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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
Clear Night Clear

End the two-party stranglehold

David Burnett

The Republican and Democratic stranglehold on political power is no longer serving the needs or interests of most Americans. It is time to end the “duopoly.” Here is why:

The duopoly is outmoded: The two-party system arose from a dispute over whether the British monarch should be allowed to be Catholic rather than Anglican. The progressive party of the day (Whigs) argued that the monarch should be Anglican like the majority of Parliament members, while the conservatives (Tories) maintained that the monarch ruled by divine right, and if God wanted him/her to be Catholic, the Parliament should have no say in the matter. Looking back, it seems quaint that, at the dawn of the Industrial Revolution, politicians were arguing over James II’s religious views. Indeed, the founders of the United States refused to make the duopoly a matter of constitutional right because so many of them hoped we would outgrow it. Yet today, at the dawn of the Artificial Intelligence Revolution, Republicans and Democrats are arguing over who should use which bathroom.

The duopoly is ineffective: According to the Congressional Budget Office, nearly 70 percent of the tax revenues the federal government takes from you will be spent on entitlement programs, most of which were intended to reduce poverty and/or mitigate its negative effects. Yet since the early 1970s, when many of these programs were begun, the gap between the rich and the poor in the United States has steadily worsened. Another 20 percent of tax revenues will be spent on defense. This spending has given us the best-equipped, best-trained, most-highly motivated and dedicated military force in history, yet we have not won a war since 1945. (The writer cheerfully concedes that the first Gulf War looked like a victory at the time, and that he could yet be proved wrong about the Kosovo campaign.) Most of the remainder will be spent paying the principal and interest on monies borrowed in previous years to put band-aids on our crumbling infrastructure; to pay educators to administer federal programs instead of teaching; and to do other necessary or helpful things that we cannot or will not do for ourselves. Many of the latter activities are surprisingly well-managed, despite inadequate political oversight, but they are clearly not a priority of the duopoly as judged by their share of tax revenues.

The duopoly is anti-competitive: Nearly two-thirds of U.S. congressional districts are considered “safe” for duopoly candidates, having been manipulated, based on past voting patterns, to ensure that one or the other of the two parties will always have a majority. The other party puts forward a sacrificial lamb (usually a member of an identifiable or ideological minority) who we are told “really has a chance of winning this time.” We would not tolerate such domination in business or economics because lack of competition results in less innovation and increased inefficiency. Why should we continue to tolerate a duopoly in our political system, especially given our desperate need for new ideas and more efficient, effective government?

The duopoly is not representative: According to a Center for Public Affairs Research poll released on May 31, only 8 percent of Americans believe the Republican Party to be very responsive to what ordinary voters think. Democrats don’t fare much better, with only 14 percent of Americans finding that party very responsive to the interests of the average voter. When so many districts are “safe,” one need only keep the duopoly leadership and its big money contributors happy in order to be elected or re-elected. If you were a politician and had to spend your time responding to the demands of party leadership and the folks who funded your campaign or spend the time responding to the people of your district, which would be your top priority?

So will you continue to waste your vote maintaining an outmoded, ineffective, anti-competitive, unrepresentative duopoly, or will you find an independent or third-party candidate who will do her/his best to make your voice heard?

David Burnett is an economist and retired diplomat. He served Mexico, Congo-Brazzaville, Tunisia, Algeria, India, France, the European Union, Canada, New Zealand and Israel. He is an adjunct professor of business and economics at Whitworth and Gonzaga universities. His views are his own.

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