Friday, May 26, 2006

Two Party or Three Party System?

Did I say three party system? Yes, I did. I have heard people over and over again say that voting for a third party is a waste of a vote because there are only two parties with a chance to win, and our country is founded upon a two party system. I disagree. I believe the country is founded upon at least a three party system and occasionally sustaining four. Now there are not always three parties in name, but there are always at least three parties in number. Hopefully over the next few blogs I will show that fact, and hopefully be able to draw applications from it. Admittedly this is not theological in nature, but a little variety on the blog never hurt anyone.

I should also say up front that I think the two party bias that circulates has colored a lot of history text books as well. For example, most books will tell you of the Federalists and the Anti-federalists at the Constitutional convention, and then again during the reign of Washington as President. Yet, this view falls into conflict with the facts. One good problem that the two party view encounters is James Madison. Which side did James Madison take? He was the author of the Constitution and a co-author of the Federalist papers, so he must be a Federalist. Yet, he led the opposition to fellow Federalist writer Alexander Hamilton in the House, introduced the Bill of Rights into Congress and worked closely with Thomas Jefferson. Those credentials would make him an anti-federalist. Most books try to solve this dilemma by claiming Madison did the first ever political flip-flop to curry favor with the voters. I have a different solution. The three party view.

The Constitutional Convention had three parties that continued into Washington’s Presidency. The anti-federalists did not want any real changes in the Articles of Confederation and were led by men like Patrick Henry, who refused to serve in the Senate because he so hated the Federal government, and George Mason, who walked out of the Constitutional Convention because it took too much power from the states. The Federalists wanted a new government that had more power, but still wanted to retain individual state rights. George Washington, James Madison, and even Thomas Jefferson fall into this category. Here many wanted different things, most of which show up in the Constitution. Washington wanted a chief executive because he had experienced the trouble of running an army that answered to a legislative body. Madison wanted the power to tax because a government had no authority without it. So on and so forth. The third party is the Nationalist party, who would have been happy to rid the nation of states completely. Alexander Hamilton and John Adams fall into this group. These men lost in the Constitutional Convention, but manage to pull the early republic more their direction. Hamilton won passage of debt assumption after a compromise was worked out about the location of the capital. Hamilton argued for loose construction to help win passage of the Bank of the US. Adams passed the Alien and Sedition Acts which criminalized speaking against the government. A lot of this happened because the true anti-federalists refused to participate in the Federal government, like Patrick Henry. However, by the Adams administration we see anti-federalists take a more active role, and the passing of the Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions opposing the sedition acts are a good example of anti-federalist thinking.

In summary we can see in the early years of the Republic there were three ideological parties.
Nationalists: Held to a ‘loose’ or ‘broad’ construction of the Constitution, and generally tried to gain more power for the Central government.
Federalists: Held to a ‘strict’ or ‘narrow’ construction of the Constitution, and tried to balance the Central with the States.
Anti-Federalists: Held to the state constitutions as above the Federal Constitution, and they tried to keep power in the state level.

Now the extreme anti-federalists faded as the first generation of Americans grew up under the Constitution. Less extreme Anti-Federalists, such as Richard Henry Lee, joined forces with the Federalists to oppose the power grabs of Hamilton and later Adams. The Nationalists made the political party known as the Federalists and Anti-Federalists made up the group known as the Democratic-Republicans.

I promise this will get to a point in some future blog.


Stuart said...

Very interesting read you have there! It appears today that we have 2 parties doing their best to turn our country into a one party system. We all know what a catastrophe that will be.
Please continue, and include your thoughts on how we can overcome the failure I believe we have today in two party system. Their only goal seems to be the destruction of the other party. I've been in both parties and fail to see any clear goals from either party for this country.

Andrew McIntyre said...

My argument against the viability of third parties is not historical. It is practical. Historically, I do not think we can compare our present government to the government envisioned by our founders. The hydra has grown too many heads, and it would now be unrecognizable to the men of the enlightenment. I do not think any of the present "third parties" have any chance of gaining any meaningful offices, unless (and that is a big UNLESS) they are able to create a new, radical vision that soars above the present power vestiture of the two party system. It will require a dramatic motivation of the masses. I seriously doubt it would ever happen, but only in this way would it be possible. Simply running on the idea that "we are the real Republicans (or Democrats)" will not work. The people have no vision, thus, they have no national intellectual identity. It will take a charismatic, brave visionary to effect change. I cannot name any who qualify at the moment. I only hope that if and when such a visionary does arise, he is not a second Hitler.


Lee said...

I agree about our government as a hydra and people running as 'real republicans', but I do think 3rd Parties have practical chances to win. I think historically we can see that 3rd Parties always have a practical affect. People can either vote against what they believe and know that there views will never be implimented, or vote their conscious and in the long run hopefully have their views win out.

Andrew McIntyre said...

I am not really saying it is impossible that a third party could rise to power. I am saying it is highly improbable. Remember, just as the American government is not what it used to be, so the American voter is not what he used to be. It once was the case that you had to make a rational argument for your political position. Now the politician just spouts off mindless buzzwords and talking points. In fact, the entire premise behind the use of buzzwords and talking points is that the American people are fundamentally stupid and will follow the media trend.

I just think that any third party, to be viable, must have a clear, obtainable, unifying vision. The current third parties do not really have this. Further, the current third parties lack charismatic leadership. Most of them are just weird, at least in the eyes of most Americans. Even the Constitution Party, which is often a favorite among conservatives, is highly influenced by dispensationalism. Hence, their platform refers to the "New World Order" as evil. No one really knows what this New World Order is except a few dispensational conspiracy theorists. Further, apart from dispensational sensationalistic assumptions, they fail to explain why this supposed global conspiracy is inherently evil. Libertarians, though they are the largest third party holding the most offices, are, well, again, weird. Everyone else is so splintered and factioned, they have absolutely no chance of uniting a nation behind them. A new party, with fresh ideals and bold, charismatic, articulate leadership might have a shot. Give men the resolve which accompanies a vision, give them a great leader to rally their courage and unify them in the face of sure struggle, and the elephants and donkeys may have a run for their money.

Having said that, I do not think the population is really as right leaning as many conservatives think it is. Remember, if the Democrats had fielded a real candidate in 2004, George Bush would probably not be president. This November will be quite telling indeed.

Lee said...

I agree things would be easier if a charasmatic person would spearhead a third party. Even better if someone in office switched. But, I also think 3rd parties are not necessarily about winning. They are often a protest vote. Hopefully my next post will show how protest votes have often returned the two big parties to their roots. And I do think that is the most likely outcome of any third party in today's modern system.