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The Two-Party System Print E-mail
by Wes Riddle    Sat, Aug 13, 2011, 03:16 AM

The American republican dialectic corresponds largely to alternating conceptions about the American republic and the direction it should take in given political contexts.  The dialectic consists of a free-ranging dialogue between ideas that correspond to relative degrees of conservatism or reform, consolidation or confederation, idealism or pragmatism.  These take shape in broad party coalitions representing combinations of competing ideological positions.  Further, the dialogue is such, that elements of the dialectic can modernize or drop out--and often trade places between parties.  For instance, the “rugged” sense of individualism espoused by Jacksonian Democrats entered later conservative thought, while twentieth-century liberals began promulgating the quintessential Whig doctrine that the good of all should take precedence over the interests of the individual.  Jefferson ’s motto, “the best government is that which governs least,” became the credo of later conservatism.  Ironically, political parties are not provided for in the Constitution.  The Founders actually feared the effects of so-called “factions” and would have preferred government by consensus, which was actually achieved for a short while under George Washington and then again briefly during the Era of Good Feelings.  But America ’s two-party system is at least the next best thing.

The United States has the only polity in the world dominated by two loosely structured coalition parties.  Furthermore, the correlation between class and party affiliation in America is weaker than in all other industrial countries.  Highly diverse groups come together under the rubric of both the major political parties.  Furthermore, notwithstanding the relative infrequency of realignments or even critical elections, constituents of party coalitions can and do shift.  For instance, Southerners increasingly voted Republican in the post-World War II era.  Blacks were staunch supporters of the Republican party, the party of Lincoln the Great Emancipator, until the Great Depression.  Blacks needed New Deal relief more than anyone, and they got it from Franklin Roosevelt and the Democrats.  Prior to the Great Depression, the Republican party also included agrarian radicals in the Midwest .  The Democratic party garnered most populist support in the 1890s, and the Republican party probably wishes it got less of the same populist support in the 1990s.  Although it is possible to identify coalitions of relative “haves” and “have-nots,” both parties have remained extraordinarily diverse and heterogeneous.  Again I think this proves the inordinate importance ideas have had determining party affiliations in American political context.  Europeans look at both major parties and discern little meaningful difference, but in order to understand the distinctions between the major parties, they must refer to the American republican dialectic we have talked about.  Then they would see the exceptional political context in which differences must be measured.  Differences may still appear to be minor matters to Europeans, who have a much wider operative political spectrum and more narrowly focused parties, but then communists or fascists have not come to power in America .  Nor have we had dozens of different governments voted in and out in just so many years, which is the story in a number of European capitals.

The heterogeneity of our two major parties is also enhanced by a primary system that allows antagonistic factions within parties to run against each other.  In this way, voters get to choose nominees, even prior to voting for general election candidates.  People may also serve on platform committees at various levels, which help define positions supported by primary and general election candidates.  The fact that over 500,000 offices are filled in U.S. elections makes public control of the policy-formation process in the United States the most populist in the world.  Parties are participation vehicles, practical organizations that serve to further the public’s beliefs and to play out the republican ideological dialectic.  In addition, the system is never all or nothing.  More often than not, the government stays divided and presidents are not reelected.  Even when a single party wins big, the party in power is Constitutionally limited as to what it can do.  Defeated parties can still win another day.  This sounds trite, but in some countries election losers are shot.  The checks and balances in the federal government mean that at least one branch will likely mount opposition, even to the big winner.  In 1800, Jefferson was swept into office.  He controlled the executive and the legislature, but Federalists retained the judiciary.  In 1932, Franklin Roosevelt was swept into office.  He again controlled the executive and the legislative branches, but Republicans held sway over the courts for a number of years, and this motivated FDR to attempt to pack the Supreme Court.  The federalist nature of the country also insures that parties retain local strongholds.  This is true unless a party gets substantially discredited -- such as when too many Federalists actually supported the British in the War of 1812, or when radical sectional philosophies gave compromise a bad name before the Civil War.

________________________

Wesley Allen Riddle is a retired military officer with degrees and honors from West Point and Oxford .  Widely published in the academic and opinion press, he serves as State Director of the Republican Freedom Coalition (RFC).  This article is from his forthcoming book, Horse Sense for the New Millennium scheduled for release in September (iUniverse, Inc., 2011).  Email: This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it .

 

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written by buckmeister , August 14, 2011

Although the author has a gift for argument and to a lesser extent logic, his premises are platitudes not facts. The fact he does bring to light is that the two parties are today diametrically contrary to their historical composition proving at bottom that the only constant is the political class of lying lawyers who say and do anything to gain control of our resources, resulting most recently in virtual bankruptcy economically and intellectually. The fact that is most compelling is that the two parties are really the same, though he suggests that their similarity is somehow a benefit which barely rises to sohpistry. Such platitudes produced a modern-day tale of two cities where the rich have become filthy rich and all others take the hindmost. The vast middle has contracted and that fact tells it all. Those at the bottom fight among themselves over issues that have no economic impact on their lives, like gay marriage and flag burning, while the richest corporate bosses fleece them like sheep. We need term limits and instant runnoffs, not winner take all while losers, as recently proven, hold the rest hostages. The late great America is no different in a historical sense than were the much greater progenitors of culture and law, Greece and Rome but, look at them today. But for free land from the Native Americans, at the cost of their genocide and Trail of Tears, none of the rabble calling themselves conservative today would have learned their ABC's and it is doubtful they know them well enough to get a job as a serious journalist.


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written by buckmeister , August 14, 2011

Although the author has a gift for argument and to a lesser extent logic, his premises are platitudes not facts. The fact he does bring to light is that the two parties are today diametrically contrary to their historical composition proving at bottom that the only constant is the political class of lying lawyers who say and do anything to gain control of our resources, resulting most recently in virtual bankruptcy economically and intellectually. The fact that is most compelling is that the two parties are really the same, though he suggests that their similarity is somehow a benefit which barely rises to sohpistry. Such platitudes produced a modern-day tale of two cities where the rich have become filthy rich and all others take the hindmost. The vast middle has contracted and that fact tells it all. Those at the bottom fight among themselves over issues that have no economic impact on their lives, like gay marriage and flag burning, while the richest corporate bosses fleece them like sheep. We need term limits and instant runnoffs, not winner take all while losers, as recently proven, hold the rest hostages. The late great America is no different in a historical sense than were the much greater progenitors of culture and law, Greece and Rome but, look at them today. But for free land from the Native Americans, at the cost of their genocide and Trail of Tears, none of the rabble calling themselves conservative today would have learned their ABC's and it is doubtful they know them well enough to get a job as a serious journalist.



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