Friday, February 26, 2010

Arguments Against a Multiparty System

So, I've decided to play devil's advocate here and give the arguments against a multi-party system because I believe every good argument has an equally excellent counter-argument.

While I agree with Anya that only having two parties makes it harder for everyone to get along, I suppose I don't see how a multi-party system does this either? People and parties have differences and that's just a fact. In a multiparty system (let's take Britain's main parties) it would just be the labour and liberal parties against the conservatives because they all lean a certain way (more liberal or more conservative). In fact, one could argue there would be more sniping within these groups because of the opposite ideologies they have (if it's a type of coalition government). Or, even if it's just a generally "liberal" coalition there are still differences between them (let's say the liberal and labour parties) because they obviously different parties for a reason. I hope this makes sense, but essentially I'm saying there might be more issues/tribulations to argue about in a multiparty system.

I also agree with Anya that candidates in America have become more centrist, however they have because we want them to be. Many (but not all) don't really want a "radical" president to shake America up and would prefer a President who was less ideological and looked at things from different perspectives. However, I'm generalizing. My question: wouldn't finding common ground between multiple parties make the government more centrist? It seems logical to me that the more parties involved, the more diverse ideas there are, the harder it is to find common ground, and the more centrist/to the middle policies are adopted. I will illustrate with an example. If you are out with one friend and are deciding between seeing a horror movie and a romantic comedy, eventually one of you will give in and decide to agree with the other person. This is a "stronger" stance because it's not diluted by too much compromise. However, if you're out with five friends and everyone wants to see something different it's a real problem, you become indecisive and say (at least in my group of friends), "whichever you guys like the best." In the end you all might give up on the movie all together (aka nothing getting done in the world of politics) or spend a lot of time crafting a compromise: "If we see Avatar this week then next week we have to see A Single Man"...and so forth until everyone is pleased (like how centrist policies please everyone). So, my point: Not only is it harder to reach a conclusion in a multi-party system, it also will result in a down-the-middle policy because too many people and ideas are involved and everyone has to be included and say their piece.

My contention with the last point made: multiparty systems may give more "variety" however that won't encourage people to vote if they're apathetic. In fact, if one is apathetic, one would like to vote in the easiest way possible, which would be with the two party system, because there are only so many ways you can go. You're either Republican or Democrat and then use the "straight ticket" voting approach (vote all for one party). However, this doesn't foster an informed society and electorate (things are never perfect)

Friday, February 5, 2010

Arguments Against a Two-Party System

If I didn't write these blog posts/do homework in Women's Studies, I would lose at least 500 brain cells per class, no lie.

I'm not entirely sure what prompted me to write this, maybe the fact that I laughingly described myself as an "Independent Socialist Green" to Ashley while we were talking the other day.  But here we go.

With only two parties in power at any one time, there are far more opportunities for partisan sniping, backbiting, stonewalling, ignoring of opinions, and generally not getting along.  The coalition governments that come with multiparty systems force parties to find common ground in order to govern effectively.  In a two party system, the party in the majority — especially if they hold a supermajority — is often less concerned with the minority party than with pushing forward their own agenda while they have a chance.  While this makes me happy when the Democrats are in power, it is important to note that the increased friction between the two parties ultimately does enough harm to outweigh the progressive legislation passed.  The childish behavior and horse race mentality on the part of the politicians and the media (the "permanent campaign" that the former White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan talks about) usually impedes any real progress.

Our two major parties have to focus on broad platforms, taking definite but vague positions on every issue — very evident in the move to the center most presidential candidates go through after the primaries.  Unfortunately, this end up with almost no one liking the president!  For example, the liberal voters who swept Obama into office are now upset with him for not being liberal enough, while the Republicans are just ticked because someone from the other party is in the White House.  So, nearly the whole country is displeased with their president.  Multiparty systems allow for the clear voices of minor parties to be heard, and for the parties to actually participate in their government.  The minor parties areh able to concentrate their agendas on specific issues (for example, the Green party focuses on social justice and environmental responsibility), while the president, from one of the major parties, is often too wary of alienating people to act decisively on major controversial issues. This is especially true during times of split government (different parties hold the presidency and a majority in Congress).  In multiparty systems, interest parties, who would be minor parties in a 2 party system, have more freedom to push their legislation.

