Joyce L. Arnold: Liberal, lesbian, Independent, equality activist, writer.
When it comes to our two party political and governing systems and structures, we’re way beyond “dysfunctional.”
With realization that challenges, from within and without the institutionalized two party system, face huge obstacles, I nevertheless think those efforts are not only worthwhile, but essential. And not necessarily impossible.
This is the first in a series of columns about various reform efforts and projects, primarily from the more or less Left side of things. Before getting into some of the specifics, a bit of background and context. Agree or disagree with “third party” organizing, with efforts internal to both parties to hold Electeds accountable, or with efforts like that at Fair Vote to reform the Electoral College, the fact that so much is happening is significant.
My observations, or more accurately, my interpretations, aren’t unique. But from my perspective: Our two political and governing party system is fundamentally flawed. It works quite well for the Electeds and the Elites they serve, but for the vast majority of us in grassroots reality, it doesn’t. It’s not designed to. We are like the extras playing the crowd scene. We’re supposed to appear, cheer, and vote on cue, then quietly go back to our grassroots’ habitations until we get the next call.
It’s the classic David vs. Goliath situation, though in this case, it’s a lot of little Davids, usually acting in un-coordinated ways, facing a very well coordinated, two-headed Goliath. The few very powerful people for whom Goliath works have near endless resources and great motivation to maintain their very high status quo. The large numbers involved in little Davids efforts have great motivation, but in comparison, their financial resources are miniscule. But still, they work at it. That’s how “movements” usually begin “” a relatively small number of people who challenge the entrenched status quo.
One of the other players in the drama: the majority of folks who pay little to no attention, and when they do watch, it’s usually for short periods of time. Many of them are simply worn out and worn down by the seeming impossibility of the two-headed Goliath ever being changed or replaced.
Generally, I think the Republican and Democratic parties operate as fronts for the oligarchy “” the power to govern is held by a relatively small number of people. Or as you also see it described, the two parties form a duopoly, an economic term (and economic terms are appropriate when considering DC Electeds and Elites) that basically says the market has only two sellers, or at least, two that are in firm control. To stay with the economic framing, an oligopoly basically says there are only a few sellers who essentially control the market.
Applying this to our two party system, you can focus on those two controlling players “” Democratic and Republican duopoly parties “” or see them as fronts for the few in ultimate control, the oligarchy. In either case, if we accept the game plan from above, the majority of us are the “bit players,” or the pieces to be used, often against each other. It’s a great distraction “” get the little people fighting among themselves, repeating the lines provided by the parties.
For a few examples of current thinking:
Writing at Salon, David Sirota argues against what he describes as the pretense that “gridlock” and “partisan fighting is ruining our country.”
1) There is barely any real “˜gridlock’ and almost no lack of consensus in American politics, and 2) There is no lack of a third party in America “” there are viable, powerful third parties operating …, just not ones that represent the wildly unpopular brand of elitist corporatism that the Third Party Fetishists dream of.
National Public Radio, on the other hand, recently aired a report which used the “gridlock” framing to describe the DC dysfunction, though the report itself focused more on the struggles of “third parties” than on a resulting “gridlock.” Don Gonyea reports “Political Gridlock Renews Call for Third Party,” which in the online transcript is introduced with:
Political gridlock. Dysfunctional Congress. Debt-ceiling debacle. Times like this have many Americans wondering why we’re stuck with just two political parties. While several political entrepreneurs are trying to gin up a new party, more than a century of history tells us success is not likely.
Finally, at The Hill, Michael O’Brien writes “Nader looks for Obama 2012 challengers”:
“Consumer activist Ralph Nader said Tuesday that he’ll launch an initiative soon to field primary challenges to President Obama in key states. …
“˜It’s an initiative to scan the possibilities of people who may run,’ Nader said in a phone interview. “˜My guess is that it’s almost 100 percent sure there’s going to be a primary challenge to Obama from somebody or somebodies ““ plural ““ in some states.
Nader’s effort follows comments over the weekend by Sen. Bernie Sanders (Vt.), a liberal independent who caucuses with Democrats, that it would be a “˜good idea’ for Obama to face a primary challenge in 2012. …
(Nader) acknowledged that a candidate running against Obama from the left was unlikely to be successful … . But he said it would help ensure the president doesn’t get a “˜free ride’ from Democrats. …
The possibility that liberal Democrats will just stay home on Election Day 2012 has been a worrying one for the administration. …
The two parties have tied themselves into such complex knots that while the bigger picture is both are intimately tied to Corporate Rule, they also both need to present themselves as holding the line against the “evils” of the Other Party. In general (there are always a few exceptions), they serve the same Master, but that doesn’t mean they don’t fight to be the Master’s favorite “” blue jerseys vs. red jerseys, as if those are the only options. Ever.
Next time I’ll turn to some of the current projects and campaigns. In case you’re interested in doing some reading, the links below reveal something of the wide range of efforts. And I’d very much like to know what you’re thinking, hearing and seeing, including at state and local levels.