Opinion » Ted Rall

The Evil of Two Lessers

Two-party system is not democracy

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NEW YORK--We get the government we deserve. Don't get mad at the politicians, it's your/our fault. You/we elected them.

Really, we should get rid of this phony two-party democracy. And we will, but in the meantime, we ought to ignore it.

The two-party system made simple: Two worthless scoundrels are on the ballot. If you vote for one of them, a worthless scoundrel will win. If you don't vote, a worthless scoundrel will win. It's a pretty unappealing sales pitch. How did it last 200 years?

The two-party system, a political mutation unanticipated by the Constitution and dreaded by the Founding Fathers, mainly relies on the "lesser of two evils" argument.

Next year, for example, many liberals will hold their noses and vote for President Barack Obama even though he has not delivered for them. They will do this to avoid winding up with someone "even worse": Michele Bachmann, Mitt Romney, etc.

Conservatives will do the same thing. They will vote for whomever--even though they know full well they won't come through with smaller government or a balanced budget--because Obama is "even worse."

In 2008, one out of three Republican voters told pollsters they were voting against Obama, not for John McCain. One in five Democrats voted against McCain, not for Obama.

A quarter of all votes cast in 2008 were "negative votes," and 38 percent of voters in the 2010 midterm elections crossed party lines from D to R "to send a message."

To "get the government they deserve," as master curmudgeon H.L. Mencken asserted, we would have to have a wide choice of options on the ballot.

Two parties isn't even a facsimile of democracy. Would you shop at a store with two books? Two kinds of cereal?

What about third parties? The Dems and Reps conspire to block the Greens, Libertarians, etc. with insurmountable obstacles. Minor parties can't get campaign financing, ballot access, media coverage or seats at presidential debates, so they rarely win.

Politics is not what happens on Election Day. Real politics is the process of arguing about how we want to live. In America, that happens over dinner with our families, over drinks with our friends, over the water cooler at work (if you still have a job).

What happens on Election Day is a circus, a farcical distraction meant to siphon away the vitality of real politics.

Real politics is dangerous. Real politics, as we saw in Cairo's Tahrir Square, can actually change things.

The two-party system is a twisted con based on fear. If you don't vote for Party A then Party B, which is slightly more evil, will win. If your Party A wins, all you get is the dubious, incremental pseudo-victory of somewhat less suckiness. But Party A gets something infinitely more valuable: political legitimacy and the right to claim a mandate for policies that you mostly dislike.

"Hey, you elected them."

"You got the government you deserve."

Not at all. It's a lopsided bargain.

You get little to nothing. They use your vote to justify their policies: no jobs, one war after another, wasting your tax dollars, corruption, more pollution.