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Thursday, May 13

Two Parties, or Twenty?

I hear a lot lately about the failure of the two-party system in the United States, and I want to make a couple of points.

Remember Ross Perot, back in the late Eighties and early Nineties? Everyone thought he was the bee's knees and was a fantastic and fresh alternative to his Democratic and Republican rivals. But when push came to shove and when faced with the actual ballot, most of the voters went with either of the two main party candidates. Perot didn't get much of the popular vote.

We see the same pattern developing with the Tea Party supporters - while they're shouting about destroying "politics as usual," opinion polling has indicated that they're more like to vote the straight Republican Party ticket rather than look elsewhere.

I paid a great deal of attention to the British election last week, where no party won a clear majority in the House of Commons. The winner of the popular vote, the Conservatives, had to make concessions and strike a deal with the third-place Liberal Democrats in order to gain enough seats to form a stable government. Had incumbent Prime Minister Brown tried to form such a coalition, he would have had to forge a coalition with three or four minor parties that had won ten or fewer seats.

One of the main differences between the British party system and ours, I think, is that each of the major parties here have factions and wings within them that the British have set up as separate parties. Anti-immigrant? There's a faction for that in the Republican Party. Environmentalist? There's a seat for you in the Democratic Party, and so on.

An opinion I read once about the American political system was that it wasn't perfect, but it was ten times better than the next best system. Which should tell you a lot about the imperfectibility of human nature.

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