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  Saving The Two-Party System
by J. F. Kelly, Jr. [writer] 11/21/06

Of all the reasons advanced by Republicans as to why they lost the recent elections, the most curious by far is the notion that they failed to stick to their core conservative values which supposedly define the Grand Old Party. But, it seems to me, that they did stick to them except, of course, for all that profligate spending and insatiable appetite for pork, and they still lost. I just don’t see that sticking rigidly to core conservative values helped any of them win reelection.

J.F. Kelly, Jr.

J.F. Kelly, Jr. is a retired Navy Captain and bank executive who writes on current events and military subjects. He is a resident of Coronado, California. [go to Kelly index]

What voters seemed to be saying is that they are tired of rigidity on both sides. It has produced polarization and gridlock and Americans are tired of it. (I assume that the views of the minority of eligible Americans who actually voted roughly corresponds to those of the majority who couldn’t be bothered. It’s difficult to tell, though, what the non-voters are thinking or if they are thinking at all.)

Conservatives and liberals have become increasingly defined by their positions on an expanding list of key issues including abortion, civil rights, conservation, foreign policy, globalization, gay rights, gun control, immigration, income distribution, international law, judicial activism, the size of government, social security reform, stem cell research, taxes and women’s rights. The list is, by no means, all-inclusive. You may wish to add fuzzier issues like the definition of torture or what constitutes invasion of privacy. There are core liberal and conservative positions on each of these issues and people whose personal values and belief systems drive them to support these core positions are unlikely to be persuaded to relinquish their biases no matter how hard one tries. In fact, the more the issues are debated, the more their resolve seems to harden.

But millions of Americans do not fall into either of the extremes. They are open to reason and discussion and not opposed to changing their minds, no matter what the position of their political party, church or union happens to be. They are the moderates and independents and they have become an important force in American politics again as Republican candidates have discovered. And if Democrats believe that the election outcome was a victory for the extreme liberal agenda, they are just as mistaken as those Republicans who believe they would have won if only their candidates had stuck to core Republican positions.

Many of those moderate Americans, in fact, increasingly struggle to find a comfortable place within either party. Many with rigid, church-dictated positions on issues like abortion and stem cell research, find themselves supporting a candidate they might not otherwise support just because of the candidate’s position on these hot-button issues alone. Voters labor in vain to find candidates whose views coincide with or even closely match their own on the entire broad range of issues. They grow tired of voting for the lesser of two evils or, as one pundit put it, the evil of two “lessers”. They seek more choices among candidates. Many are dropping their long-held affiliations with the two major parties and registering as Independents. Others who have not taken that step are, nevertheless, referring to themselves as Independents.

This should serve as a warning to party hardliners on both sides. Americans want politicians who can govern and accomplish what they say they can. To govern effectively requires leaders with open minds who are capable of recognizing merit on both sides and of thinking independently and, above all, who will not just slavishly follow the party line. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.) are prominent and successful examples of such leaders. If the two major parties cannot offer such candidates in greater numbers, they will lose followers.

A multi-party system such as found in many other democracies, with reliance on fragile coalitions and frequent votes of confidence, is not the answer for the world’s most powerful democracy. But there is plenty of room for improvement in our two-party system. It would be greatly served by a move away from extreme positions in both parties toward the moderate center where most American now find their comfort level. CRO

copyright 2006 J. F. Kelly, Jr.



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