Many of us have been fighting for significant political change in Texas, the US, and elsewhere. Engaged in our battles-du-jour, we often get tangled up presenting our best policy proposals, and perhaps even our best candidates for public office. We embrace the fallacy that if we can just talk to enough people about our policy prescriptions and put forward just the right candidates, we can make headway. The force of reason, after all, is on our side.
But progress has been positively glacial.
The voting public is by and large not listening to our voices. At least they’re not convinced (if they’ve even heard us) that what we propose can make a positive difference in their lives. They're fearful of voting for someone not affiliated with a major party. Even in the face of the two most disliked Presidential candidates, probably ever, over 94% of the 2016 votes were cast for the Democrat and Republican candidates. Straight-party voting (whether or not the one-punch variety) increasingly defines the results of down-ballot races.
Many of us have chosen to do our political work outside the duopoly because we believe in our heart-of-hearts that the sclerotic outdated major parties are failing us. They’re standing in the way of making the kinds of changes that are needed for the coming world that will enable more personal choices, more individual freedoms, and less government interference in our lives.
Sadly, it appears that until there are more than two seats at the political table, not much is going to happen. Entrenched duopolistic two-party rule is squelching alternatives that could bring about change.
Many continue to extol the virtues of a two-party system, chiefly for its stability and its ability to “filter out” extreme points of view. This argument notes that compromise and moderation occur inside the two major political parties, ensuring that only moderate positions prevail, and suggesting that it is easier to govern when there are only two parties.
An interesting book by Matthew Levendusky, The Partisan Sort: How Liberals Became Democrats and Conservatives Became Republicans, reveals the fallacy of this view, at least since 1970. Even though the American electorate is as politically heterogeneous as ever (including many moderates in the center), the governing positions of the major parties have become increasingly polarized. Moderating influences inside our two-party system are dead, and perhaps gone.
Carl Jarvis in his book, The United States of Dysfunction: A Constitutional History of America's Present Crisis, posits that popular-vote primaries have played a significant role in major party polarization. The Republican Presidential nominee in 2016 was not selected by the party hierarchy. And a Socialist running in the Democratic primaries nearly unseated that party’s insider choice.
Our factions seem to be behaving more like tribes. It’s dangerous when there are only two … or as we have in Texas and other states, effectively only one.
We should not interpret the two political giants’ battle for supremacy as actual competition. The political giants wield their levers of power in so many ways to squelch and exclude the additional competition that is absolutely necessary to invigorate our system by pluralizing it. And the media is of no help (another topic for another blog).
The marketplace of ideas, policies, and candidates is not so different from the marketplace of goods and services. Freedom of production, freedom of access, and freedom of choice are essential. These freedoms inevitably lead to better ideas, better products, and better choices. Diversity and competition result in both greater human happiness and greater human prosperity.
The threat of creative destruction that comes from consumer (voter) choice causes marketplace participants (political parties) to either change or die. Too-big-to-fail is as dangerous in the political marketplace as it is in the commercial marketplace.
It is critical that we figure out how to degrade the duopoly. If there’s going to be room for any alternative voices, there must be political freedom and liberty for all. There is no other way.
A truly free society is one where multiple factions and viewpoints can have their say. It is a society where alliances shift depending on the issue. It is a society where people change their mind, change their allegiances, and change their government.
As James Madison wrote,
Ambition must be made to counteract ambition.
The duopoly is strongly and firmly embedded in voter’s minds, in our gerrymandered districts, in ballot access laws, in the cost of running competitive campaigns, and even in media coverage. Frankly, I’m at a bit of a loss as to what can effectively be done.
But we need to think about it. We need to be creative. We need to be entrepreneurial. We need to be disruptive.
It’s going to be hard to dislodge the duopoly. There are massive political forces and intense inertia standing in our way. We’re going to need allies. But the fight to shrink the power of the duopoly is a critical first step on the road to liberty.
Together let’s figure out some ways to make a difference by being different. If we’re going to change the government at all, it’s imperative that we start by taking on the system that protects the power of the two political parties who have been running government for at least the last 100 years.