Between Bread & Circuses: Just In Case We Needed Any Other Reasons for More Third Parties
I have previously commented on a growing hunger in the American socio-political consciousness for the emergence of new political parties. On Feb. 12, 2012, I noted that "the current nebulousness of political ideology only adds confusion to the political process and makes economic issues that much more divisive." Arguably, the lack of more voices in American government is compounding ideological gridlock in Washington and frustration on Main Street; whereas the political sphere is dominated with merely two sides (that are for the most part, indistinguishable), societal attitudes begin to spur alternative non-governmental voices in the form of phenomena like the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street. Whereas politics is the concentrated expression of economics, just in case we needed any other reasons for more third party voices in government, a new debt ceiling debacle may be on the horizon.
The Huffington Post reported on Feb. 13, 2012 that another Congress debt ceiling debacle may arrive before the 2012 presidential election. From the article: "In what one top congressional aide calls a 'nightmare scenario', the federal government could wind up hitting the debt ceiling at the height of the presidential campaign." However, the Treasury Department is currently considering the possibility of invoking "extraordinary measures" to keep the government funded through November. Whereas the previous debt debacle highlighted ideological bickering in Washington for all the world to see while the Standard & Poor's US debt downgrade cited political uncertainty, a new debt debacle with the backdrop of the 2012 election could bring even more uncertainty to the markets. Whereas there was much excitement over the Dow Jones Industrial Average hitting 13,000 on Tuesday, socio-economic headwinds including gas prices, high unemployment, Eurozone issues, and political uncertainty could cause a significant plunge in the market in the not-so-distant future.
While many independent voters in the US may be hungry for alternatives, both the Republicans and Democrats appear to be having issues of their own. Reuters reported on Feb. 17, 2012 how owing to indecision among Republicans as to a presidential nominee, the GOP may be facing a "brokered convention" in August. In a "brokered convention", the Republicans would effectively ditch "their current crop of candidates and [turn] to someone else who they feel would have a better chance of defeating Democratic President Barack Obama in the November 6 election." Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin said, "We could be looking at a brokered convention. Months from now, if that's the case, all bets are off as to who it will be willing to offer up themselves ... in service to their country." Interestingly enough, there has been some discussion regarding Rep. Ron Paul's chances in being the GOP nominee in the event of a brokered convention.
The New York Times' Thomas L. Friedman has recently highlighted the growing need for third party voices in American government. On Feb. 12, 2012, Friedman argued that in light of issues with the Republican Party, "we need a second party." Friedman: "[O]ne wonders whether the GOP shouldn't just sit this election out -- just give 2012 a pass." Friedman contended that "[u]ntil the GOP stops being radical and returns to being conservative, it won't provide what the country needs most now -- competition -- competition with Democrats on the issues that will determine whether we thrive in the 21st century... The country is starved for a grown-up debate."
More recently, on Feb. 18, 2012, Friedman argued that if the Republicans put forward Rick Santorum against Pres. Obama, "there is a good chance a Third Party will try to fill the space between the really 'severely conservative' Santorum (or even Mitt Romney) and the left-of-center Barack Obama." Whereas both the Republicans and the Democrats have issues in the area of restoring "fiscal sanity", the American people are hungry for three things: "truth, leadership, and solution." Friedman argued that in response to this hunger, "the two parties are just offering 'laggardship -- waiting for something to hit the fan' so they can again just react 'without adequate due diligence.'"
Of course, as perhaps many Americans are aware, "waiting for something to hit the fan" and "hope" are not the best fiscal policies. At a time when the country is looking for the government to put its fiscal house in order, ideological bickering inside the Beltway can be counter-productive. To be fair, multi-party systems are by no means immune from ideological and fiscal problems; Greece, France, and Spain have multi-party systems. That being said, perhaps a more diverse range of voices in American politics would do some good. Maybe some Americans are getting tired of the Coke-Pepsi option that we have to face every election. One might go so far as to say that the Democrat vs. Republican debate is a "false conversation."
Another dimension to this issue is the fact that American politics is starting to look like a media spectacle akin to Hollywood or the NFL. The fact that the football season is over while Roseanne Barr is planning to run for president as the Green Party candidate is probably not helping the situation. CNN's Steven Krakauer had an interesting article on Tuesday regarding how GOP debates have become media entertainment events akin to sporting events and other various television shows. Krakauer: "The debates have been substantive, politically relevant and issue-based. But they have been, maybe more so than other cycles, entertaining as well. On Wednesday, you don't want to miss the season finale."
The scandal involving former Rep. Anthony Weiner in 2011 highlighted how the nation is beginning to treat politicians like entertainers and entertainers like politicians. This blurring between entertainment and politics may be great for the media, but it can become problematic when actual work has to be done. If competition in the marketplace leads to parties' performing more efficiently and striving to improve, then perhaps the lack of political-ideological competition with two dominating moderate-centrist parties in American politics is partly to blame for political uncertainty and ideological gridlock.
If the interplay between Republicans and Democrats is indeed a "false conversation" in terms of ideology and policies going forward, one possible solution would be to simply recognize the two parties as being one political party: a moderate, centrist political party. In homage to Thomas Jefferson's party, you could call it the "Democratic-Republican Party". Of course, such an idea in the immediate future is ridiculous, but this concept reflects how some perspectives are simply being shut out of the mainstream political debate in the US. Given the electoral structure of American politics, the two-party system is favored whereas citizens do not want to throw their votes away in a winner-take-all system, but at some point, issues like youth unemployment, Social Security, and national fiscal policy have to be addressed in a functional manner, i.e., via representative democracy.
At the end of the day, there comes a point in time when the rubber has to meet the road; even if the media perpetuates a blurring between American politics and entertainment, reality will force us to recognize the distinction. In terms of partisan politics, if a new debt debacle in Congress manifests itself with rising food costs and $5 per gallon gasoline, it only makes sense that American consumers will eventually grow tired of the "bread and circuses" -- thereby spurring the creation and fostering of third parties in contemporary American politics.
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