The Single Party
By Joseph Sobran
Many pundits have noted that political conventions no longer excite us. They bore us to death. The nominations are already locked up before conventions even begin, so there is no suspense. Why even hold these empty political orgies?
Well, they do serve one function: They support the fiction of the two-party system. Both parties pretend it makes a big difference which candidate wins. Both sides agree to pretend they aren't essentially the same party.
Hollywood is about to give us another candidate: THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE, a remake of the 1962 satirical political thriller. This time, the Cold War being behind us, the villains aren't Commies; they're corporate executives, in keeping with Hollywood's preference for conspiratorial businessmen. Sounds pretty implausible.
I can imagine a more believable version for our age: A robotic Texan from a prominent Republican family is kidnapped and brainwashed by a shadowy group of political "progressives." He is then set up in a political career in order to subvert the conservative movement. His mission is to keep expanding the government, while using conservative rhetoric in order to fool gullible talk-show hosts whose support he needs. When he is elected president of the United States, he is to complete the consolidation of the two parties into one huge big-government party.
Chilling, eh? But of course such a conspiracy would be superfluous. The same result is being achieved without it.
G.K. Chesterton long ago identified the flaw in a two-party system: "The democracy has the right to answer questions, but it has no right to ask them. It is still the political aristocracy that asks the questions. And we shall not be unreasonably cynical if we suppose that the political aristocracy will always be rather careful what questions it asks."
The question our own two major parties always ask is this: Do you prefer Democrats or Republicans? It's a loaded question. The voter isn't allowed to reject the shared premises of the two big-government parties. And George W. Bush is completing the transformation of the Republican Party into a full partner of the Democrats in making the government as big as possible. The conservative or libertarian voter can no longer enjoy even the illusion that the Republicans offer a principled alternative to limitless government.
The myth of democracy requires the voters to be assured that they are making real choices. It won't do to admit that the choices that count have already been made for them. The Single Party must go on pretending that it's Double.
The surest proof that we don't have two opposing parties (as distinct from two power-hungry factions) is that neither the Democrats nor the Republicans ever try to reduce the existing power of the government. The only "debate" between them is over what new powers shall be added to those already in place. Both promise, at their conventions, to take the country in a new direction; but that direction is never back toward the limited government described by the U.S. Constitution. It's always toward an even bigger, busier government, whether making war, tightening security, providing universal health care, or going to Mars.
To be sure, each party also routinely charges that the other party's agenda would overburden the taxpayer and result in a ghastly deficit; but somehow the taxpayer never gets relief and the spending never takes more than a brief, slight dip, no matter which party wins -- or rather, no matter which wing of our Single Party wins.
The overall pattern is so gigantically clear that you have to wonder how anyone can possibly fail to see it. Yet most Americans seem to believe that the voters can change the pattern by electing one of the two alternatives, both of which are committed to it.
Correction: Half of all Americans seem to believe this; the other, more sensible half don't bother voting. Partisans of the system regard this as a worrisome sign of civic sloth. It's actually a sign of realism. What's more, if you vote for a minor party offering what you really believe in, you are said to be "wasting" your vote. What a comment on democracy!
Men will fight and even die for freedom. I suspect that they might even vote for freedom, if it were offered in an unrigged election. But our Single Party isn't about to put this to the test. It will continue to ask us whom we want to have limitless power, not whether we want that power to exist in the first place.
July 27, 2004