The highlights of the Democrats’ plan are tired and worn: rebuilding
the U.S. military, implementing the recommendations of the 9/11
Commission, increasing resources to catch the elusive Osama bin Laden,
and the vague “responsible redeployment of U.S. forces” from Iraq, which
does not set a deadline for the withdrawal of all U.S. forces.
No one should be surprised that a party that essentially rolled over
to the Bush administration’s transparently questionable Iraq adventure,
and has been timid in its criticism of it ever since, wouldn’t come up
with much of an alternative program.
Although globalization has opened markets around the world, the U.S.
political system remains closed to true competition. Curiously,
Americans are equally proud that they have one of the freest and most
vibrant economies in the world and a two-party oligarchy that restricts
competition among political parties. If greater competition is better in
economics, why not in politics?
Although no specific constitutional or legal requirement limits the
number of major political parties, the United States has had only two
dominant parties throughout most of its history because of the way the
Constitution is written. The “winner take all” nature of the political
system provides powerful disincentives for two stodgy, fairly broad
political parties to break up into smaller, more competitive parties
that would actually stand for something.
Direct election of the president by the people, the presidential
Electoral College, and representation in Congress based on geographical
areas all mean that only one person can win each election—giving
political groups incentives to maximize their strength by hanging
together in two disparate coalitions.
In contrast, a parliamentary system—in which parties earn the number
of seats they have in parliament based on their percentage of the vote
(proportional representation) and choose a prime minister based upon a
party leader’s ability to form a coalition of parties that commands a
majority in the legislature—is more competitive.
Governing coalitions formed after a rough and tumble election
campaign that give voters a wider choice among multiple parties are much
different from the electoral coalitions of the two-party system, which
cause political groupings to mute their differences in an attempt to
allow their coalition to win.
Some decry the instability of multiple party systems, but it isn’t
easy living free. “Freedom” is just a politician’s fancy word for
choice, and multiple party systems offer greater choice and less
behind-the-scenes collusion between the parties. In a multi-party
system, the collusion among the parties occurs only after the voters
have spoken—not before—and is out in the open.
Even the restricted competition in the U.S. political system has
eroded since World War II. Military adventures overseas during the Cold
War and thereafter have created an imperial presidency much stronger
than the nation’s founders had intended.
As in ancient Rome, the empire is slowly destroying the republic. In
reality, the American people, who ultimately are supposed to be in
charge of the political system, are governed by massive, unresponsive
executive-branch bureaucracies. And the Congress, envisioned by the
Founders to be the dominant branch of government and a major check on
executive power, has ceded much of its power to those bureaucracies,
especially in foreign policy and decisions to go to war.
Moreover, although the American people retain the theoretical ability
to vote their representatives out of power, they rarely do because
incumbent advantages are now so great and gerrymandered geographic
boundaries create friendly districts for incumbent members.
Unfortunately, Abraham Lincoln’s government “of the people, by the
people, and for the people” has been perishing for some time now.
Ivan Eland is a Senior Fellow at The Independent Institute,
Director of the Institute’s
Center on Peace &
Liberty, and author of the books
The Empire Has No Clothes, and
Putting “Defense” Back into U.S. Defense Policy.