With only two parties, it can be hard for the uninterested public to tell the difference between the two.  Also, the winner take all system and the single representative districts discourage voters from the opposite party in "safe-seat" districts from voting.  A multiparty system would not solve the problems created by winner take all/single representative systems, but the other parties would offer more choices to appeal to a wider cross-section of voters.  The presence of multiple parties means that the people's voices are more accurately represented.  That feeling would give otherwise apathetic voters inspiration to go to the polls.

So there you have it! Ash might be writing a rebuttal, I'm not sure. Ash's rebuttal can be read here. But I hope this has given you food for thought :)

The Intrigue of Campaign Finance

A huge decision was made by the Supreme Court recently on the issue of Campaign Finance. The opinion basically states that banning campaign contributions for corporations is unconstitutional because that violates the first amendment (freedom of speech) and campaign contributions are a form of political speech. The case was Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, No. 08-205 and was decided on a 5-4 vote. Justice Kennedy wrote the majority opinion and was joined by Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Thomas, Scalia, and Alito. Justice Stevens wrote the dissenting opinion and was joined by Justices Breyer, Ginsburg, and Sotomayor.

The other side to this argument is that corporate speech is not the same as individual speech. I don’t know about the strength of this argument because corporations are just made up of many people (the investors, the Board, etc.) and because of that they, generally, have more money than the individual. Should they not be allowed to practice their “free speech” and endorse whom they want because they have more money? The Supreme Court says not. And you may be thinking to yourself; how can they spend the money on campaigns? I don’t know all the logistics, but they have to get the shareholders approval for this because it is their money. So, that is a check on the CEO or the board so that they can’t spend money on campaigns without approval. Even if there isn’t an official “vote” before the money is spent, the shareholders can elect new board members and that is a huge power and check on this type of spending.

This case was so huge because it overturned two precedent cases (meaning these issues have already been ruled upon by the Court), which are Austin v. Michigan Chamber of Commerce and McConnell v. Federal Election Commission. Austin was a decision that basically said corporate restrictions on political spending, more specifically on the support or opposition of a candidate, are okay. McConnell v. Federal Election Commission was the case that upheld the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act, generally known as the McCain-Feingold Act. McCain-Feingold “banned the broadcast, cable or satellite transmission of ‘electioneering communications’ paid for by corporations or labor unions from their general funds in the 30 days before a presidential primary and in the 60 days before the general elections.” When the Court overturns precedents it’s admitting that they were “wrong” on the previous issues. Because of “stare decisis”, which is, “the legal principle by which judges are obliged to obey the precedents established by prior decisions” (more:, the Court really only does this rarely (like in the case of Brown v. The Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas which overturned Plessy v. Ferguson).

The ramifications of this decision are wide-ranging. First of all, we must realize that there are things that may not seem “right” that are protected by the law and that is the problem I have with this case. I do believe there shouldn’t be censorship on free speech and concur with Justice Kennedy’s statement that “When government seeks to use its full power, including the criminal law, to command where a person may get his or her information or what distrusted source he or she may not hear, it uses censorship to control thought. This is unlawful. The First Amendment confirms the freedom to think for ourselves.” But I also agree with something Sandra Day O’Connor said: “Of course I’m worried about it” — ‘it’ being the potential of so much more political spending by corporations — “because so much money has been going into judicial campaign races in recent years. It has the effect of turning judges into these politically elected figures. And [what] the framers of our constitution tried to achieve…was an independent federal judiciary.” Now, she is only talking about the effect on the judiciary, but if that branch was somehow “compromised” by political spending which therefore turns judges into politicians with agendas, then that is most definitely unconstitutional because the judiciary established in the Constitution is supposed to be “independent” from politics and the bullying of politicians. Politicians seem to have views on this issue also. For example, Obama took a swipe at the Court in his State of the Union address when he said, “last week the Supreme Court reversed a century of law that I believe will open the floodgates for special interests — including foreign corporations — to spend without limit in our elections. I don't think American elections should be bankrolled by America's most powerful interests, or worse, by foreign entities.” This decision also affects elections of politicians generally; money is power. And because it seems like the person who puts the most money up wins the nomination for their party…well, that is also interfering with democracy. We, the people, are supposed to decide who our candidates are, not some elitist CEO or corporation with their own agendas. So how do we bridge the gap between free political speech and the hindering of our democratic processes? It looks like we haven’t figured that out yet.

Further reading:

  2. Interview with Sandra Day O'Connor
  4. Obama's State of the Union speech