I have a center-left Texas friend from graduate school with whom I talk politics and government from time to time. A center-left Texan would be center-right about anywhere else.
We are both concerned about the hyper-partisanship that never seems to bottom out in America these days. Where will it end?
Sometimes, changing a situation procedurally can bring about some positive results, even as policy matters continue being debated intensely.
So my Fort Worth friend and I agreed that some new dynamic is needed, something that will relieve some of the tension so frequently seen in American politics these days. The answer? Voila: Replacing the traditional American two-party system with a new, four-party system.
Now this is delicate surgery. True, the two-party system has become frustrating to many who wish they had more options. However, having two, large national parties has enabled great balance and accountability over the years. Each party knew that the other party was always potentially strong enough to take them out of power at the next election, if the voters found them incompetent or corrupt. That has been the ultimate in checks and balances for American politics.
So how can we keep that balance and stability, while offering a more diverse electorate a wider variety of options?
Simple: Give them two more parties to consider, an extra one on each side of the aisle.
The truth is, these four parties essentially already exist. On the left, the Democrats have a surging progressive wing that chafes under the more traditional party members.
Similarly, more populist-style Republicans are growing tired of being with the traditional Republicans. They want a divorce.
But wait a minute. What if both major parties could avoid a big fight and just acknowledge that it’s time to let the malcontents leave? Ordinarily, asking a major political party to give up millions of members would be dismissed out of hand. After all, everything in politics comes down to strength in numbers.
But each party’s split is happening already anyway. By fashioning the exit of their renegade party’s faction, each major party would be doing something very farsighted. They’d be laying the groundwork for future cooperation with their former party members.
For example, on key pieces of legislation they can all still agree upon, the old and new parties on one side of the aisle could come together. Nothing prevents that, as long as a general, mutual respect is in the air.
Meanwhile, many more voters would be able to have a political home they actually like. Are they now traditional Democrats or progressives? Are they traditional Republicans or populists?
Perhaps best of all, in a four-party system, independents might have an even greater influence in close elections. Those hearty independent souls don’t need a political home. They just want more competent government.
Whatever helps to take the temperature down a few degrees, letting everyone feel like their voices are being heard, is just what the doctor ordered.
Certainly, for a four-party system to work, having both major parties split at about the same time would be optimal, again in the name of balance. But, either way you cut it, this seems to be where we’re headed. Better to embrace it and help to shape it than to fight it.
The British are brilliant at this kind of thing. Every time in modern history that they were about to be run out of one of their colonies, they accepted that it was over.
But then, they’d say to their former colonists, with great sophistication, “I say, might you like to be trading partners with us?” Thus, the British Commonwealth, one of the world’s great trade organizations, was born. They are all former British colonies.
The Republicans and Democrats should take notice of how smart people divorce.