The Two-Party System Is Making America Ungovernable

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Two-party system

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The Republican and Democratic parties are entrenched in calcified partisanship, where politics is played as a zero-sum game. The rise of the Tea Party, liberal backlash, and the exodus of moderate voices from Congress all point toward the public’s growing discontent. Has our two-party system failed us? Is this a call to change our two-party system of governance?

  • For the motion

    For

    David Brooks

    Op-Ed columnist for The New York Times

  • For the motion

    For

    Arianna Huffington

    Co-Founder and Editor-in-Chief of The Huffington Post

  • Against the Motion

    Against

    P.J. O'Rourke

    H.L. Mencken Research Fellow at the Cato Institute

  • Against the motion

    Against

    Zev Chafets

    Former columnist, New York City News

  • Moderator Image

    Moderator

    John Donvan

    Author and correspondent for ABC News.

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Brooks

For The Motion

David Brooks

Op-Ed columnist for The New York Times

Became an Op-Ed columnist for The New York Times in September, 2003. He has been a sr. editor at The Weekly Standard, a contributing editor at Newsweek and the Atlantic Monthly, and he is currently a commentator on “The Newshour with Jim Lehrer.” He is the author of “Bobos In Paradise: The New Upper Class and How They Got There” and “On Paradise Drive: How We Live Now (And Always Have) in the Future Tense,” both published by Simon & Schuster.

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Huffington

For The Motion

Arianna Huffington

Co-Founder and Editor-in-Chief of The Huffington Post

Is the co-founder and editor-in-chief of The Huffington Post, a nationally syndicated columnist, and author of thirteen books. She is also co-host of Left, Right & Center, public radio’s popular political roundtable program. In May 2005, she launched The Huffington Post, a news and blog site that has quickly become one of the most widely-read, linked to, and frequently-cited media brands on the Internet. In 2006, she was named to the Time 100, Time Magazine's list of the world’s 100 most influential people.

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Chafets

Against The Motion

Zev Chafets

Former columnist, New York City News

Is a frequent contributor to the New York Times Magazine and a former columnist for the New York Daily News. He was the founding editor of the Jerusalem Report and is the author of twelve books, including Rush Limbaugh: An Army of One. Chafets spent 30 years living in Israel with their multi-party system, during which he was an active participant in the Egyptian-Israeli peace process and a delegate to the first Israeli-Egyptian peace negotiations.

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O'Rourke

Against The Motion

P.J. O'Rourke

H.L. Mencken Research Fellow at the Cato Institute

Is America’s premier political satirist, the H.L. Mencken Research Fellow at the Cato Institute, and the bestselling author of 13 books, including Don’t Vote: It Just Encourages the Bastards, Parliament of Whores, and Give War a Chance. Both Time and the Wall Street Journal have labeled O’Rourke “the funniest writer in America.” He has written for such diverse publications as Car & Driver, the Weekly Standard, the Atlantic Monthly, and Rolling Stone, where he was foreign affairs desk chief for 15 years. In the 70s he was editor-in-chief of the National Lampoon.

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Declared Winner: Against The Motion

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    8 comments

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    • Comment Link Jenni Wednesday, 12 March 2014 16:44 posted by Jenni

      I disagree with the declaration that the winner is the side that is "against the motion".

      They may have changed the opinion of more undecided people than the side "for the motion", but ultimately the result is that those "for the motion" out-number those that "oppose the motion" by 10%.

      The 10% that are undecided cannot be added to the group that is "for the motion" nor the group that is "opposed to the motion". It just doesn't add up that way.

      Also, online polling has 75% for the motion and 25% against it. Why was this was not included in the final results for the declaration of the winner?

      I believe that the results for this debate weren't tabulated fairly.

    • Comment Link Joseph Thursday, 24 October 2013 20:23 posted by Joseph

      I agree with the motion that the two-party system is making the US ungovernable. However, the real culprit here is not the two parties per se, but rather the voting system itself. We elect our representatives using a winner-takes-all method which inevitably leads to a binary outcome. Due to the spoiler effect, third party candidates are almost never viable. Gerrymandering only compounds the polarization problem. In order to create a more balanced political landscape, where elections are actually competitive and minority parties are viable, we need to completely change our voting system. A mixed-member proportional (MMP) system would be ideal, but such an overhaul would require a constitutional amendment.

