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With So Many Parties, Why No Joy?

Posted by Rick · February 7th, 2004 · No Comments

The reality, of course, is that Americans don’t want all those parties; we only want two choices. Exactly why is something I don’t quite understand, unless it’s simply the ease of decision-making. After all, while America does have some of the finest minds in the world, thinking is not the strong suit of the general populace.

Lest someone become offended at the arrogance of that last statement, let me add that I don’t exactly blame people. (And I sincerely mean what I’m saying here.) Thinking is difficult work. None of us do it in all the places where it would be beneficial. Let me repeat that: None of us think in all the places where it would be beneficial.

In the classic How to Win Friends and Influence People, Dale Carnegie notes,

When Theodore Roosevelt was in the White House, he confessed that if he could be right 75 percent of the time, he would reach the highest measure of his expectation.

If that was the highest rating that one of the most distinguished men of the twentieth century could hope to obtain, what about you and me?

If you can be sure of being right only 55 percent of the time, you can go down to Wall Street and make a million dollars a day. If you can’t be sure of being right even 55 percent of the time, why should you tell other people when they are wrong? — Carnegie, How to Win Friends & Influence People (Revised Edition 1981) p. 123.

Since we cannot be sure of being right even most of the time, we — like other denizens of the animal kingdom to which we belong — have evolved to rely upon a few simple rules for getting through most of life. Not surprisingly, this often works out quite well for us.

In a recent re-run of “All In the Family,” there’s a scene with Mike (Rob Reiner) and Archie (Carroll O’Connor) getting ready to go fishing. Archie walks in and finds “the Meathead” still sleeping. He wakes him up and rushes him to get dressed. As Mike pulls on his pants, Archie starts to complain about the way he’s getting dressed. Mike puts a sock on his left foot followed by the shoe. Archie and Mike then start arguing.

Archie: What about the other foot? There ain’t no sock on it!
Mike: I’ll get to it!
Archie: Don’t you know that the whole world puts on a sock and a sock and a shoe and a shoe?
Mike: I like to take care of one foot at a time!
Archie: That’s the dumbest thing I ever heard!
Mike: It’s just as quick my way!
Archie: Waitaminute! That ain’t the point! You see what I’m ta— [As Mike starts to put the sock on his other foot, Archie grabs at it.] Don’t be doin’ that! Suppose there’s a fire in the house and you gotta run for your life. Your way, all you got on is one shoe and a sock. My way, you got on a sock and a sock. You see? You’re even.
Mike: Suppose it’s raining and snowing outside? Your way, with a sock on each foot, my feet would get wet. My way, with a sock and a shoe on one foot, I could hop around and stay dry!
Archie: I think you been hoppin’ around on your head. [Mike starts to resume putting a sock on his other foot.] Waita…waita…LISTEN TO ME!!! [Archie grabs the sock.] Supposin’ the other sock’s got a hole in it?
Mike: It doesn’t have a hole in it.
Mike: Alright…it has a hole.
Archie: So whaddya gonna do? Your way, you gotta take off a whole shoe and a sock. My way, all you gotta do is take off one sock.
Mike and Archie stare at one another. Mike appears to be unable to refute this new argument, but obviously thinks it’s crazy. He finally gives up and starts to remove the boot from his left foot.
Mike: Alright. If it’ll make you happy, I’ll start all over again!
Archie: Naaaaaa!!!!!!!!!!!!!! [Grabbing at Mike’s hands to stop him.] You’re half way through! Jeez! Get on wid it! We’re in a hurry! [Archie starts to go out the door.] You can start doin’ it the right way tamarra mornin’! [Pause. Archie spins around.] AND DO IT THAT WAY FOR THE REST OF YOUR LIFE!
— from the sitcom “All in the Family”; you can hear a clip of this at Morty’s World of TV, All in the Family FAQ.

If we had to stop and think about everything, we’d never get anywhere. The problem is that it’s easy to fall into the habit of not thinking about things we should think about.

