You probably don’t know it but February 27th is a somewhat special day this year. It’s no one’s birthday (not anyone overly special anyway), it’s not a national day of remembrance or honor, nor is it a day to recognize loved ones or the contributions of great American heroes. This February 27th marks the end of the current funding bill for the Department of Homeland Security; in other words this February 27th marks the deadline before yet another partial government shutdown due to the unceasing squabbling of Congress and the ineffectual leadership of the President.
Fortunately this shutdown, should it occur, will be far less painful than the last one. It will only affect DHS and the scope of mandatory work furloughs will extend only to nonessential workers. In other words the most important people at the DHS (Secret Service, TSA, Customs and Border Protection, Coast Guard) will all still be reporting to work; however, up to 30,000 DHS workers could be furloughed until the new budget is passed. The thing is this could easily be avoided. You see the House of Representatives has already passed a new DHS spending bill and that bill is now sitting in the Senate waiting on a vote. The sticking point here is that the House passed a bill which stripped funding for President Obama’s new immigration measures (his executive order allowing several million illegal immigrants to remain within the US without fear of deportation). The Republicans in the Senate don’t have the 60 votes necessary to pass the bill and the Democrats are unwilling to lend support until that funding is restored. The whole thing is ridiculous and what’s more is that both the GOP and the DNC know it.
The President signed an executive order essentially shielding millions of illegal immigrants from deportation; in other words he ordered the DHS to stop arresting and deporting illegal immigrants providing they meet certain criteria. The only problem is the President doesn’t technically have the power to do that. You see by doing this he is basically nullifying existing immigration law and no sitting President has the authority to nullify existing law. What is most ridiculous about this situation is that Congressional officials on both sides of the isle know President Obama crossed a line, they know he overstepped his authority; but partisan allegiances obligate them to maintain the party line. This means the GOP will continue to attack the Administration without trying to really float a compromise and the DNC will continue to back Obama even though they know he is in the wrong on this. And once again we have partisan gridlock in Congress threatening to leave thousands of government workers without a pay check.
On the face of it you might think that the source of the problem is those “obstructionist Republicans”, that “power hungry President”, or those “tax and spend Democrats”; but they’re just the players in the current iteration of this saga. The real problem is partisanship. The American political landscape has become buried beneath an avalanche of partisan nonsense and bickering. But partisanship in American politics really isn’t new. Since our founding our politics have been dominated by political parties and for most of the last couple centuries it’s generally been two parties. We operate primarily on a two party system, be they Federalists and Democratic-Republicans, Whigs and Democrats, or today’s Democrats and Republicans. For nearly as long as our country has been in existence we have been operating under a two party system.
Now there are some who believe that a two party system is the most effective and efficient form of democracy (or in our case representative democracy). They believe that having only two parties encourages political compromise, and prevents radical groups from gaining power and destabilizing the government. They point to the frequent political strife in multi-party countries like Italy where so many parties now have a voice that it has become nearly impossible to gain consensus on anything. They also believe that having only two parties makes things simpler for the average voter.
However there are others (like myself) who think all that is proverbial hogwash. One look at our current Congressional situation and we can see that a two party system does not encourage compromise, and we experience our fair share of political strife. There is something to be said for keeping the voting process simple since the Lord knows the majority of Americans are entirely uninformed of the major issues facing our country; however, keeping things simple is not always a good thing. For one simplicity encourages laziness, and two it limits our options. The two party system basically forces us to choose between two, usually very bad candidates (or as South Park so perfectly put it a choice between a giant douche and a turd sandwich). Quite often Americans are left without a candidate for office that truly represents their ideals and beliefs and are forced to compromise their values in order to choose the candidate they hate least.
These days American political candidates have become faceless letters and colors, red versus blue, R versus D. Most don’t even have unique or fresh ideas and those that do are forced to compromise their stances in order to get their names on the ballot. The two parties don’t want free thinkers, they want candidates who will pull in votes and tow the party line in order to make the donors happy. Americans have become so used to the idea of the generic Democrat and Republican candidates that they don’t even really pay attention to what the candidates say and simply vote based on party affiliation.
To make matters worse the two parties that currently dominate our politics (and have for the last 150 years) have crept off the political stage and onto the social stage. The two parties have become so dominant that people are expected to be members based on their social/cultural circumstance. If you’re a young college student or a minority you’re supposed to be a Democrat. If you’re a middle aged White person you’re supposed to be a Republican; and God forbid you fit one of those archetypes but refuse to subscribe to your “assigned” political party. The two party system has become so ingrained, and the two parties so dominant that many of us don’t even know why we follow them; we only know that we’re supposed to.
What America needs is a political shake up. In the coming weeks I’m going to a write a series of articles outlining why we need a strong third party, what I think it should look like, and how we go about making that happen. If you feel as I do, that we need to break this current cycle of partisan servitude, than I invite you to read along.