Like it or Not, Red Team/Blue Team is the American Way

I’m tired of playing the same old Democrat versus Republican game. It’s like watching professional sports, only it will seriously impact your life. Our modern political culture has been shaped in such a way that we debate our politics like we root for our favorite football team. Doesn’t matter that the candidate may not share our ideology, it just matters that they’re wearing the right colors. ~ Matt Allen

Let that party [the Jeffersonian Republicans] set up a broomstick, and call it a true son of Liberty, a Democrat, or give it any other epithet that will suit their purpose, and it will command their votes in toto! ~ George Washington

You see, contrary to what Matt Allen wrote, it’s not just our “modern political culture”, it’s simply a basic characteristic of our political culture to have two dominant parties and it’s been that way since 1800. What is true is that it’s very hard for another “team” to arise under our system. Occasionally a third party has arisen to try to harness the frustration of voters with looser ties to–usually–one of the parties. Such movements were successful early on. After the Federalists were essentially wiped out by the Democrat-Republicans (the Jeffersonian Republicans that Washington refers too who would eventually become the Democratic Party) in 1800, the Whigs eventually arose to contend against the Democrats, though not very successfully. Before the Civil War, a new coalition of Whigs, Abolitionists and Northern Democrats was formed into the Republican party. This new party nominated Abraham Lincoln and the rest, as they say, is history.
There hasn’t truly been a successful third party since then.
Teddy Roosevelt formed the Bull Moose party when he knew he wasn’t going to be nominated by the Republicans. His party, comprised of progressive Republicans, succeeded in siphoning off enough votes to see Democrat Woodrow Wilson elected President. Ross Perot’s movement of independent-fiscal/small-government (mostly) conservatives siphoned off enough votes from George H.W. Bush to see Bill Clinton win the presidency with around 44% of the vote. Ralph Nader’s Green Party in 2000 is commonly accused of skimming from Al Gore’s vote total. You can see what all of them have in common: each of these third-parties undermined the party from which they sprang and succeeded in getting the party they most disagreed with elected. Most recently, Americans Elect tried and failed to find a third way. Meanwhile, the Libertarians still hold out hope.
Yet, Allen isn’t necessarily talking about a third party so much as another option. He recently wondered if the high number of independent candidates contesting elections here in Rhode Island was indicative of people tired of the same old parties and way of doing business.
I do think he’s onto something. The level of frustration is palpable and I have little doubt that many of these independent candidates are fed up with business as usual in the Ocean State. And who has been running business as usual in Rhode Island? The Democratic party. Since most incumbents are Democrats, I think the number of independents running this time around is less a statement of frustration against both parties–as Allen seems to believe–than it is about candidates taking on incumbent Democrats and strategically deciding to avoid appending the poison “R” to their name on the ballot. (I won’t get into the number of conservative Democrats we have in this state). In short, if this were any other state, I have little doubt that most of these independents would have picked the Republican team.
Allen has been expressing his frustration with the Blue Team/Red Team more and more recently.

Political types like me should tune into debates and stump speeches and hear the lines being drawn between those who want more dependency versus more self-reliance. We should be looking at supporting a candidate that will draw a stark line between what has become the most egregious big government era in American history and one where people have to earn what they get. We don’t have that candidate….I’m tired of voting for one man because he’s not as bad as the other guy. “Well you can’t let Obama back in.” That’s what I hear from people. I agree. However shouldn’t we at least try to put up some kind of candidate that can actually have a philosophy that we can all draw a line through? A point of view that we can all somewhat support and believe in so that when we do support “our guy” we don’t have to hold back our dry heaves?

