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The Observer

The false dichotomy of the two-party system

Rune Torgersen, Copy Desk

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Railing against the two-party system is something I’m sure none of us are strangers to hearing at this point. The fact that two parties have risen to such dominance that they’ve become the only viable choices is a symptom of an underlying disease.

The two-party model feels like a corruption of the idea behind democracy in the first place. With each party struggling for control, the dialogue is forced into a more directly confrontational framework, as opposed to the atmosphere of cooperation towards common goals that probably ought to exist in the higher levels of government. Compromise is now seen as a sign of weakness, instead of the reasonable, adult way to deal with dissent.

The first thing many do after watching a debate on television is flock to the internet to see who “won.” Hundreds of political commentators immediately publish their opinion, writing about who won the debate, while the only objective measure of victory lies in how public opinion is swayed by the event. If there was a way to measure exactly how many people’s opinion of a political candidate changed as a result of a televised debate, that’d be the way to gauge who made the biggest impact on voters.

Unfortunately, changing your opinion in the face of new information requires admitting that you were wrong in the first place, and swallowing pride is easier said than done.

Two-party systems also hurt politicians. Say you’re a senator in office. Because of the way things work right now, chances are you’re either a republican or a democrat. Along with that label comes a certain amount of loyalty to your party of choice, as their support was likely a massive reason you got elected in the first place, and you’re now reliant on that to make sure you have a job in the future. If you want to stay on your party’s good side, you have to participate in essential crippling the other party. Energy that could be used positively impacting those around you must now be spent putting down the other party in an effort to stay on top of the political food chain.

This all serves to create a sort of pendulum effect, in which the party majority in our government changes every six years or so. All of that ridiculous bickering back and forth could be avoided if we were somehow able to leave this false dichotomy of parties behind and start working toward the goals we all share. We all want to eat, have a place to sleep, and have enough resources to deal with occasional illnesses or accidents. None of us want to live in fear of our fellow people. Sure, different parties have different ideas about how to achieve those goals, but we all want to get there.

These conversations and debates need to have outcomes other than who “won” and who “lost.” I’d love to see actual decisions be made, collectively, instead of people disagreeing with each other purely on principle.

That all starts with us. With a change in the way we approach our political “opponents.” Rather than going into an argument looking for a victory, I believe it ought to be done to learn something new about those who disagree with us, and how they plan to ensure that we all end up safe and fed. We need to start talking again.

So, the next time someone tries to tell you that voting for the person you’d most like to see in office, as opposed to one of the two big-party candidates, is like throwing your vote away, remember that the U.S. was not founded as a two-party democracy, and the fact that it has become one is detrimental to our health as a nation. Vote for whoever you feel like voting for. People not doing so, and giving in to that constant pressure to choose sides in what was never a two-team game to begin with is how we got to this point in the first place.

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The false dichotomy of the two-party system