      Here is a great video which clearly explains the MMP system: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QT0I-sdoSXU

    • Comment Link Gene Wednesday, 23 October 2013 18:32 posted by Gene

      The problem is not with the 2 party system per se. The problem is that gerrymandering has created congressional seats that are too homogenous. This allows congressmen to blindly pander to their constituents and not worry about compromise .

    • Comment Link Tom Pandolfo Wednesday, 23 October 2013 17:04 posted by Tom Pandolfo

      As much as I harbor great disappointment with the current state of the two party system, I suggest there are has other root causes at work: The factionalism that is part of the Tea Party; the fact we no longer seem to have citizens in politics whose purposes are more noble than provincial. The Founders had a great number of aristocrats whose political dispositions were much more noble than the current crop of politicians; And close to the top of the list, the fact our "fourth estate" serves very little purpose save for profit maximization. We live in an age of an avalanche of information but have little means with which to discern what information is factual and what information is bogus. We therefore choose that information source which confirms our biases instead of challenges it. The Two Party system is a symptom, but not the cause(s).

    • Comment Link Julie Saturday, 19 October 2013 19:31 posted by Julie

      electoral politics have gone so way off the cliff it's really hard to know if a vibrant 3rd party would steer the country back to sense. If there were moderate Republicans in Minnesota and Illinois and New York and California and Texas who weren't taken over by a tiny minority of wingnuts I might be inclined to agree with PJ that it's just us voters who make the mistakes of electing the Sarah Palins and the Michele Bachmanns and the Louis Gohmerts. The percentage of voters who bring these people into office is eensy-beensy. That the rules allow them to be voted into office is frightening. Can the clear thinking populace elect clear thinking representatives who believe in governance and set clear thinking rules about electing people? I'm just not sure. What we need is elected officials who are driven by the greater good to govern and to not obstruct, regardless of party affiliation. So in this current era, no one is ensured that we have that need to govern by a tiny minority.

    • Comment Link Timothy Monday, 14 October 2013 04:20 posted by Timothy

      The only people I hear who think the two party system works at all anymore and hasn't been behind the continual downward slide of US politics since the 1940s are members of those parties. Jefferson and Paine were right, a two-party stalemate did indeed paralyze the nation, legitimized corruption, and undermined the trust and worth of its government.

      At this point, no one I know personally, conservative, liberal or independent, including four close friends with PoliSci degrees, votes. No one. It's easy to say "citizens need to vote better" but who are we supposed to vote for? As soon as you learn how the election process now works, run by the two parties it's easy to see why any vote winds up supporting the dysfunctional status quo. Without real options, a non-vote is their vote of no confidence in the system.

      Personally, I've postponed launching my machined products business while considering foreign citizenship options. I've thoroughly had it with this absurd country. All the money in the world, and no vision. Ridiculous.

    • Comment Link John S. Monday, 30 September 2013 15:10 posted by John S.

      I don't "blame" the two-party system. Our system has had more than two parties since the beginning. While it is true that the two parties have held the majority of power over time, it is also conceivable that a third-party could gain in popularity enough to be a major player. This would be in a similar fashion as the Southern Democrats did in the 60s and 70s. And there are other legitimate groups or parties across the spectrum working within the system that we now have.

      One doesn't necessarily have to "go along" in order to achieve fiscal and/or social goals. Indeed, it is often the "outsider" who APPEARS to be independent who gains significant publicity. However, this is keeping in mind that this "outsider" has often worked within the system and according to statutory rules and/or standards in order to make significant gains.

      In the end, the two-party system has worked before, works now, and will continue to work in the future. There will always be third-party groups within our system. They do not have to lose either their identity or appeal in order to make significant contributions to society. And, isn't making significant contributions to society as a whole what it's all about?

    • Comment Link Steve Tuesday, 30 July 2013 11:37 posted by Steve

      The two-party system failed us long before the more recent degeneration into a permanent state of partisan gridlock. The "moderate" perspective that one must go along in order to get along had fiscally destructive components as well.

      I have never been affiliated with a political party, and do not see traditional minor third parties having much of an impact without accommodating independents. Perhaps, the answer is for independents to get serious about organizing.

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