While his exasperation is understandable, his idealism–and that of many of his regular callers–is, unfortunately, unrealistic in the real-world of politics, particularly with a looming election. Parties exist as a way to organize voters who hold similar views. The goal isn’t to have 100% agreement within a national party (though those accused of being DINO’s or RINO’s probably don’t think that), but to recognize differences–often geographical–and allow variety amongst those within the party, which is why both try/claim to be “big tent”.
As a result, the internal gravity of a party often results in positions or votes being cast by elected officials that are most amenable to the majority within a party (ie; those that will help them get re-elected). That also means many party voters are left less than pleased and get the impression that they aren’t being listened to by their party. (The corollary is that they often believe their own Congressman or Senator is listening to them on any particular vote, hence the high incumbent reelection rate. See, it works). The truth is, it’s not always the same “disgruntled” party members reacting to this or that vote. It’s the same phenomena we see in Rhode Island. We all hate what the General Assembly does, but our guy is pretty good.
However, if the party base is ticked off enough, it will turn over it’s own party. Witness the conservative, small-government, low-tax Tea Party movement, which chose to work within the Republican party (for the most part) and oust so-called big government conservatives. They successfully elected their candidates to several Congressional seats in 2010. Thus far, it seems those elected under that banner have acted as their constituents expected, even as they are often demonized by those within and outside their party for being “roadblocks to compromise” by not voting for compromise legislation that, say, “cuts” expected government growth from 7% to 3%. Those Tea Party Republicans who strayed may feel the pain in 2012. We’ll have to wait and see.
In the end, most conservatives–Tea Party, Libertarian or otherwise–are Republicans and most liberals or progressives are Democrats. Allen may not think that team denotes ideology, but it usually does.
So, it’s hard enough to find a local politician that we agree with. That is magnified 1,000 times on a national scale. There is no ideal candidate that will broadly appeal to the American electorate, particularly people with strong ideological beliefs. It’s almost impossible in our fractured culture. A case in point would be the libertarian Republican Ron Paul (big tent, right?). He has a passionate following, but he simply hasn’t got the broad appeal that his followers think he deserves. His mix of small-government conservatism with individual moral freedom doesn’t appeal to a broad enough base (yet…, right Paulites?). Why this is so–stupid people, MSM conspiracy–doesn’t matter, it’s simply the truth. Instead, political parties have a process–the primaries–where they try to find the candidate that the most party members agree with the most. The party can only pick from those who run. This all translates to the broader American electorate, too. It’s not exactly inspirational, but reality.
I think that it is often the case that the minority of us who are politically minded tend to over-emphasis the differences amongst those who generally agree on 80-90% of the same thing (especially in the primary season). Much of Allen’s reticence about Romney is related to RomneyCare=Obamacare. That’s understandable, but I’d bet that he agrees with Romney on much more than he disagrees. And the opposite is clearly true with Obama.
We also can put too much meaning into short-term topics that flare up in the political silly season. Allen is disappointed in the way Romney has responded to the Obama camp’s Bain attacks. He’s not alone. But then we see that the polls haven’t moved (and Romney may have even re-taken a slight lead) while these attacks were all over the place. It would seem the American polity doesn’t really care about Bain.
We politically-minded get wrapped up in differences that take up an out-sized place in our thinking. Unfortunately, sometimes this gets translated into a sort of “pox on all their houses” attitude, which may translate into staying at home–and encouraging others to do the same–on election day because “all politicians are the same and they don’t care about the average American”. It’s an emotionally gratifying way to deal with our disappointment. It’s also naive and doesn’t take into consideration the very real differences that exist between the parties and those within them.
Look, I know the choice we have to make relies less on inspiration and more upon whether or not we think we need to go into damage control. Yes, it stinks. It might get better in the future, especially if, post-election, the idealists like Allen (and myself, incidentally) continue to point out the flaws in our system and–more importantly–if new, better leaders emerge. (Let’s not forget the role of contingency here. It’s a more important force in history than we often realize.)
But it’s nut-cuttin’ time right now and you have to pick a side. It’s a dead horse, but I’ll beat it again: don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good (or passable, in this case). Sitting it out may be emotionally satisfying, but, as history has shown, it will only serve to present you with your own worst-case scenario. Will you be better off with four more years of Obama because you don’t “buy into the system”? I don’t think so.

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David S
David S
10 years ago

Marc, I agree with you about a 2 party system. I think you have it right. I would add 2 things. Our political structure understands conflict and warfare- namely 2 sides. We have developed a political structure that avoids ( for the most part) shooting and bombing and killing, but retains the basic us v them of all human conflict. Secondly, I think you missed an example of the third party. The Socialist Party of America, formed in the beginning of the 20th century, became the most influential third party in modern times- electing state representatives, mayors, 2 US representatives and presidential candidates ( Eugene V. Debs). The party enjoyed popularity in the 1900’s and 1910’s but started to get co-opted by the Democratic Party in the 1920’s. The Democrats incorporated the most popular planks of the socialist’s platform. The socialists served as a catalyst for change that only could be realized through one of the 2 parties.
Matt Allen’s concerns are common among young people. The basic creed is we want action now. Our political system does not work that way. It is infuriating to anyone with a political agenda that wants action immediately. The civil rights legislation took 30 years(?). Proponents for change claim their fight has been much longer.
The tea party could be the next change agent. I think there is a lot of Astroturf with the movement. Still, if they are going to have an effect, I think it will be similar to the Socialist Party’s.

10 years ago

“I believe that voting for the lesser of two evils in game theory will always leads to more evil” — Penn Jillette
The system is rigged in favor of those who want to centralize power in the federal government. Each election we’re presented 2 “major party” candidates, candidates which will only end up growing government, despite any rhetoric to the contrary.
Neither Romney nor Obama has said he’ll reduce the power being concentrated in the Executive Branch. Neither has said he’ll oppose the use of military surveillance drones in US airspace. Neither has said he’ll immediately stop murdering US citizens without due process. Neither has said he’ll stop using the military unconstitutionally to be the world’s police force. Neither has said he’ll, under any condition, put forth a budget which will fix our spending problem without increasing taxes, and in less than 10 years. Neither has said he’ll work on opening up this country to more trade, regardless as to reciprocation. Neither has said he’ll return transportation security to the entities most responsible and in the best position to address it — the transportation companies themselves. I could keep going, but you get the point.
Holding our collective noses and voting for the guy who will theoretically do less harm doesn’t mean you escape harm.

10 years ago

David S.: Progressive Party is another strong example, yet they ultimately were “absorbed.” I may not have been clear, but I was specifically writing about a permanent 3rd party developing w/staying power. You make a very good point re: two parties, us/them, etc. We Americans like a dichotomy and “trichotomies” don’t last.
JGardener: Believe me, I completely get the lesser of two evils, Jillette’s quote, etc. But you’re setting up a false choice, there. I certainly don’t argue that less harm = no harm. But it’s still less harm than more. Most people will take less if given no other choice. You gave me Penn, I’ll give you Rush, “If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice.” — If that results in more harm than less, well….We’re not dealing with a perfect system. The crux of my argument is that the most realistic way to move things politically is to do it from within one of the two existing parties. Checking out certainly will get you nowhere.

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