Thursday, May 28, 2015

2 Parties 2 Party

Let's talk about why the United States has a 2-party system. If you're American and paid attention in Government class you probably have some idea. There are two big reasons for this. One is the cause and the other emerges from that fact.

The nature of elections in the U.S. is whoever gets the most votes wins everything. 50% plus one is basically the same as winning 100% of the votes. This creates an environment where factions who share some similar ideology join together and form political parties. Since the goal is to get to 50% plus one, you arrive at having two major political parties at any given time.

If one were to take apart the modern Democratic party, there would probably be quite a few individual factions. Everything from Socialists to socially conservative Democrats exist within the party. They form an alliance because each faction individually would have no chance at governing in our system.

Because two parties become powerful they make the laws to aid those parties staying in power. It is easy for a Republican or Democrat to get on the ballot, but it is very challenging for a third party candidate. The two parties also become fundraising and logistical juggernauts, because they hold the power and are sure victors in elections. This makes serious competition from a third party nearly impossible

The U.S. and big and diverse place, so the lack of regional parties is surprising to some. As the nation grew the two main parties grew with it. A big part of that is the power the parties already held at a Federal level (and their role in creating that expansion.) However, I think the main reason is the Presidency.

In the U.S. we elect our head of state in its own elections. Unlike in parliamentary systems where a Prime Minister only has to win his seat*, the American President has to win a National victory. And while it is easy to dismiss the executive power of the Presidency, it is still an incredibly powerful position to hold. The President is a big deal constitutionally, but more importantly there is no position so significant culturally on the earth

A party with no chance of holding the presidency quickly loses relevance nationally. That inevitably leads to that party have no relevance locally, because of Federalism. The Federal Democrats will give scraps to the state Democrats who will give scraps to the local Democrats.

I don't believe there will ever be a time where a third party can hold prominence in the U.S. One of the two main parties today could die and be replaced, but the system will not support a third party for very long.

Thanks for reading

*It is more complicated than that, but I wanna keep it simple, because that has little to do with the point.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Bernie Sanders & Howard Dean

I feel like such an old person relative to the internet sometimes. Aside from being a virtual senior citizen at 26, I became politically active at 14. This means my optimism and enthusiasm about elections is pretty much dead. I mean, there is some life in me still, but largely that is because politics and elections are interesting games and I would much rather live under the rule of the lesser evil.

The candidacy of Bernie Sanders makes me happy. The far left hasn't had a serious presidential candidate in a long time and his announcement has been meet with surprising enthusiasm and (more importantly) serious fundraising. However, it is probably futile. I am reminded of another politician from Vermont. A man who young people supported in droves, but couldn't get the rest of the party to help him to the nomination. A man who opposed the war in Iraq and advocated for healthcare reforms.

11 years ago, a surprise candidate rose to become the frontrunner for the Democratic nomination as the campaign approached the Iowa Caucuses. Governor Howard Dean from Vermont ran what was at the time a revolutionary campaign for a Democrat. His campaign was really the first ever to use the internet effectively. His fundraising was done largely through small donations from supporters rather than having wealthy financiers making max donations. In this way, Howard Dean amassed as large of a war chest as any Democrat had had for a primary to that point*.

Things didn't go as expected though. In Iowa, John Kerry and John Edwards made huge gains in the polls as the caucus approached. Moderate and traditional Democrats shied away from Howard Dean's progressive message. The results from Iowa had him go from frontrunner to 3rd place in what was a very disappointing performance. If you know of Howard Dean, you know him from his concession speech on the night of the Iowa Caucus in 2004 (or David Chappelle's parody of it.) He lost his damn mind and his chance at the nomination. John Kerry went on to beat Dean in the New Hampshire primary and Dean's campaign imploded.

I see similarities between the rise of Dean and the rise of Sanders. Bernie Sanders is much more liberal than Dean and he is running at a time where socialist ideals do have quite the appeal to young democrats. However, Sanders has the same problem Dean does. An enthusiastic and vocal support base alone doesn't win primaries. The establishment and its machinery are a powerful force that is very hard for an upstart to rival**. I think most importantly, long standing party members tend to go with what's old and familiar as election day draws closer.

Howard Dean isn't the only example of this. People older than me will point to Edmund Muskie who had a similar fate in the primaries of 1972.

With all that said, I will still be supporting Bernie Sanders for the Democratic nomination in 2016 as I supported Howard Dean in 2004. I will support the candidate I believe has the most similar views to my own despite him not being the most 'electable' and his path to the nomination being difficult.

My worry is that those who support Bernie Sanders, especially who are going through their first competitive primary cycle will not support the Democratic nominee if it is not him. If you support Bernie Sanders and his views know that any Democrat will be much preferable to any Republican. Not voting or voting third party really only helps the Republicans.

Having a candidate who you support strongly lose in the primaries sucks. You have to see someone you admire and a source of hope give up. You must attempt to come to peace with other candidates who you spent so much time opposing.

Do not allow your energy to become nothing no matter how disappointing it may be.

Thanks for reading


*Obama's campaign in 2008 perfected the model of fundraising Dean had used in 2004.
**Another thing Obama did in 2008