It is not at all uncommon for a country to be politically dominated by two parties and it is the same in the US. In the UK there are Labour and the tories, in Australia are Labor and the Liberals, and in the US there are the Democrats and Republicans. Two parties occupying both sides of the political centre of the country and, through a delicate shifting of the balance of power to and fro, a healthy balance of business interests and the needs of the people is maintained. It would be nice, if it were anywhere close to being true.
In reality, the two major parties in the US are far right and extreme right. Both serve the same constituency: large corporations and the wealthiest in the country, and neither have any interest in the vast majority of the population beyond figuring out how to fleece more wealth from them. Effectively, they function as a single far-right party, with one element primarily serving big money interests and occasionally addressing the governance of the country, and the other so far to the right wing fringe that they are no longer capable of governance.
A history of two parties
A two party system has dominated US politics for all of its post-independence history. The Democratic-Republican duality has dominated from the 1850s, but prior to that there were the Federalists vs the Democratic-Republicans and the Democrats vs the National Republicans and then the Whigs.
Originally, the Federalists were the pro-establishment pro banking and business party with the Democratic-Republicans as the “party of the people”. When the Democratic Party was established under Jackson it was styled as the party of the people, while the National Republicans and the Whigs were the parties of the banks and business. When the Republicans replaced the Whigs in the 1850s they continued in the pro-business role that was held by their predecessors.
The Southern Democrats defended slavery in the 19th century and led the movement to secede from the Union that instigated the American Civil War. In simple terms we can therefore claim that the Democrats were the villains of the Civil War and the Republicans were the heroes. The South maintained a pro-segregation stance through the late-20th century, but by then the Democrats had become an advocate for the civil rights. In the late 1960s the Republicans claimed the pro-segregationist south with a covert campaign called the “Southern Strategy”. Today, Republicans dominate the political landscape of the south.
In summary, for most of its history the Democratic Party has represented white supremacy and segregation, and for the last 20 years it has represented the interests of the wealthy upper classes. So, in reality, the Democrats can only really claim to have represented the American people for about 30 years out of their 190-year history; not exactly a historical record to be proud of.
The single party merger
The merger of the two parties began in earnest when the Democrats realised that they could take advantage of the rules put in place in the late 1970s allowing corporations to fund political campaigns. The Bill Clinton presidency led a large lurch to the right, leaving the Republicans to move even further right. The result is a Democratic Party that now serves the interests of Wall Street, the Corporations and the rich, and a Republican Party that does the same, but maintains extremist positions on social issues.
Nobody, of course, represents the interests of the American people.
To illustrate the point, in a recent interview Barack Obama, that supposed leftwing socialist, and Democratic president, proudly claimed that his policies were “moderately Republican”.
How the stranglehold is maintained
Let’s say you wanted to run for office in the US but did not want to do so as a member of one of the major parties. Maybe you would like to actually help your community and not be beholden to the multinationals and the elite classes. How would you go about it?
Ballot access: The first step is getting your name on the ticket. This is called ballot access. Each state has its rules regarding what is required for ballot access and some are unreasonably inhibitive to say the least. Some examples are Georgia, which requires a petition of 5% of the number of registered voters in the state; Oklahoma, which requires a petition signed by 5% of the last vote cast; Alabama, which requires a petition signed by at least 3% of the last gubernatorial vote; and Pennsylvania, which requires a membership of at least 15% of the statewide registration and a penalty of over $100,000 if a petition is submitted without enough signatures. It is worth noting that if the 15% rule that applied to Pennsylvania also applied to Rhode Island, DC or Massachusetts then the Republicans would not be allowed to register.
Getting your name out there: So let’s say that you were successful in meeting the demands of your state and managed to get your name on the ballot. How do you spread your message to the public? The mainstream media will not be interested as they do not want to interrupt the money pouring in from the major parties or their cosy relationship with the consultants from those parties. Public radio is out for the same reasons that the mainstream media is (it is not without irony that NPR has now been dubbed National Petroleum Radio). You could try community radio, but your audience is extremely limited. You could try an online campaign, but how does one get their voices heard in the online world without attaching themselves to known personalities or brands? This leaves door-knocking, which requires labour and resources. You cannot rely on volunteers because nobody has heard of you, and you cannot raise funds from the public for the same reason.
