Our right to political options
As my eyes scanned the red and blue dots that represented the people of the United States senate, I couldn’t help but think about how bizarre it is that, in a country full of so many choices, the citizens of the United States only have two. It is a naïve and limiting approach—how could there possibly be only two sides that satisfy every moral belief, economic policy, and social standing of the people of the United States? The world and our answers to its problems will never be black and white. I couldn’t help but compare the blue and red little dots to the multi-colored boxes that represented the Australian senate, with parties from the Liberal Party of Australia to the Country Liberal Party. Within so many different countries, such as Australia, functions a diverse set of parties within their legislative body, and I still cannot wrap my mind around the fact that we only have two senators within our Senate that do not associate with either the Republican or Democratic party (those two being Senator King and Senator Sanders).
In light of the upcoming election, it has become more and more evident that the two-party system we have today will not satisfy the needs and desires of future generations. We have two extremes as our options, and with a lack of compromise, we are left with no choice but to support the “lesser of two evils”. Not only that, but when one extreme attempts to compromise, they find themselves at a loss within their party and nicely fall back into the groove of what is demanded of a “Republican” or a “Democrat”. In 2015, when Marco Rubio had initially established his comprehensive immigration reform policy, Republicans all throughout the United States were outraged. This outrage and lack of support forced Rubio to uptake the average immigration policy of securing the United States border, which effectively defeated any chance of support from the Republican party of a pathway to citizenship for the twelve-million immigrants within the United States. This very case exhibits the limiting effects of the two-party system, which is why third parties are so pivotal to the future of our government. The option of compromise is something that neither of the two major parties seem to even consider. So why is the United States trapped within this idea that two extremes could possibly be suitable in such a constantly evolving social and economic environment? Why are third parties rarely ever represented in major debates, or why do they rarely qualify for government funding?
Americans have not elected a third-party president since Abraham Lincoln, when the minority party at the time was the Republican party. Due to his anti-slavery platform, Lincoln defeated the Whigs and the Democrats in 1860. Why has it been 156 years since a third party has even had a chance at a reelection? Well, one of the biggest obstacles third parties face within the U.S. is the U.S. government itself. The “winner-take-all-system” detrimentally affects any third parties’ chance for recognition. In most states within the U.S., the presidential candidate with the highest percentage of votes receives all the electoral votes that state withholds. There is no reward for “second place”, as John F. Bibby, author of Two Parties—Or More? The American Party System, states. The obstacles continue to escalate within the U.S. government due to the federal campaign finance laws, which state that a political party can only receive government funding to run in a race based on the percentage of votes from the previous election. This consistently has left third parties to fund their own campaign entirely, which results in a lack of media attention and exposure. It also invalidates their status, often blocking them out of major debates that third parties should be involved in.
The obstacles established by our federal government not only negatively affect the third parties’ chance of ever gaining actual support or winning any election in the future, but they continue to hinder the American peoples’ chance for compromise. The Odyssey reports that in recent polls, the citizens of the United States have made it very clear that compromise is something heavily called for: in 2015, 58 percent of Americans believed that a third party was necessary because the extreme stances within the Republican and Democratic parties did not fully satisfy the varying views of the American people. The fact that more than half of the United States is crying for the reform of our election system should be more than enough to realize that the limiting factors of the Republican and Democratic parties are nearly intolerable.
The argument against third parties is that they are often a “fad”, or as Richard Hofstadter claimed in The Age of Reform: Bryan to F.D.R: “Third parties are like bees: once they have stung, they die… [Third parties’] function has not been to win or govern, but to agitate, educate, generate new ideas, and supply the dynamic element in our political life”. This is true in the sense that, once a third party develops and brings enough attention to a single issue, the two major parties are far more likely to regard it. Yet that is not the sole purpose of third parties within today’s political environment. Yes, it is true that some third parties regard very narrow topics and only contribute to the issues of debate for the two major parties, but to claim that all third parties fall into that category is very incorrect. There are third party options that regard the issues that the two major parties focus in on. The Libertarian Party, which supports civil liberties, non-interventionism, and a free-market capitalism regards economy, social issues, and foreign affairs, which essentially qualifies its ability to function as an efficient political body.
The fact that 58 percent of Americans today believe that a third-party option is necessary disproves the idea that third parties are primarily for “educating” or “rallying” awareness of a certain issue. Rather, it proves that Americans are calling for choices. They are calling for a compromise, and within our current system of government, thousands of Americans are forced to settle. The hostile environment of our current election system fails to allow any form of representation for any party other than the two major ones, leaving Americans feeling hopeless and wildly underrepresented. It is imperative that we make our call for choices louder, and that we push for reform within a system that hinders the growth of anything new.
It is truly bizarre that in a country full of so many choices, we only have two: two choices to decide who will lead our economy, our policies, our ethics, and our name as Americans. The citizens of the United States have the right to options, yet in today’s system, we have no ability to exercise it.