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Coast Chronicles: Is the two-party system bankrupt?

By Cate Gable

Observer columnist

Published on November 10, 2017 3:33PM

All Soul’s Day in Tucson is a time to mourn and celebrate memories of the dead. Could it be time to mourn the death of our two-party system and move on with something else?


All Soul’s Day in Tucson is a time to mourn and celebrate memories of the dead. Could it be time to mourn the death of our two-party system and move on with something else?

Just the facts

I’m guessing that many Americans — Republicans and Democrats alike — have been pulling their hair out lately. What has become of our America, the America we thought we knew and loved?

Those of us on the left were horrified by having an experienced candidate win the popular vote by four million and lose by a uniquely out-of-date electoral system that favors rural states over urban centers. This was made worse by the character of the guy that actually did win the electoral votes despite lies, womanizing, racism and just plain meanness.

Those of you on the right must be equally dismayed that despite the sweep — White House, House and Senate — the Republicans are unable to pass any real legislation. And that your president keeps shooting himself in the foot with early-morning Tweets.

Meanwhile, on the Democratic side, Donna Brazile, who’s writing a memoir, revealed a signed agreement that allowed the Democratic National Convention to make staffing and fundraising decisions in exchange for HRC digging the party out of a $25 million debt; this all before Bernie even joined the team. Now folks are saying Hillary “rigged” the DNC to beat Sanders, and excoriating Brazile for airing dirty laundry. (She says, “Go to hell.”) Damn, it’s that old Democratic circular firing squad again.

So who can we trust? — not our politicians it seems, whose salaries and (extremely generous) benefits we pay for, and who are supposed to be working for our good. These days, they are either covering their butts or in teams on both sides of the aisle digging dirt on each other.

In the last 53 years, Democrats have been in the oval office for 25 years and have had a total of three executive branch officials indicted with one conviction and one prison sentence. In the 28 years that Republicans have held the presidency, they’ve had 120 criminal indictments of executive branch officials: 89 criminal convictions and 34 prison sentences. There have been two articles of impeachment: one for Clinton, who wasn’t found guilty, and one for Nixon, who was convinced to step down before a vote. (You folks on the right may not have liked our past president, but he served for eight years without any scandals or indictments in his administration.)

These are just the facts, folks. And they’re not pretty.

What now?

After eight years of Republicans crying “Repeal Obamacare,” well, you know the rest. First they try a backhanded process so only 50 votes are needed, then far-far-right Repubs can’t agree to disagree with the more moderate wing of the party about how to dismantle our healthcare.

As I’ve said, things aren’t much better on the Democratic side of the aisle. Younger Dems are disenchanted with the “old guard” like Pelosi, one of our most experienced and skilled politicians; and there’s a hue and cry about Feinstein being to old to run again — she’s 84. Plus the internal wrangling of the DNC, reveals it as an ineffective body with bad blood all around.

Oh, and let’s add international intrigue to our country’s woes. It’s official! — we all, or at least hundreds of millions of us — got duped by Russia trolling us on Twitter, Facebook, and Google. Meanwhile Twitter, Facebook, and Google seem largely unconcerned since they made beaucoup bucks on the deal. Their respective CEOs were called to testify before Congress, but they all sent their lackeys instead. In fact, during the hearing, Zuckerman, who exchanged his jeans and T-shirt for a suit and tie — what?! — was talking to Beijing bigwigs about new business prospects.


I say it’s time for a do-over, and I don’t mean for this last election. I mean we need to rethink our governance structures. Is the two-party system viable when we are so divided, when individuals in each separate party are at each other’s throats?

Jimmy Carter, my goodness, the nicest president on the block, has said, “Nowadays, Democrats hardly speak to Republicans and vice versa. It used to be a very harmonious relationship.” Good grief, Jimmy, it’s even worse than that. Tea Party Repubs are barely speaking to their moderate counterparts. And the Berners are still steaming mad at HRC-supporters.

In Tim Alberta’s first-rate Politico profile, “John Boehner Unchained,” (tinyurl.com/y99qvugm), we get retired House Speaker Boehner’s unvarnished take on things. (He’s now free to speak his mind like another of our honorable Repubs, John McCain.)

Alberta writes, “Boehner believes Americans are ill-informed because of their retreat into media echo chambers, one of two incurable causes of the country’s polarization. Another is inextricably related: the unwillingness of lawmakers to collaborate across the aisle, for fear of recriminations from the base. Boehner says the fact that he and Obama golfed together only once — and agreed that it was usually better for him to sneak into the White House — speaks to how the two parties punish compromise.”

Boehner doesn’t see this toxic climate changing anytime soon. He says some of the proposed fixes — like redistricting or term limits — won’t make any difference. “It’s going to take an intervening event — something cataclysmic — for Americans to realize that first, we are Americans,” he says.

Boehner says he often felt more welcome among Democrats than he did within his own party. When he made his retirement announcement, Obama called him and said, “Boehner, you can’t do this, man. I’m gonna miss you.” Joe Biden evidently felt the same way. “The only way we’re going to get this back together again,” Biden said, “is with some more John Boehners.”

Next steps?

I don’t think they make Republicans like John Boehner or John McCain any more. Old-style politicians used to working together are dropping like flies. Instead we’ve got either the Steve Bannons of the world, who want to burn the place down; or public servants with outrageously dubious ideas, like Rick Perry who thinks there’s no global climate change and that more fossil fuels will reduce sexual assault in Africa.

So if the Republicans can’t legislate, even with a grand sweep of both houses and the White House; if “drain the swamp” means bring a lot of old rich white guys with really questionable reputations and ethics into the administration; and if the Democrats can’t get their act together against a president who doesn’t even know how governance works (did you see 45’s revelatory comment about the Justice Department? “I guess I can’t tell them what to do…”) and who keep thinking Bernie Sanders, another old white guy, is the answer — what will become of us?

Maybe we need to think about a parliamentary system of multiple parties, each with their own set of core values and champions; parties that must collaborate and compromise to build a majority. Maybe we need to study what is working so well in those happy Scandinavian countries. Maybe we need to start over, throw all the bums out and put the government in the deep freeze until the Millenials grow up enough to take the reins.

Do you have other suggestions? Really, how can we dig ourselves out of this hole?


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