Politics is a perfect example. For whatever reason, every four years in the United States, we essentially run two people for President. Yes, I know there’s technically more than one party. But for all practical intents and purposes, the Greens, the Libertarians, America First, American, American Heritage, American Independent, American Nazi (oy!) on through the Multicapitalists, the Pansexual Peace Party, a U.S. Marijuana Party and more than a couple dozen others don’t really exist for most American voters. The only parties that most people ever even consider are the Democrats and the Republican Party. I’ll wager that even those people who take the time to read my blog (some of the smarter people in the world, don’t you know?) hadn’t heard of most of the other parties.

And that’s probably as it should be. After all, let’s get real: The Pansexual Peace Party?

Some of you are sitting there thinking, “Well, okay, but at least one of the two major parties runs more than one candidate in the primaries leading up to each election.” If the incumbent President is politically weak, as opposed to just stupid, you’ll often see multiple candidates running for the top slot of both major parties.

Yeah, yeah….

The truth of the matter is that running for President of what seems to be the most powerful country in the world is primarily a popularity contest not unlike that played out on kindergarten playgrounds throughout the U.S.. And the contest isn’t based upon thinking voters considering the views of the party they will put into office. But make no mistake about it, come November 2004, when you vote for the prettiest, smoothest-talking candidate, you’re not putting one man into office, you’re giving the reins of the country over to whichever group he carries into office with him. This time it’s Karl Rove, Dick Cheney and a minion of business leaders. Next time it’s some cadre of cronies with a different — but still very much their own — agenda. Regardless of whether we elect the Stupid Party or the Evil Party (and you might disagree with Alan Simpson over which is which or disagree with the columnist, Mark Shields, about whether the Democrats are both), if we were thinking, several things would happen.

In general, the two-party system has been the pattern — interspersed with periods where one party so dominated the scene as to make us essentially a “one-party nation” — throughout the history of the United States. It doesn’t have to be that way, but I’m not naive enough to encourage people to adopt the Kantian moral imperative and essentially throw away their vote. Until there’s a large enough, generalized enough, feeling among the population that something has to change — or until one of the alternative parties gets serious about offering a viable candidate with a platform strong and broad enough to support a healthy voting population — we’re pretty much stuck with the Demons and the Reputridcans.

The essential problem of a two-party system is that there are more than two views on any given issue. Furthermore, even this assumes that we’re in agreement on the agenda. That is, which issues will get attention and action? And what do you do when you support Bush on Homeland Security (I don’t, but you might) and favor the Democrat Party’s candidate on the Economy? Now you’re in a real quandary. You can vote for the candidate you think will do the best job regarding the one issue and the worst regarding the other. So which do you sacrifice? Do you continue to outsource jobs to other countries, further increasing the number of people who cannot work and thus cannot feed or clothe their families in the United States? Or do you risk airplanes blasting into skyscrapers?

Things become even more complicated if you think about the fact that even when people agree on the desired result of a thing, they often do not agree on the best way to arrive at the result.

So what’s the answer? I confess that I don’t really know. The best answer would be to not limit ourselves to a two-party system. The best answer would be for the average American — not just the politically-active, but the average — to begin thinking before they cast their vote. Ask questions, both of the candidates and of yourselves. When a candidate promises you certain things, do you have reasons to believe he’ll deliver on those promises? (This is easier, of course, if the candidate has a political track record.) If you don’t, don’t give them your vote! Don’t just go for the glitziest ad campaign or allow yourself to be assimilated by the constant drone of the Borg.

Ultimately, even in the United States of 2004, the system is set up so that the people can have the kind of government they want. All they have to do is vote for it. If you don’t think before voting, you deserve the government you get. After all, it may no longer be a government of the people; it may not longer be a government for the people. But it most definitely still is a (until electronic voting is more ubiquitous) government by the people. And if the people will seriously consider their part in this process, we might even once again someday return to a government of and for the people.

Now that would make for a joyous party…or two!

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