Who Killed the Two Party System?


In my first blog of the New Year, I promised more on Joe Manchin, the Super Senator who rules Congress. You probably expected me to say nasty things about him. But you were wrong because I come to praise Joe Manchin, not to bury him. (What?!?! Is Buck kidding us?!) 


It probably surprises you to learn that a staunch liberal like me is praising a man who … . 

  •  Is beloved by the NRA. 
  •  Single-handedly killed the Build Back Better legislation on Fox News. 
  •  Opposes the strengthening of the social safety net on grounds that it will make people lazy and unwilling to work. 
  •  Is the largest recipient of donations from the coal/oil/gas industries in Congress.


And he does all this while deriving substantial income ($492,000 in 2020) from his family’s coal brokerage business, Enersystems, according to a New York Times article on Dec. 20, 2021. 




How can I possibly praise such a man? Believe me, it’s not easy. But Manchin, for all his pig-headedness and double talk, deserves gratitude for waking us up to the hard, cold fact that our two-party system is a wreck. 


Long a lesser light in the Senate but now all powerful, Manchin is Exhibit 1 in the pile of evidence showing that two parties don’t cut it anymore. He is a creation of a failed system and he personifies its dysfunction. Republicans delight in his intransigence; Democrats are helpless to do anything about their renegade colleague. And because a single vote in the Senate – his – can determine whether legislation lives or dies, we are stuck with a Congress in paralysis, unable to act on measures framed around the concept on which the country was founded: the greatest good for the greatest number. 


Does it have to be this way?  I don’t think so.


Have you ever wondered why other Western democracies have multiple political parties represented in their national legislative bodies and we don’t? Aside from the ego-driven forays of Ralph Nader, Ross Perot and other self-proclaimed Libertarians, our country has clung to a two-party system.  Other countries have sliced their politics thinner:


  • Canada – 5 parties 
  • Germany –  5
  • France – 3 major plus 20+ minor
  • United Kingdom – 4 
  • Italy –  5
  • Spain – 17 parties; 3 or 4 dominate

Source: Wikipedia


Winston Churchill famously said, “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.”  Please note he didn’t mention anything about having only two parties. Yet I suspect that most Americans think of our two-party monopoly as intrinsic to our “superior” brand of democracy. We tend to look down on the chaos of European elections where minor parties wield some power. We look at Israel and wonder why they don’t just get rid of all those fringe parties that complicate their governance and stick with Labor and Likud. 


Have we ever seriously considered whether the multi-party norm in other democracies might have advantages? I’ve wondered about that regularly for the past five years or so and have concluded that we need to follow their example. 


Our current system gives us only two choices: Pay homage to a man unspeakably corrupt and venal by supporting Republicans or join a party that stands for so many things that it stands for nothing. Joe Manchin, nominally a Democrat, embodies the latter problem. He is the most powerful Democrat yet he is pro-gun and anti-environment. How can one be a Democrat and earn an A rating from the NRA? How can one be a Democrat and argue for the continued burning of coal and against tax credits for electric vehicles?  These questions have one answer:  Manchin only had two choices. These days one must either be either a Democrat or a Trump worshiper to run for office in this country. Joe Manchin makes  this crystal clear. (Thanks for helping me make my point, Joe.)


But who said we have to be straight-jacketed into a two-party system?  I propose four parties, at least.:


Party No. 1 – The MAGA Party. Pro-gun, macho (even the women), anti-immigrant, white, evangelical, hyper-capitalist, etc. Trusted news sources: Fox, ONA, NewsMax. (No newspapers,only TV)  Leader: Morbidly obese spray-tanned cretin, resident of Palm Beach.  


Party No. 2 – The Establishment Party. Pro business, fiscally conservative, free market, socially moderate, pro-environment (as long as corporate profits aren’t affected). News Sources: Fox, CNN. Wall Street Journal. Leaders: Liz Cheney/Mitt Romney.


Party No. 3The Moderate Party. Pro-business and labor, pro-gun reform, pro-environment (but gradually and carefully), pro-immigrant, moderately anti-war. News sources: CNN, MSNBC, New York Times, Washington Post. Leaders: Chuck Schumer, Nancy Pelosi.


Party No. 4 – The Democratic Socialists. Pro-labor, anti-gun, pro-immigrant, pro-environment (at whatever cost to corporate profits), pro-tax increases on the top 1 percent, pro-national minimum wage, anti-war.  News sources: The Guardian, MSNBC, The Nation.  Leaders: AOC/Bernie Sanders/Jayapal. 


With this four-party system, here’s a wild guess on how voters would line up: 


MAGA Party – 30 percent of voters

Establishment Party – 25 percent of voters

Moderate Party – 30 percent of voters

Democratic Socialists – 15 percent of voters


The effects would be profound. Voters, unshackled from the rigidity of two-parties, would heave a sigh of relief. Joe Manchin could join the Establishment Party and be spared the ignominy of going full MAGA on us. My well-off friends who vote with their wallets could join The Establishment Party and quit being embarrassed by secretly voting for MAGA people. The MAGA folk would be rid of the Rinos they so despise — no more Liz Cheneys. My many Democratic friends who wring their hands about how Progressives are too radical for our center-right country could claim their own Moderate Party – thereby eliminating their morbid fear of being called a socialist. And those of us who’ve never thought AOC, Bernie or Pramila were too liberal could vote enthusiastically for Democratic Socialist candidates. 


It would be a political paradise! Everyone, most importantly me, would be happier. Would this lead to better government? Could it lead to worse?

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About Buck Close

Deacon Buck Close serves on the staff of the Church of St. John the Evangelist in Newport, RI. He was born in South Carolina, graduated from Tulane University in 1972 with a BA in Economics and Latin American Studies.

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