January 12, 2004 | Peter

Does America Actually Have a Two-Party Political System?

The outstanding success so far of Democrat presidential hopeful and Governor of Vermont Howard Dean has been the biggest story in US politics since the rise of the new conservative push that put Ronald Reagan into office. Indeed, in a way it was that development – which the Democrats have been slow to respond to – that caused Dean’s success.
Dean is of course not yet the Democrat candidate, but it looks now like only Gephardt or Clarke could stop him. Richard Gephardt, a long-standing congressman who ran for president sixteen years ago, is the best chance for the Democrat establishment, while Wesley Clarke is an ex-general who can’t quite make up his mind what he is politically.
Dean has flummoxed everyone by his radical approach. Although hardly leftwing, his staunch and early opposition to the war in Iraq identified him as being outside the usual parameters of political debate in the US. Furthermore, he has created a new form of fund-raising based on the Internet which negated the power of the Democrat Party to discipline him through withholding funds. As a by-product of this new fundraising system Dean brings ordinary supporters into his campaign in an active way, so they feel like they ‘own’ his campaign.
The thing is that as Dean has emerged as the front runner the Democrats have repositioned themselves to take on Dean in an ‘anyone but Dean’ solidarity. This is so destructive of what looks likely to be the Democrat candidate that many people have wondered whether the Democrats would rather have Bush than Dean as president.
Which brings us to the whole question of political parties in the US. America, mostly, has historically had only two major parties that basically fight for the government, and there have been real differences between them in the past. But if the two parties are now so aligned that one would sabotage the chances of its own radical candidate, is that really a two-party system, or a national political management apparatus? If this is the case, then the two-party political system is essentially a con against the electorate.
It should be said that Pat Buchanan made similar charges against the Republican Party during his various campaigns. In particular there have been claims that the Republican leaders have tried hard to keep the radical Christian right out of power in the GOP.
Dean’s campaign and his success are largely a result of the conservative/right project began under Ronald Reagan, continued on by Bush I and, after a hiatus while Clinton was (a very conservative) president, by Bush II. Bush II is the most divisive US President in modern times, and he has generated a big backlash. The people who form the core of this backlash found no effective representation in the centre/right candidates that the Democrat establishment wanted to foist on them, and so they have got behind Dean.
For various reasons, the Republicans and the conservative/right generally face real problems in the US. For instance, they have not been able to install a new global governance regime based on US military power, which looked so possible after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Even Iraq, fatally wounded after Gulf Wars I and II, has been a much bigger bite to swallow than the Neo-cons thought. Then there is climate change, which must be addressed sooner or later by global cooperation, and which will greatly affect the US energy sector which mostly (unlike its European counterpart) has not shifted to a new strategy mindful of global warming, and which sits at the heart of the Republican corporate base. And finally, the basic demographics of the US are changing as ethnic minorities, in particular Latin-Americans, are greatly expanding in number and influence.
So the future could well belong to the Democrats. But will it be a relatively left/progressive Democrat party, or one slightly to the left of an increasingly conservative/right Republican Party? Dean’s progress may well say a lot about how things will go. Indeed, if the Democrat establishment does stymie such a popular candidate, it might bring on the creation of an entirely new left/progressive party in the US.

Posted by Peter at 1:16 pm | Comments Off on Does America Actually Have a Two-Party Political System? |
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