America's Tyrannical Two Party System

When I last visited my native Cuba thirty years ago I was surprised to find that Cuba, like all communist nations, held free and, apparently, fair elections. 95% voter turnout was the norm.

At the time of my visit scores of candidates were vigorously, if not downright fiercely, campaigning for national and municipal posts, of which there were many. The only written rule was that the candidates had to be bona fide members the Communist Party, and the unwritten rule that in their pitch to voters they had to show why they were better qualified and disposed than their opponents to promote the Communist agenda. Most seemed pretty well educated, readily quoting and referring to such classic authorizes as Robert Owen, Frederick Taylor, Bertrand Russell, as well as Karl Marx and their own José Martí. And judging from their rhetoric, it was apparent that their speeches were largely improvised. The inner sanctum of El Líder Máximo Fidel and his hand-picked cabinet of old cronies, naturally, was off limits to debate, much less to popular vote.

Here in democratic America we take pride in thinking that the rules of the game are quite different. But are they that much different? As in Communist Cuba, scores of candidates from all walks of life vie hard, often tooth and nail, for political office every two or four years. And similar to Communist Cuba, the candidates have to swear allegiance to a political party, not to a sole party, as in Cuba, but to one of the only two ruling parties. Though third-party and independent candidates are not prohibited from running for office, their chances of succeeding are virtually nil. To make a serious run for public office in America candidates have to be either Republicans or a Democrats, and to win over voters, tradition-bound as American voters are to the two-party system, candidates have to toe their party line scrupulously--as is the case in Communist Cuba.

If the candidates be Republicans, they have to declare in no uncertain terms that they believe in limiting the size and scope government; in reducing budget-bloating health and social entitlements; in granting tax-breaks and subsidies to the job-creating private sector; in curbing employment-stifling labor unions; in assuring a strong national defense, in ratcheting up the wars on drugs and terror, in staying the course in Iraq and Afghanistan; in clamping down on illegal immigration , and in resolutely opposing abortion rights and same-sex marriage.

If Democrats, candidates have to declare they strongly believe in increasing taxes for the rich; in improving rather than reducing the size of government; in investing in public works and renewable energy projects; in protecting the environment against polluting and resource depleting industries; in backing labor unions; in liberalizing immigration policies; in decriminalizing the use of marijuana and other recreational drugs; in providing more benefits for the poor and unemployed; in disengaging from Iraq and Afghanistan; in closing the Guantanamo prison center and trying its detainees in civil courts; in curbing the shady practices of Wall Street; and in supporting abortion rights and same-sex marriage.

So, much the same as in Cuba, political candidates in America are limited by party affiliation as to what they can promise voters. A Republican who supports labor unions or a Democrat who advocates cutting taxes for the rich might as well call it quits before they get started. That would be akin to introducing laissez faire capitalism to the political debate in Cuba. Note how the speeches of successful candidates in America sound almost identical to those of their fellow party members, as if written by the same script writer. To play the game and win in America, as in Cuba, a candidate for office must be, or pretend to be, a loyal team player.

Consider the recent case of Republican presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich. By criticizing his Party’s health care plan, he virtually ruined his chances, slim to begin with, of winning the 2012 Republican presidential primary. Whether his criticism was right or wrong (it was probably right) did not matter. It was his bucking the Party that did him in irreparably.

They who argue that our two-party system is a time-tested American tradition rooted in the Constitution should re-read the document, or read it if they haven’t already, and also the philosophical debates that informed it, (recorded in the 1789 Federalist and Anti-Federalist Papers

). Though the Founding Fathers and first office holders tended to form coalitions, their coalitions were not fixed political parties as such, but loosely organized blocs to vote on specific issues, to be disbanded once the issue was settled. The War of Independence against George III still fresh in the memories, they knew full well that too much power concentrated in small groups was sure recipe for tyranny.

As George Washington put it “[Political parties] are likely in the course of time and things, to become potent engines, by which cunning, ambitious, and unprincipled men will be enabled to subvert the power of the people and to usurp for themselves the rein of government, destroying afterward the very engines which have lifted them to unjust dominion.” (Farewell Presidential address, 1797).

To Washington’s wise admonition one may add the stultifying effect of iron-clad political parties on both office-holders and constituents. Nothing so dulls human intelligence as forcing everybody to think alike. For proof, witness the idiotic shouting matches on TV talk shows, and on C-SPAN the vapid, repetitive speeches by legislators of both parties to an empty chamber.

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