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Strengthen the two-party system

By Henry Lamb
web posted July 26, 2004

Immediately following the 2000 election fiasco, there were loud cries to change the electoral process. Hillary Clinton called for an end to the Electoral College. Others called for a system of Proportional Representation. Some people even called for a Parliamentary system of governance. Third party enthusiasts complained about the uneven playing field, and the built-in bias that favors the two major political parties.

As bad as it may be, however, the two-party system, functioning through the winner-take-all Electoral College, is the best mechanism for maintaining a stable federal republic, and avoiding the horrors of a splintered democracy.

Italy is an excellent example of why democracy through proportional representation must be avoided. In Italy, where 127 political parties vie for dominance, 57 governments have been in control since World War II. None lasted as long as three years; two lasted only 11 days. Constant turmoil is the inevitable consequence of proportional representation. Tyranny of the majority is the inevitable consequence of a pure democracy.

All political activity falls on one side or the other of a single principle: government is empowered by the consent of the people. America's founders crafted our system of governance on this principle. Since day one, efforts have been underway to transform America's system into one in which the people are empowered only by the consent of government.

In recent years, the Democrats have aligned their party squarely behind the belief that government empowers people. In a perfect world, the Republican Party should be aligned behind the belief that people empower government. But it is not a perfect world, and the party line separating fundamental political philosophy is quite blurred. A handful of Democrats remain, who believe that government power must be limited by the consent of the people. There are many more Republicans who believe that government power is limitless, and that the government alone empowers the people.

The dozens of U.S. minority parties, on either side of this philosophical divide, tend to confuse the issue rather than clarify it. The nation would be stronger if the two major political parties were to define their philosophy in relation to this fundamental principle, and develop their platforms to be consistent with their philosophy. Minority party enthusiasts would better serve the nation, and their own interests, were they to align with whichever major party most closely embraces their beliefs, and then work diligently to influence the platform and performance of the major party of their choice.

Ralph Nader is philosophically much closer attuned to the Democrat Party than to the Republican Party. Had he chosen to work within the Democrat Party in 2000, rather than to run as a third-party candidate, Al Gore would be President today. Instead, George Bush is President, and both Nader and the Democrats bemoan the Republican agenda, made possible by Nader's action.

On the other side of the aisle, conservatives who have abandoned the Republican Party, rather than try to influence it, are quite likely to escort John Kerry into the White House, who will quickly reverse the Bush agenda, and dash any hope of achieving the objectives conservatives hold dear.

Efforts to build a viable third party, on either side of the philosophical divide, have been a monumental waste of time and resources. What's worse is the fact that the conviction and passion held by these people has been not been available to influence the direction of the major parties. Consequently, the major parties muddle forward, driven not by principled passion and conviction, but by vote-getting expedience.

People who believe, along with our founders, that government is empowered by the consent of the people, should take control of the Republican Party, and ensure that its candidates and its platform proclaim this central principle.

People who believe, along with the socialists, that government empowers people, should flock to the Democrat Party and ensure that its candidates and its platform proclaim their beliefs.

While the line between the two major parties may be blurred on this fundamental principle of governance, there is no question about where the two Johns come down. There is some evidence, and much more hope, that the Bush/Cheney option embraces the principle established by our founders.

As the 2004 campaign gets underway, for real, next week in Boston, listen closely to the rhetoric to see which candidates assume that government has the authority to empower people, and which candidates seek the consent of the people to empower government.

Henry Lamb is the executive vice president of the Environmental Conservation Organization (ECO), and chairman of Sovereignty International.

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