“I often think it’s comical
How Nature always does contrive
That every boy and every gal
That’s born into the world alive
Is either a little Liberal
Or else a little Conservative
!” —Gilbert and Sullivan’s Iolanthe. Act II
I think everybody knows that the two-party system has its flaws. It is obvious that a system in which two sides work in opposition to one another virtually all the time is bound to have flaws. And then of course, everybody knows that lots of people end up voting a party-line ticket without bothering to consider the specifics of a candidate or policy. No one wants to be guilty of voting without thinking.
Because of this, many people really want to find some sort of “common ground”, or at least a way outside the two party system. This takes two forms: either a centrist “let’s compromise” attitude or else a “a pox on both your houses” approach.
The current holy war between Republicans and Democrats is an irritating thing, to be sure.* But Centrism, in my opinion, does not actually break free of this divide; it merely mixes and matches elements of both in some sort of hope that somehow this will make the two sides dislike each other less.
(Meanwhile, the “pox on both houses” idea manifests itself primarily as libertarianism, a somewhat noble idea which amounts essentially to leaving everyone alone to do whatever as long as it harms no one else, but which falls apart quite completely when faced with the complexities of actually governing.)
The end result is that the Centrists say “We want both of you.” Libertarians say “We want neither of you.” In this way, as I sort of touched on here
, both of these ideas still define themselves in terms of Republicans and Democrats
. By that I mean that they are not actual political philosophies, they are just philosophies for dealing with the existing
I suppose I’m writing this like I have some kind of answer or solution. I don’t. All I can say is that while I can understand and sympathize with the impulse of people like the “No Labels”
group to break out of the traditional two-party mold and be really independent of “Partisanship”, it’s actually much harder than it seems.
*One could also, by the way, make a very good argument that the Republicans bear much more responsibility than the Democrats for the current level of vitriolic polarization. This is the sort of detail that centrists are often willing to overlook in their quest for bipartisanship.