Compromise is a lost art. Nowhere is this troubling truth more evident than in our own hamstrung government bodies. We love to point fingers at our elected representatives and raise hell about corrupt, inefficient bureaucrats in Sacramento and Washington, D.C. But I have learned not to hate the player. The game itself is what we should be worried about.
We have come to accept the fact that the two main parties can agree on little to nothing. Bipartisan initiatives and coalition-building are rare exceptions to the rule. How is it possible we have lost all common ground? This polarized feud is totally unrepresentative of the American people. Republicans and democrats have forsaken commonalities to create divisive issues and make unconditional, unrealistic demands. When both sides are more inclined to stick with an all or nothing approach, demanding everything and ceding nothing, compromise becomes impossible. Whether the minority’s default contrarian position achieves any policy goals is irrelevant. The goal is simply to make the other guy look bad.
Examples of this irresponsible strategy are resonant in recent headlines. Democrats in Wisconsin went so far as to flee the state in order to prevent a vote amidst labor protests. The complete inability to pass budget plans at the state and federal levels should be a glaring warning sign, not business as usual. The political “chicken” game we saw regarding the budget by our representatives nearly caused a government shutdown, and billions of dollars in further expenses. Even with our country on the brink of defaulting, politicians favor name calling rather than working together to find solutions. I’ve got to ask, what does all of this political rhetoric accomplish? Compromise becomes nearly impossible. Making political concessions shows weakness, not a desire to move ahead. And agreement is flat out unheard of.
The cause of this pathetic performance is simple. The two-party system removes all incentives for compromise. It’s always easier to complain about the opposition’s policies to score political points than to try working with them. With party lines drawn so clearly, there is no capacity or drive for consensus building. Party leadership is able to keep legislators in line with selfish party politics.
Adding another party or two to the mix could change everything. We desperately need some diversity of thought to shake up the status quo. A competitive third party could force republicans and democrats to break out of their molds and create a coalition; to compromise with someone, anyone. More factions would also require individual parties to show positive results to set themselves apart rather than resorting to stonewalling and finger-pointing.
But without electoral reform, the two-party system is practically unstoppable in the U.S. The single-member district plurality system, in which only the party receiving the most votes gains any representation, sticks us with the stagnant politics of “no.” Americans are logically concerned a vote for the candidate who best represents them is a throw-away if they don’t happen to be a republican or democrat. Independent voters, the fastest growing political group in America, are desperate for something different, but are still forced to vote for the lesser of two evils.
Third parties, with limited resources and exposure, need a stepping stone to build mainstream support. Reforming local or state electoral systems to include some measure of proportional representation would be a valuable step. Proportional representation means any party winning a portion of the vote beyond a minimum threshold gains representation in the legislative body proportional to their popularity. In this system, a greater diversity of views and interests is represented. Of course, change will be slow and difficult in the face of fetishized constitutions and centuries of tradition. But once broader support for third parties can be demonstrated, lobbying for reform in baby steps at local and state levels could get things started.
The language of change has been worn ragged, and yet no real progress has been made. Nor will there be, until we step back and examine the limits of our electoral system and party structure. Everyone claims to want change, but few are courageous enough to take the first leap. We must break out of the media-fueled two-party polarization or face being mired in this political wasteland forever. Research third party platforms, from the Green Party to the Libertarian Party. Do yourself and your nation a service — next time around, vote for the candidate who best represents you, not the lesser of two evils.
—Randy Wilde is an international security and conflict resolution senior.
— The views expressed in this column do not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Daily Aztec.