news Sports Opinions arts variety interact Wildcat On-Line QuickNav

The failure of our two-party system

By Mary Fan
Arizona Daily Wildcat
February 4, 1999
Send comments to:


Wildcat File Photo
Arizona Daily Wildcat

When American democracy was still in its infancy, George Washington prophesied its future with the fatherly fear of one who has seen a child through bloody birth and fitful growth. There was one great evil he feared as parents fear kidnappers or rapists: political parties.

In his parting words to the nation, Washington described political parties as "potent engines" with the potential to "subvert the power of the people." He and such luminaries as James Madison made it clear that political parties are a bastard specter of politicization that the people should never let be born lest they allow the people's power to be kidnapped and the people's will be drugged.

But like an addictive dependency acquired in youth, America fell to political parties. Now the prophesies are coming true: The political power of the American people is split as spoils between the Republicans and the Democrats.

The ideologies of the two parties steer the course of the nation because under the two-party system, only representatives who pass through the iron of a party and gain its vastly powerful resources have a chance to become a policy-maker. But the ideologies of the two camps are ill-fitting to all and growing more so as each year passes and each new generation reaches voting age. Since the 1950s, there has been a steady drop in the number of those who consider themselves to be Democrat or Republican. The number of independents also rose sharply in this time.

Clearly Americans do not want to choose between the polar split represented by the parties. But if they do not choose one camp or another, they may as well count themselves among the politically disenfranchised. Ideas and people not given the party seal generally cannot break through because they must compete with the well-oiled engines of political parties. Thus, Americans are trapped in the ideological straitjacket of the two-party system.

This is especially frustrating for youths reaching voting age in college. We emerge with fresh ideas and insights but find no place and really no hope for achieving them unless we submit to the confines of party ideas.

Is it a wonder that voter apathy is climbing to record highs with those between 18 and 24 numbering among the most apathetic and least likely to vote?

Lost in this downward spiral is one critical consideration: Political parties are really illegitimate institutions. They are concentrations of political power with one aim: a monopoly of power. They are anathemas to our system of government. They were never meant to be and seized hold in one of the most ugly and dangerous periods of partisan bickering in American history.

I say one of the most ugly crises of partisanship because we are experiencing another now. The Democrats and Republicans now are engaged in a civil warfare without the consent of or concern for the people. The recent skirmishes, from the humiliating governmental shutdown because of the partisan budget bickering to the ongoing Senate trial of President Bill Clinton, are all testimony to how truly illegitimate the two-party system is.

"You cannot shield yourselves too much against the jealousies and heartburnings which spring from these misrepresentations," George Washington said in his appeal, "they tend to render alien to each other those who ought to be bound by fraternal affection."

The words are prophetic now.

The worst illusion created by the narcotic of political parties is that the American system cannot survive without them. This is patently false and we as a people should begin repudiating the notion. With the two parties weakened by their warfare, now is the time to topple them and reinstate the original vision of the American process.

Proponents of political parties claim that political parties have a stabilizing influence on American democracy and to overthrow them would be to weaken the electoral system. A truer statement would be that political parties have a stagnating influence on American democracy and an escape from them would have a stabilizing effect.

Regular elections were meant as release valves for popular sentiment, which if unsatisfied, builds to revolutionary sentiment. Political parties, however, have subverted this release valve by dominating the electoral process while increasingly not reflecting the popular attitudes of the people. Popular sentiment is long overdue for release. The American brand of democracy is long overdue for release. It is time to get out of the straitjackets of political parties and revive circulation to a people long grown faint for lack of power.