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Why It’s Time to Reject the Duopoly


Most Americans want a fair economy, not one that stacks the deck for people who already enjoy a stacked deck. But both major parties accept the inevitability of corporate-centered capitalism, a system which cannot be reformed and will destroy the planet.

Over 70 percent of the public supported a publicly-run health care option, but both major parties support privatized health care.

Public opinion against the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan has been consistent and intense. But both parties support militarism, the military industrial complex, and war as a solution to international disputes.

Most Americans think the war on drugs has failed; a large majority supports medical marijuana. Both major parties support, enthusiastically, the failed war on drugs, including federal persecution of medical marijuana users.

Big private banks have ruined our economy for generations to come. But both major parties support the private banking industry.

Both major parties support the so-called war on terror, indefinite detention, extrajudicial assassination, the domestic death penalty, the privatization of prisons, the pursuit of so-called “free trade” zones and a general neoliberal economic philosophy that is literally murdering people on the periphery of the planet. Both support the Israeli right wing’s policy of apartheid; both are comfortable propping up dictators when it suits them (the coup in Honduras happened with the full knowledge and approval of Obama-Clinton and has resulted in Pinochet-style murders of leftists in that country).

Where the Democratic Party differs, those differences are as problematic as the similarities: on the environment, weak regulations and cynical cap-and-trade policies that will not work quickly enough to stave off impending ecological disaster; on economic policy, regulations designed by the financial elites themselves; on welfare and unemployment relief, the Democrats at most will throw a few more scraps of meat to us lowly dogs, building a culture of dependency that will be cut with the full approval of Democratic leadership when politically expedient to do so.

That leaves very little: human rights issues like LGBT rights (which parties like the Greens, Libertarians and Socialists have been supporting for years and which, while essential, are a safer gesture for Democratic politicians than pursuing economic justice or environmental sustainability); and reproductive rights, which are ultimately won through mass struggle rather than the gestures of the Court, which really follows rather than leads on social issues, and would fold under a mass movement for increased reproductive rights–or any kind of mass movement really, as history has consistently demonstrated.

What lesser-evilism HAS accomplished, however, is decades of incremental rightward drift for the Democratic Party, which is not the party of the New Deal anymore, or even the party of the Johnson administration.  The Democrats have no incentive to pursue sustainable, progressive, democratic-socialist, or pro-working class policies anymore. All they need to do is look ever-so-slightly better than the Republicans. It’s that incremental rightward drift, designed to build corporate-funded war chests rather than as a response to some perceived conservatism on the part of the American people, that will facilitate a future of economic and ecological disasters.

The duopoly props up an unsustainable system. If you want to save democratic politics, a system with some optimal combination of elected leaders, deliberative policy making, and participatory politics, we need more parties, and we need to decrease the ability of the wealthy and corporate entities to buy off large portions of our electoral and policy choices. More parties means more conduits for diverse political, economic and cultural viewpoints–in a system where dominant political groups have an incentive to negotiate with smaller groups to consider a wider range of solutions. More parties means more space to legitimize, disseminate, and legislate alternative modes of existence. Without those alternatives, politics will collapse on its own homogeneity and the mountains of disaffected people the duopoly currently spits out. Because the system the duopoly props up is unsustainable, you’re supporting unsustainability whether you vote Democratic or Republican. Whatever their policy differences, Democrats and Republicans both offer long-term death by corporation.

If you don’t want to save democratic politics, or believe disengagement is the way to save it, or that violence is the way to save it, I’d love to hear your arguments out. I’m simply inclined not to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Call me a humanist and universalist: I believe institutions can strive for justice.

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About Matt J. Stannard

Policy Director for Commonomics USA, longtime writer, speaker, and legal & policy consultant on economic justice and public deliberation.