My dad hates labels. We’ve had this conversation numerous times in the past regarding how bad it is to put a label on yourself or others as if that label defines who you are.
I understand where he’s coming from in many respects, and yet I also maintain a need to use short expressions clarify my position in areas that could take an hour to describe in depth, but can communicate much in two or three words, such as “constitutional constructionist”. Granted, expressions (or labels) like that can be broadly interpreted or useless to those without any context regarding what it means.
And so in this Presidential election year we struggle with what it means to be “conservative” or “Republican” or “liberal”, or “libertarian”, or whatever. We struggle with the definition, scope, breadth of what these terms mean to different people. Some say McCain is not a Conservative, or he’s a RINO (Republican In Name Only), and others that say he is more conservative than we know, and some who say Obama is really going to meet the needs of Conservatives. And the labels become ambiguous.
We have some number of “conservatives” who are unwilling to support McCain or the Republican Party because the Party (and/or McCain, or because of McCain’s nomination) is not conservative enough for them. The Party does not “meet their needs”. And some have suggested forming a new party to meet those needs.
That concerns me.
It’s tough building “bipartisan” consensus between Democrats and Republicans. Often, it requires either an issue that truly transcends what each party stands for to reach that kind of consensus, or an issue so critical to the country that one or both parties simply have to compromise to accomplish what is needed. But typically the two parties, or two ideologies (at least the core of them) are so divergent that there are strong philosophical and emotional conflicts that keep the two parties from working to reach a solution together.
It’s not quite as difficult (usually) to build consensus within a party because the positions within a party are usually not as divergent as they are between the parties. Within the Republican Party this year we seem to be entertaining much more divergence (some would say because the more moderate part of the party is swinging too far to the left). Now it’s unclear to some what the “Republican” label means.
I happen to think that bipartisanship is overrated. We will always have shouts of “bipartisan” when the party “in power” is not in power enough to truly control the government (like now). We could be at a standstill in this situation. Maybe that’s just too bad. Maybe the electorate need to do something about it.
If we expect voters to get serious, then the Republican Party needs to as well. And by serious, I mean we need to be the advocates for a better informed electorate. We need to make an intelligent case for what we stand for instead of using 15-second sound bites to coerce the public into believing Democrats are evil. People generally like to feel well-informed, and we should do what we can to ensure they really are.
But the Party also needs to be running on all cylinders, meaning the entire party needs to stand together, even when we have differences and a variety of opinions. We do not serve our country by simply giving up and letting it go to the Left, although we may serve ourselves (or so we think). As Patriots, as citizens, as Americans, as people that want to see our rights and our children’s freedoms maintained, I believe we must always push on and work together for what we believe in, even if we work together with others who don’t line up exactly with our beliefs.
And splitting into separate parties will be a painful solution. To do so at the level of difference I hear many espousing (and frankly, there is already one major party that could be included with Republicans… they are called Libertarians), we could end up with at least 5 different parties on the right: Republican, Libertarian, Conservative, Neo-Conservative, and White Nationalist (and, I’m fine with the White Nationalists staying out of the Republican Party, thank you very much). I’m sure there would be others. And if Republicans did this to themselves, eventually the Democrats would too, and you could have a huge mess.
Why would this be bad, you may ask? Because if you think it’s hard to get anything done in Congress today, wait until you have to build coalitions between several different parties to pass any legislation. Just ask Belgium if they like the current situation  there, where the new Prime Minister (Yves Leterme) has spent months building a coalition amongst 5 parties to ensure there was a majority to get someone (okay, him, but…) into the role of Prime Minister. His party is the “Flemish Christian Democratic Party”. We might have trouble with a name like that in US politics.
We’ve watched France, Germany, Isreal, Belgium, Pakistan, and nation upon nation struggle with building cross-party coalitions just to build a majority to get work done. Granted, our Congress sometimes looks as bad or worse in comparison, but the financial burden, the loss in time, and additional work associated with having more than 2 significantly influential parties is just an undesireable way for us to operate.
But even as I write this, I have to wonder, could it be good? Could a multi-party system serve our country? It seems disingenuous to postulate just the negatives, and in preparing these thoughts I’ve hit a statement (in Wikipedia , of all places) that causes me to pause. “A multi-party system is essential for representative democracies, because it prevents the leadership of a single party from setting policy without challenge.” That’s something to think about. And now I wonder, would a multi-party system lead to improvements in areas that both the Left and the Right agree on (or, at least, agree on by the public that is supposed to be represented) such as earmarks, term limits, true balanced budgets, enforceable laws, fair taxation? Could a multi-party system provide a better forum for each party to present its perspective and perhaps better inform and influence the electorate? I actually think this is worth further debate and pursuit.
But I am convinced that building and running a real multi-party system requires an overhaul of our system of government and politics, including restructuring the legislative body, and perhaps considering the election of the President by the legislature instead of the people (maybe give the office a different name as well… I think you get my drift). Honestly, I think for the multi-party concept to be successful here, we need a system that is ready to engage it, and our current system does not play well with the idea, unfortunately. But the more I think about it, the more I think it could help ensure people are better informed and are better at reaching well-reasoned opinions about government policy. And maybe the labels won’t be as important as what we discuss together.
But in the meantime, we need to make sure the two-party system can continue to be as effective as possible… there is too much at stake to treat it with contempt and walk away without using it to its full extent. We need to continue to petition the Party with our opinions, concerns, questions, and provide as much input and feedback as possible. We need to continue to dialog with our representatives and ensure our voices are heard, or we do a disservice to our country, imperfect as she may be.
In essence, the Republican and Democratic parties are both coalitions, and each will suffer if there is too much in-fighting. I strongly suggest we all do what we can to maintain these coalitions for the sake of our country.
Update: Fixing a link.