Get rid of the political parties

The Republican-Democratic duopoly is not serving us well, says JIM LAWRENCE

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America has become politically dysfunctional. Although this unraveling has been progressing for quite some time, the federal super-committee, debt-ceiling and payroll-tax debacles have made it clear that our political polarization has reached crisis proportions.

When Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell openly admits that his highest priority is making Barack Obama a one-term president, it is clear that our politicians pledge their allegiance first to party and second to country.

In communist and other repressive states, the government is subservient to a single-party monopoly. The U.S. government now appears subservient to a two-party duopoly.

We have allowed the two-party system to become so institutionalized that if Jay Leno conducted one of his man-in-the-street surveys, an appalling number of people would think the two-party system is part of the Constitution. It is not.

We could change it if we wanted to, and we should want to. We should, in particular, put an end to state-funded primaries and the political gerrymandering of voting districts.

Primary "elections" select party candidates. Tax dollars should not be spent on them. Let the parties organize and pay for the process of nominating their candidates for general elections.

The spectacle of state legislatures vying for the earliest primary is a ridiculous departure from our founding framework. People are herded into one of two parties, which is artificial and stifles participation by other parties or independents. (By the way, I do not count myself as Democrat or Republican. I am registered as a Democrat only so I can participate in the single-party rule in the city of Pittsburgh.) The state-run party primary system is the glue that holds the two-party duopoly in place.

Now, there may be an outcry that the two-party system is essential to the smooth functioning of our exceptional country. But this is hard to argue convincingly given the degree of dysfunction it is now delivering. The issue of tax-funded party primaries is ripe for a court challenge.

As for the gerrymandering of voting districts, it nearly guarantees that incumbents (or at least the incumbent party) win a given district. Years of election results bear this out, yet in most states we are unable to change it because the duopoly perpetuates the self-serving status quo.

Gerrymandering disenfranchises voters by diminishing the power of cohesive communities with shared interests. We should never allow the politicians to pick the voters. This turns democracy on its head.

Our system can only function as intended if the voters pick the politicians in fairly contested elections. Abuse of power is always about eliminating competition before it can pose a challenge.

Gerrymandering is why elections rarely change anything anymore. But the entrenched partisans are not about to change the system. The seriousness of this problem cannot be overstated.

One of the most insidious consequences of our institutionalized duopoly is its effect on local politics. There is no reason we need Democrat-versus-Republican candidates for mayor, city or county councils, or school boards.

How much healthier would our legislative processes be if more and more of the seats were occupied by independent candidates at the local, state and, eventually, national level? Public servants would rise to higher office based on statesmanship rather than partisan gamesmanship.

Perhaps we need an alternative funding mechanism -- the Independent Nonparty? -- to promote independent candidates based on ability and sincerity, particularly at the local and state levels.

Overthrowing the two-party duopoly would have to proceed on a state-by-state basis. The Constitution gives states the power to organize elections.

It likely will take a grassroots political revolution -- Tea partiers? Occupiers? Both? -- to alter the nation-in-decline trajectory we are on. A key political reform needed to reclaim our Constitution and our democracy is the separation of party and state.

Jim Lawrence is an engineer and former telecom industry analyst who lives on the North Side ( ).


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