there are only two approaches to any problem. Second, it assumes that two (or more) political parties always would, should and could split evenly on which of those two (fictitious) alternatives should be used. Third, it assumes that, if the above two happened, that the clusters of positions created by such splits would form some sort of rational basis for governing a country. Which three assumptions are Bunk, Bunk, and Bunk.

The two major political parties in the United States are random aggregations of diverse interest groups, and each contains subgroups that barely tolerate each other. In fact, each party contains groups whose interests - economic, moral, political and other - are directly opposed to a large chunk of the positions taken by the party.

For instance, the highest interest of low-income people (minority or not) with children is that they be able to quickly move their children away from failing schools. However, the Democratic party, which otherwise represents the interests of the poor, also contains as a major group the Teacher's Unions. Thus, any effort to allow such school choice is viewed as a negative thing by the Democratic Party hierarchy.

One could point out similar issues within the Republican party, for instance regarding poor evangelical Christians - who vote Republican for moral reasons - and their economic best interests. The important thing is not which exact groups might be better served by a different party alignment, but just the fact that any two-party system will suffer one or more of the following problems - (a) the parties will be broad coalitions that don't represent anything in particular, (b) the parties will represent only a small selection of all possible paradigms, ignoring superior solutions and narrowing the range of acceptable viewpoints, and/or (c) the parties will be controlled by their more radical fringes, leading to less-than-centrist policies that are less than optimal for the country as a whole.

In the U.S. today, we suffer all three of the above, to varying degrees. I believe that these problems are inherent in a two-party system, with problem (a) and problem (b) maintaining a yo-yo of tension, and (C) occurring whenever (b) proceeds two far, thus leading to electoral defeat from the middle and a reversion to (a).

In future essays, I'll explain why the two-party system persists in the U.S., and some ideas about how to either proceed toward an effective multi-party system here or how to limit the toxicity of problems (b) and (c).

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