It's Party Time


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Party Politics

Andrew talks with Opinion Page Editor Matthew Putzulu about the two-party system.

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The year was 2008, and the candidate was Barack Obama. I remember it very clearly because it was the first time I got to vote.

Walking out of Cafe 3, I heard someone shout, "California just went for Obama - he's going to be president." I turned and hugged my friend. Most of the room applauded the news, and for the time being, everyone seemed pretty happy.

Later that night, I walked out of my dorm to find hundreds of people out in the street, filling the intersection of Telegraph and Durant. Soon, we started marching around Berkeley, no longer shouting, "Yes we can," but instead, "Yes we did." That election belonged to us.

It was a party.

The reaction to Barack Obama's victory was a sharp contrast to the reaction over George Bush's first election. Remember the court battles, the allegations of fraud and the unfair blame assigned to Ralph Nader?

A lot of prominent Democrats point to Ralph Nader's results in Florida as the reason we didn't have a President Gore. A lot of prominent Democrats are idiots.

Forget Al Gore's dismal campaign - the fact is our general elections are so clearly rigged against third parties that it is impossible to argue that Ralph Nader cost the Democrats the election.

And that's what we have to fix: To turn our country around, we have to reform the way we hold general elections.

America is enormous, and with so many different opinions and political philosophies, it is absurd to think that holding an election with only two parties really results in an accurate picture of where the populace stands. All our elections do is force people to choose between two groups that don't actually stand for much at all.

Both of the major parties would have you think that they are the party of "you." But they hardly ever have you in their minds when making policy. The Republican Party would have us hand over our livelihoods to the Chamber of Commerce so that the Chamber can feed Wall Street, while the Democratic Party would have us answer to a Democratic administration that would ultimately serve those same corporations. Basically, when you go to the voting booth you have a choice between two corporate parties, both wanting to feed the cash cow on Wall Street in order to maintain the status quo.

The worst part is that after eight years of President Bush, the notion of a third party became unspeakable; "anyone but Bush" meant voting Democrat. We were told the stakes were too high to throw our ballots away after a third party. Thus, the jubilation in Berkeley when we got anyone but Bush. A new player was about to feed the beast, and for that we were grateful.

So what can be done?

Our best chance of reforming electoral politics is to open up the national debates. But that's really tough considering the presidential debates are run by the two major parties under the guise of a nonpartisan corporation. You see, former chairmen of the Republican and Democratic parties run the Commission on Presidential Debates, the entity that organizes the presidential debates.

I know what you're thinking, and yes, it is fucked.

These debates are extraordinarily exclusive. Of course, in a country like our own, any kind of national debate must have some sort of exclusionary mechanism due to the sheer size, but the restrictions imposed by the CPD are over the top. In 2000, the CPD declared that in order to participate in one of the debates, a candidate must poll at 15 percent nationally. This is extraordinarily biased towards the two major parties, which are the beneficiaries of corporate cash and can afford to reach expensive marketplaces like California and New York.

The thing is that live debates will undoubtedly help third-party candidates should they be allowed to participate, but because they are excluded and are often times without major donors, they lack the proper national platform to launch a successful campaign.

In 1992, before the CPD imposed the polling threshold, Ross Perot was invited to participate in the televised debates. Before the debates took place, he was polling at just 7 percent, but on election day he was up to 19. At certain points during the campaign, he was actually leading in the polls, but a gaffe-filled speech and his decision to quit the race only to re-enter later cost him dearly.

The point stands: If the debates were opened up, then third parties would clearly do better in a general election. But because that threatens the two-headed beast that is our political system, it's tough to enact this sort of change.

If we have serious people standing beside the corporate parties, perhaps we will have a more accountable democracy.

But if we continue to let the two major parties dictate the means of the election, then we will be left with no choice but the corporate one.

One of Ralph Nader's favorite lines is, "The lesser of two evils is still evil." Open up the debates - I don't think I can stomach much more of this evil nonsense.


See no evil, hear no evil and e-mail no evil to Andrew at [email protected]

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