Since 1856, two political parties have been dominant, the Democratic Party and the Republican Party. As they have butted heads, no other party has been elected to the office of president. In fact, the only time a third party received more votes than the Republican or Democratic parties was in the election of 1912. Why has there only been two parties that have dominated our government for nearly a century and a half? Because the two-party system works.
The two-party system makes voting for Americans a lot simpler. If the voter is conservative, and he doesn’t know much about certain candidates, he could just vote for the Republican candidate. It combines groups of people with similar platforms into two solid platforms. The Republicans are conservative and the Democrats are liberal. The voter can choose either side.
Sometimes, the voter can choose neither side. This happens when a party becomes split and a third party forms. When this happens, the voters split along with the parties. It can cost an election, such as the 1912 split of the Republican party when Theodore Roosevelt formed the Progressive party. In this year’s election, the Democratic nominee Al Gore is worried that the Green party candidate, Ralph Nader, will “steal” votes from him in the presidential election. Other third parties, such as the Green party in Alaska and the Independence party in Minnesota, have an impact on the state and local levels, but not on the national level.
Of course, there are alternatives to the two-party system. One of the most successful alternatives is called proportional representation. Under this system, the number of representatives in the government is determined by the strength of the popular vote. For example, if ten percent of voters vote for a third party, that party will hold ten percent of the representatives. This worked quite well in West Germany before its unification with East Germany.
The two-party system will live on in our country for a long time for three reasons: historical roots, party identification, and the electoral system. The framing of the Constitution divided the country into two groups, the Federalists and the Anti-Federalists. These two groups set the framework for the political parties that followed. Most Americans have grown up with a sense of party identification. Loyalty to parties has been passed down from generation to generation. With the electoral ballot, there is little room for third-parties to move in. These will ensure that the Democratic and Republican parties will remain dominant for years to come.
The Democratic Party was founded as the Democratic-Republican in 1792 by Thomas Jefferson to fight for the insertion of the Bill of Rights into the Constitution. They have held presidencies through the “Era of Good Feelings,” and the First World War. Their presidents have pulled the nation out of the Great Depression and put the first man on the moon. This party passed the first labor and child welfare laws. A Democrat integrated the military. The same Democrat also oversaw the reconstruction of Europe after World War II by establishing the Marshall Plan and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Democrats created the Peace Corps. They also passed the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act. They are proud of their history.
The Republican party has a fine history as well. They were founded as the Free-Soil party in 1854. A Republican president preserved the Union and abolished slavery in the process. The first black Congressmen were Republican, along with the first Congresswomen. They proposed and passed the 15th Amendment to the Constitution, which gave all males the right to vote. Republicans were the first major party to favor women’s suffrage. A Republican established the Interstate Highway System and kicked off the space exploration program. A Republican ended the American involvement in Vietnam. They are also very pleased with their record.
These two parties have opposing views. The Democrats are the liberal party. They generally accept an active role for the government. Democrats are willing to use federal funds to solve social problems. They generally support the interests of minorities, labor, and the poor. They favor government regulation of the economy. President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal shaped the character of the modern Democratic party. Its program for social justice and welfare was the backbone for Truman’s Fair Deal, Kennedy’s New Frontier, Johnson’s Great Society, and Clinton’s New Covenant. They think that the government should be active.
The Republicans are quite the opposite. They are the conservative party. Republicans generally oppose “big government” and favor the reduction of federal spending, except for national defense. They support the interests of business and stress the importance of a market economy without government regulation. Republicans place their faith in middle-class and small-town citizens, as well as the rich. Because of their opposing views with Democrats, there have been many classic political battles for the presidency.
This year’s battle is one of the closest in history. As of the 27th of October, eleven days before the election, the Republican candidate, George W. Bush, is leading the Democratic candidate, Al Gore, by only two points. There are six major issues that this year’s presidential candidates are debating over: the economy, foreign policy, abortion, education, the environment, and health care. Both sides are trying to broaden their platforms through these issues to get votes from a wider variety of people.
