I couldn’t help but to take an interest in politics during high school. My energetic instructor, Mr. S, with his thick fertility beard and square wire framed glasses, had an uncanny way of relating any “boring” political topic with popular movies, a tactic that, in my room of concentration deficit classmates, worked wonders on most occasions.
Once, on a common overcast afternoon at the start of November, a student in a green turtleneck asked what the difference was between Republicans and Democrats. Mr. S’s answer: “Well, there are several issues where they don’t see eye-to-eye, but one difference is that Republicans want less government control at a federal level, while democrats see a certain level of government control as beneficial. It’s kinda like in Star Wars how –“
“But, I don’t get why there’re only two parties,” the student interrupted, tugging at his turtleneck. “Why only two? “Why not three – or five?” “What makes them so special?”
Mr. S smirked. “This country has had a Bipartisan System since the ratification of the Constitution; it’s endured for so long that, well, I think it’s hard for Americans to imagine our system operating in any other way.”
Republicans vs. Democrats
For almost two centuries, Republicans and Democrats (or some variation of the two) have ruled the lush fields of our country’s political landscape with a jackass’s grin and an elephant’s talent for being unwavering, opposing one another on everything from banning alcohol to accepting stem cell research to the immoral implications of Presidential infidelity. Third Parties, or any party that wishes to represent its opinions and values without affiliation with Rep or Dem, have found it almost impossible to compete in a system that favors the well-established.
Establishing a candidate for a Third Party to run for American president is like a monolingual American teenager campaigning to win prom king at a Chinese boarding school – chances are better than excellent that they’ll be viewed as outsiders while forced to endure a rigorous trial that involves ass-kissing and splintered chopsticks.
For instance, there are state and federal laws in place that require Third Party candidates, if not a part of the prior election, to acquire more signatures than the major parties in order to be placed on a ballot. Not only that, but they’re considered by the Federal Election Commission to be ineligible for certain campaign funds, funds that the major parties can obtain with a charming wink and complimentary pat of the posterior.
And since the Third Party committee will most likely be unable to obtain enough ballot signatures and raise enough money to campaign, some candidates will choose to bellow a shirt-ripping “Screw this!” and opt to join another party – that party usually being the Republicans or the Democrats.
Conditioned to Politically Party, Bipartisan Style
Ever since we were delicate babies with big heads bobbing upon weak necks that demanded support, we have been conditioned to view our world in terms of oppositional binaries, concepts that directly oppose each other in meaning. Seeing the world in this manner allows us to define that which contrasts what we already know. The simplest example is “Good vs. Evil”: From our understanding of what we believe to be good, we can theoretically map or list the traits that constitute evil without experiencing it firsthand. Simply, we develop true meaning by knowing exactly what a concept is not, or comparing a concept with its opposite.
Because we perpetually use this structure of thought, it’s possible that we are psychologically attracted to a Bipartisan system – viewing our preferred party as a noble symbol of “Good” and its opposition as comedic symbol of “Evil” — making it difficult to find a foreign concept such as a Third-Party particularly inspiring. “Good vs. Evil vs. Feisty Libertarian” probably wouldn’t be as intriguing (or maybe it would be!) to citizens participating in the political process.
For some, political affiliation is a major part of one’s identity. A lot of us sympathize with the party that most reflects our principles and ideals. The Two-Party system gives us choices (or perhaps the illusion of choice), but can it hope to represent the millions of Americans of differing cultures, religions, and social classes? It all just seems somewhat limiting and exclusionary, especially when considering a Third Party’s inability to properly establish itself thanks to laws that restrict its ability to operate at a competitive level. Maybe the majority is afraid of losing power. Or maybe we’re just afraid of change. It probably is hard for Americans to imagine or political system working in any other way.