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Does the Two-Party System Have a Future?

Democrats

I am not a member of any organized political party. I am a Democrat.” – Will Rogers

As a registered Democrat, I am deeply troubled by recent discussions in the media about so-called “progressives” vs. “moderates.” The worst aspect of this is that we seem to be focused on labels, not policies.

The great strength of the Democratic Party today is that it is a “big tent.” The 2018 midterms showed that, depending on the district, different kinds of Democratic candidates can win. As a party, we celebrate diversity of all kinds. Why can’t we celebrate political diversity rather than mirroring the narrow negativism of the current Republican Party? How can policy discussions and deliberations maintain the big tent and heal some of the rips in its canvas? 

Indivisible has shown that we can, by asking all of the presidential candidates to support the eventual nominee. So far, 17 have agreed. Here are some other suggestions:

  1. Use social media to propose policy ideas, including those that cross the partisan divide. A small bore but potentially high impact example from the Spring legislative session in New Mexico: Passage of the “Healthy Soils Act” with overwhelming bipartisan support. It would encourage and train ranchers to move cattle around in groups so that the soil is enriched without grazing down to the stubble. The result is enriched soil with bacteria that eat more methane than the cows produce. And methane is 85 times more damaging than CO2 as a greenhouse gas.  
  2. Don’t make the best the enemy of the good. Who in the Democratic Party, for example, would oppose allowing people just above the income level for Medicaid to buy into it? (a short-term plus) Would this really lessen the longer-run possibility of Universal Healthcare? 
  3. Policy alternatives should be developed that combine the profit motive with social benefits by linking nonprofits, small businesses, and social enterprises. Borders cities are working with nonprofit organizations to process the hundreds of migrants crossing the border legally each day. Nonprofits in cities often promote entrepreneurial activity.
  4. Focus on overlaps and spinoffs between environmental and socio-economic investments. For example, retrofitting millions of houses for energy efficiency could also create millions of jobs that cannot be exported. 

Republicans

“Well, we might have enough people in the Never-Trump camp to have a dinner party.” – Max Boot, on CNN.

I am not a Republican, but, as a political scientist and scholar of democracy, I care deeply about the future of the two-party system. It worries me that Republicans have placed their bets on aging Whites, gerrymandering and voter suppression. I have been encouraged by the independence of the Never Trump Republicans, and the candidacy of former Massachusetts Governor Bill Weld, but discouraged about the prospects for reviving a functioning Republican Party, based on constitutional and free market principles. In the interests of supporting this nascent movement, I offer the following policy ideas, some of which overlap with the policy proposals for the Democrats. And that’s a good thing for potential bipartisan legislation.

  1. Focus on the economic advantages of free trade and ending the Trump tariffs.
  2. Advance policies that support small businesses, social enterprises and the non-profit sector. (For ideas, look back at your own Jack Kemp.)
  3. Stop denying climate change and explore market solutions, including temporary support, maybe at the state level, for small businesses engaged in retrofitting houses, and yes, even the dreaded carbon tax, which began as a free market solution. Celebrate and publicize the emerging consensus that alternative energy costs are plummeting, without government subsidies.
  4. Conservation (as in National Parks or threats to biological diversity) is historically related to conservatism. Look back at Teddy Roosevelt!
  5. Pass tax legislation that closes loopholes and provides tax cuts for the middle class, not the wealthy.
  6. Revive the anti-trust movement started by one of your own-President Theodore Roosevelt.
  7. Support resilient infrastructure investment that will withstand climate change. Democrats will support you.

Political rhetoric should be based on sound policy ideas. Republicans have historically outclassed Democrats in rhetoric if not truth, but what if both parties did their policy homework before crafting slogans? As Senator Elizabeth Warren says, “I have a plan for that,” and she does, because of policy research. At other times, slogans can emerge from deep thought. An example is Pete Buttigieg’s “Freedom is not just ‘freedom from’ but ‘freedom to.’

Trump traffics in and is addicted to, soundbites, often false. Democrats and Republicans need to stop focusing on and mirroring him. They need to start talking about policy and that will lead to more truthful rhetoric. And that will not only strengthen the two-party system but also our #democracy.