Compare that with the establishment candidate (Democrat or Republican). They automatically have ballot access and are covered extensively by the mainstream media. You can rely on the right wing echo chamber (championed by outlets such as Fox News) to provide favourable coverage for the Republican, and you can rely on the establishment echo chamber (championed by outlets such as MSNBC and TYT) to be favourable to the Democrats. If an independent candidate is mentioned at all, it will always be in a negative context and only whenever they are perceived to be a threat.
Consider, for example, the hatchet job the corporate media did on Bernie Sanders and he wasn’t even running as an independent candidate for president. He did, however, represent the extremely popular anti-establishment majority of the US population. Their attacks on Sanders have not diminished even today.
Another means by which third party candidates are kept from having their message heard are the appropriation of presidential debates by the major parties.
Presidential debates are nothing more than a dog-and-pony show. Nothing of substance is ever discussed, the rules for legibility for entry into the debate change so as to keep all third party candidates away, and the collusion by the media is nothing short of embarrassing.
The debate train was hijacked by the political parties in the late 1980s. Debates were originally given to the League of Women Voters because the major powers wanted to bypass the fairness doctrine in the media, and then, when the sufficient cover had been provided, they illegally appropriated it for their own usage in 1987.
The next time you watch a presidential debate, keep a clock on how much time is spent on climate change (a total of 16 minutes in the last four presidential elections, including no time at all in 2012), income inequality, corruption and peace. Then keep track how much time is spent on banging the war drum, fighting “crime” and ridiculous softball questions. Afterwards, seriously ask whether any of the concerns of the American have been addressed at all.
Lastly, ask why Jill Stein, the Green Party nominee for president, was handcuffed to a chair for hours when she attempted to participate in a presidential debate.
It’s a parlour trick
In most industrialised countries the balance between the left-of-centre and right-of-centre parties is held so delicately that the smaller third parties often hold the balance of power by holding the deciding vote on particular issues. This removes a small amount of power from the established political order because they have the ability to prevent legislation that is favoured by one party or the other and may not serve in the interests of the people. In the US this is not the case. While there are occasional Independent senators and representatives and some votes are often divided down party lines, there will always be enough of each establishment party to ensure that unpopular and damaging legislation is forced through. The most recent example are the 16 Democratic Senators who joined the Republicans to water down the Dodd-Frank bill, thereby ensuring that the next great financial collapse is just around the corner.
To take another example, consider the recent passage of the budget. The Democrats shut the government down because of draconian measures being put in place by the Republicans, particularly regarding the Dreamers (DACA). They lasted just three days before caving in, and 73 Democratic members of the house and 36 Democratic senators crossed over to join the Republicans in a budget that did not include DACA. When former DNC chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz was asked by CNN for one thing that Democrats actually gained from shutting the government down her response was mindblowing: “The one thing he did get was the potential for momentum”. She actually said that! Check it out here.
They can afford a $1.5 trillion tax cut for the rich and corporations and a $150 billion increase for the military, but they apparently cannot afford public healthcare, education, infrastructure, housing, clean drinking water, or environmental protection.
So what happened? To put it simply the markets got nervous about the government shut down and the Democrats were instructed by their donors to pass the budget.
This is how the parlour trick is performed. Democrats perform a dance to trick the public into thinking that they actually represent them, but time and time again they always seem to find a way to exclusively give in to the demands of the wealthiest. Wall Street pretends to shake its fist at Obama, calling him an evil socialist bent on their ultimate destruction, and all the while enjoying the largest profits in history as the rest of the US population stagnates having never recovered from the financial collapse of 2008.
When the Democrats run for election they don’t do so on policy grounds or on any specific plan to change anything. They do so with empty platitudes, like “stronger together” and “unity”. Even when directly asked what the Democrats actually stand for, their leaders cannot give a straight answer (see also here and here). The goal is to trick voters into voting for them without an obligation to provide anything in return. The most recent response to the State of the Union is an excellent example. Not a single policy was mentioned, not a single dedication was made, not a single line in the sand drawn. Platitudes designed to create the thinly-veiled illusion that they actually care.
One wonders whether the so-called lefties in the US will fall for it. Until they do, the single party will continue its stranglehold on the country.