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  • Luis Rueda

Observations - 1. The Two-Party System



The United States has always had a two-party system, more or less. Although three have also been-and currently are-other political parties, they remain inconsequential. The two-party system, coupled with our constitutional system of staggered elections and fixed terms, offers some benefits, such as stability. Compare our system to parliamentary systems, and you’ll see this contrast in stability. Israel is the extreme example where governments come and go with rapidity, national elections are held way too frequently, and constant coalition building leads to political instability and difficulty in actually governing a nation. There are downsides, of course, but for discussion and brevity, we will leave it at this.


As we all know, our electoral choices are either the Republican or Democratic parties. The strength of the Republican party, the GOP, is its relative homogeneity. With some exceptions, it is a party of older, white men. This homogeneity allows for a similar worldview, strong, effective messaging, and a degree of party discipline. Yes, there are factions within the GOP and a limited degree of competition and conflict, but, in general, the GOP is marching in the same direction. There really isn't a left or right within the party. The most "liberal" faction are centrists, and the party's internal struggles focus on how far right the party moves, conservative or radical right.


The strength of the Democratic party is that it is a diverse party, encompassing a myriad of elements. It is more racially and politically diverse than the GOP. There are various, real factions in the party: conservatives, progressives, middle-of-the-road, liberals, and radical progressives. This makes it a big tent party, with many different groups finding a home. It also appeals to the new generations coming to electoral power in the U.S., unlike the GOP which continues to decline in it appeals to newer generations.


The weakness of the Republican party is also its strength, that homogeneity which newer generations and various minority groups do not find appealing. It is a party that only appeals to a limited segment of the American people and that segment is growing smaller. Similarly, the weakness of the Democratic party is also its strength—its diversity. It is extremely difficult to keep such a diverse political party moving in the same direction. It is difficult to keep them on message, and easy to disappoint different factions.


The biggest problem with our system and this is common to many other political systems, is the endemic corruption. We don't like to think of our political system as being corrupt, just some of the politicians as being corrupt, but our system is rotten. Everything is about money. It costs $1 BILLION to wage a presidential campaign! It is no wonder that Senators and Representatives spend most of their time raising money instead of legislating, their actual job. A friend of mine went to make an appointment to see a particularly senior representative and was told by his chief of staff that he could only schedule contributors to the representative's campaign and asked if my friend wanted to make a contribution. This is an outright request for a bribe. Given that Senators and Representatives make the laws it was totally legal.


Because money drives politics, it is no surprise that the people who contribute the most money to political campaigns receive the most attention and help from politicians. These contributors pay lobbyists to draft legislation which politicians then present as their own and work to have passed. Again, it is no wonder that legislation favors those that paid to have it passed. Senator Manchin has repeatedly worked to pass legislation that helped the pharmaceutical industry and defeated legislation that would have helped millions of Americans because his daughter is an executive in the pharmaceutical industry. Senator Susan Collins helped pass legislation that helped her husband's business interests and made him millions. The list goes on. No political party is exempt from this.


Senators and Representatives also spend significant time buying and selling stocks, stocks that belong to industries regulated and investigated by their committees. If anyone else did this, it would be considered insider trading, and illegal, but again, Congress passes the laws and makes their insider trading legal. They are not the only ones. A political career for many politicians is a road to wealth.


This applies to politically appointed positions as well. When Supreme Court Justice Scalia died he was staying at a hunting lodge, all expenses paid. The lodge was owned by an individual who had a case coming before the Supreme Court. Justice Kavanaugh was in debt to the tune of $1 million before his nomination hearing. By the time he got to the hearing, the debt had been paid off. As I said, the list goes on.


Of course, nothing lasts forever, and over time, things deteriorate. This has already happened to our two-party system. It has become more corrupt and less able to do its intended job. When a house deteriorates, with time, we fix the rotten wood and give it a fresh coat of paint. We need to do that with our political system. I am not naive to think we can eliminate all corruption, self-interest, and inefficiency, but we can fix some of the problems so that our system is more responsive to the people. Term limits are a start. Politicians become too complacent and less responsive when they are elected into one of those positions that they can hold for all eternity. They stop answering to the people. Set limits and forbid them from running for political office again.


We can also limit the amount of money that can be spent on a political campaign. Money is not free speech. That is a bullshit argument that the rich and the judges and politicians they own spout in order to justify switching from one person, one vote to one dollar, one vote. Money is corrupting our political system to the detriment of the nation. Similarly, limit the amount of time a politician can run a campaign. It seems that no sooner than someone is elected to office that they are campaigning for the next election. All this campaigning takes time away from doing their day jobs of legislating.


Finally, Senate and House members, along with their immediate family members, should be prohibited from buying and selling stocks for as long as they hold office and they should divest all stocks and business interests they own when they take office. Placing them in a trust is insufficient, they still make money. Some will say we will lose good people if we impose these restrictions, and I would respond to that with, what good people? With some exceptions, all I see in the Senate and House are venal, money-grubbing crooks with little interest in doing good for the American people. If we lose some good politicians, it would be a small price to pay for removing the corrupt, incompetent drivel we now have in office.


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