The first issue is the economy. The projected federal budget over the next ten years has a 4.6 trillion dollar surplus. What will each candidate do with the money? George W. Bush has proposed a 1.3 trillion dollar tax cut, but critics say that nearly sixty percent of the cut goes to the rich families. Al Gore’s plan is a 500 billion dollar cut targeted to middle-class families. His critics say that his spending plans for health care, education and other programs would wipe out nearly half of the surplus. Both Bush and Gore also will shore up the Social Security program. Both will give about 2.2 trillion dollars towards the program. The difference is that Bush wants to allow people to invest in the stock market, while Gore would keep the money invested in government bonds.
George W. Bush will also spend quite a bit of the surplus on national defense. He wants to spend over 100 billion dollars on a missile defense system. Gore would use President Clinton’s 60 billion dollar plan. Both candidates say that they would modernize the military. Bush says that President Clinton allowed the military to become weak, but Gore counters with the fact that the U.S. still has the strongest military in the world. Bush would add 20 billion dollars to generate new weapons, but Gore argues that the current value is enough.
Just as they disagree in their views on the military, they disagree in their views on abortion. With only a slight majority of Supreme Court Justices supporting continued abortion rights, the spotlight is on the presidential race. The next president will probably have the chance to fill several openings on the Court when Justices retire, so they can reshape the votes as well. Bush supports a constitutional amendment to ban abortions, but he won’t make abortion his basis for selecting Justices. Gore, however, will only appoint Justices who support abortion rights.
As you can expect, Bush and Gore have opposing views on education. The latest topics they have been debating on are vouchers and school prayer. Private school vouchers, money from the government to help pay tuition at private schools, are wanted by parents who don’t want their kids enrolled in public schools. Bush favors granting vouchers to parents whose kids are in failing schools, but Gore opposes vouchers. Instead, Gore would close down failing schools and reopen them under new leadership. Bush also wants to allow organized school prayer in public schools and supports posting the Ten Commandments in classrooms. Gore opposes both, but would allow a moment of silence in class for “voluntary prayer.”
The environment is also a very important new topic. Scientists have discovered that the planet is warming because of the greenhouse effect. In 1997, the Koyoto Agreement was written to force countries to reduce industrial emissions, but it wasn’t ratified in the Senate. Gore supports the treaty, but Bush opposes it, saying it would be too costly and hurt businesses.
George W. Bush also says that Al Gore’s plan for Medicare will be costly and lead to big government and waste. Medicare is a federal program that pays for 39 million older citizens, but it doesn’t cover prescription drugs. Both Bush and Gore have plans to cover these drug costs. Under Gore’s plan, Medicare would cover drug costs for low-income seniors, while medium and upper-income seniors would pay the first $5000 of their costs only. Bush’s plan would provide seniors with federal help to buy drug coverage from insurance companies. Gore says that Bush’s plan will only cover about half of all Medicare recipients.
After reviewing their views on these issues, I would probably vote for Al Gore. We agree on a lot of issues, such as the missile defense system, education, and his tax cut. I also think that things are going well now, so why change it. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. With these two candidates, both with great plans, this year’s election has the potential to be the closest in history.
These two candidates’ platforms cover a wide array of issues. They also have more money than the third-party campaigns. Because of these reasons, one of these two candidates will be elected president. Although third parties may receive some votes and maybe become “spoilers,” no third party will come close to winning. I think that the way our government is set up, it will remain this way for years to come. It will remain this way because a two-party system is simpler, and in a nutshell, it works.
Andrew, Joe. “History of the Democratic Party.” On-Line. Internet. 26 Oct. 2000. Available WWW: http://www.democrats.org/hq/history/
“GOP History.” On-Line. Internet. 26 Oct. 2000. Available WWW: http://www.slu.edu/organizations/slugop/promo/gop-history.html
Kelly, Timothy. “The Year of the Spoiler.” Upfront 16 Oct. 2000: 28-29.
Vilbig, Peter. “The Scorecard.” Upfront 16 Oct. 2000: 15-17.