No one is willing to argue that our political system is working as it should. Washington is crippled with gridlock, and political one-upmanship seems to be the name of the game (see House GOP reversing its long stand against War Powers Act to hassle the president).
The more I watch Washington work, the more I am convinced that it doesn’t. This problem is not an invention of the 24-hour news cycle, talk radio, and the blogosphere; it’s systemic. Our two-party system thrives on partisan bickering and celebrates political intransigence.
You would be forgiven if you are thinking that I am about to add my voice to the chorus of calls for the creation of a third political party. The dream of a competitive third part is just that, a dream.
What would solve the problem, however, is not to create only a new third party, but along with it a new fourth party.
America has gerrymandered itself to hell. It’s virtually impossible to win a primary, let alone get elected, if you’re a moderate.
As a result, we have one far right party and one far left party –or at least a solidly left party with strong far left elements- who pander to their bases, ignore the center, and shun compromise.
It seems that now more so than ever moderates have no political home. The obvious way to deal with this is to create a new third party, a purely centrist party.
The problem is that there is no base for a purely centrist party. If such a base did exist, one which backed spending cuts, tax hikes, and an environmental policy that is both green and economic, we’d have a President Bloomberg or President Huntsman. There is no centrist base in America.
Any center party would largely have to be built on compromise: fiscal conservatives partnering up with pro-business Democrats, social progressives having to accept gun rights, a coherent foreign policy being hammered out, dogs marrying cats.
I can’t think of any American political parties that were built on compromise. The Democrats originally were formed to fight Hamilton and the Federalists, and the Republicans original purpose was to halt the expansion of slavery into the territories. Neither party was founded by Americans accepting some positions they considered odious, just the opposite.
If we had a competitive third party –and if it isn’t competitive what’s the point- every presidential election would end up in the House. If you can think of anything less transparent and democratic than a presidential election being decided by the House, please tell me, because I can’t –and this is assuming that the House, being split between three parties, will be able to decide.
As much daylight exists between “country club,” or RINO, Republicans and Tea Party Republicans as there does between RINO Republicans and Democrats. The same goes for Blue Dog Democrats and the far left.
Essentially, I would split each party in two. For the Republican Party, this would be as simple as establishing a separate Tea Party, most likely lead by Jim DeMint or Mike Lee –sorry, still no room for Ron Paul.
It also shouldn’t be too difficult to separate the Democratic Party. Just give Sherrod Brown a chance to unite with Berry Sanders and the Blue Dogs an opportunity to break free.
Not only do voting bases exist for these two new parties, but so do activists, donor lists, organizations, and elected officials. This means no lag time between the creation of the two new parties and the day they become competitive.
A four party system will also facilitate compromise in ways that a three party system cannot. With a three party scheme it is impossible to imagine one party winning a majority of seats in Congress. Let’s just imagine, though, that the center party wins a plurality of seats. It will need the support of one of the other parties to pass legislation. This wont be an easy task, as the occupation of the center by a new party will probably push the two other parties to greater extremes.
If the center party is in the minority, however, its compromise driven legislators will find themselves being wooed by Republicans and Democrats. In such a situation, defections from, if not a complete disintegration of the centrist party is likely.
However, it’s very possible that in a four party system, the center right and center left parties could together control half of the seats in Congress. A compromise between these two parties –and the politicians in these parties wouldn’t be afraid to compromise because they’re, well, reasonable- would produce pragmatic policy, driven by practicality rather than ideology.
We must also have electoral reform. If all four parties are competitive than virtually every presidential election will go to the House. Even worse, for state and local elections, tactical voting will ensue. And why is tactical voting such a bad thing? Americans should feel free to vote their conscience and not feel constrained by strategic political concerns.
There should be two elections for every office in America. All four parties would nominate candidates to run in a general election. The candidates with the two highest shares of the vote would then compete against each other in a run-off. It doesn’t matter if these two candidates represent both conservative parties or both liberal parties.
Aside from simply preventing presidential elections from going to the House and tactical voting, this would provide the parties with a more accurate reading of the political climate than our current elections do. This allows for a recalibration of rhetoric and policy, more closely aligning the four parties with the American people.
As worthy as my plan seems, there would still be partisanship. However, with a four party system, there would be both a greater incentive and likelihood for compromise. Competitions for the conservative or liberal mantles would no longer be intra-party blood baths moving the two parties farther apart, but instead a exhibition of results by pragmatists and purists where all of the American people would be able to decide.
Isaac Inkeles is a student at the York Prep School in New York City. He is founder and editor-in-chief of the Model UN website mydelegate.org.