On Saturday, when Republican Dede Scozzafava dropped out of New York’s 23rd District Congressional race after falling behind third-party candidate Doug Hoffman in polls and fundraising, it turned a few heads. It’s pretty remarkable, given that Republicans have held the seat since 1872. This exemplifies how divisions in both the Republican and Democratic parties are opening the door for independents and other parties.
The GOP is split sharply in two: The more moderate, slick Republicans of the Bush years, and the Tea Party/Fox News conservatives like Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck, who feed their base paranoid and insane rhetoric (i.e. the ‘death panel’ nonsense). Both groups are trying to gain control of the party, and lots of bickering via the media has become the norm.
Democrats have also clashed internally, as evidenced by the battle between progressives and more conservative ‘Blue Dog’ democrats over healthcare. A few Blue Dog Senators have stated they’ll vote against a bill with a strong public option, and dozens of House progressives have said they won’t support a bill without one. While the schism between these two groups isn’t as deep or as visible as the one plaguing Republicans, it’s still a problem.
A Wall Street Journal-NBC News poll released last week found that trust in government is at a 12-year low, and that half of all Americans now support the creation of a new political party. Registered independent voters are at an all-time high, and alternative parties have skyrocketing support. The Conservative Party’s Hoffman, who’s now in a dead heat with Democrat Bill Owens going into Tuesday’s election in New York, is a testament to this.
Individual members of Congress are flipping back and forth on issues and even switching parties. When Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania changed his affiliation from Republican to Democrat, some speculated that he only did so to better his chances of re-election in 2010. His refusal to vote with his new party on many issues seems to support that idea.
Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-CT, has a history of irritating his Democratic colleagues in the Senate despite their willingness to award him committee chair positions. In 2006, rather than concede the Democratic Senate primary he lost, Lieberman ran as an independent and then proceeded to win the general election.
Last year, he was criticized for endorsing and campaigning for Sen. John McCain, R-AZ, instead of Mr. Obama. Just last week, he flip-flopped on both his support for a public health insurance option and on his disdain for filibusters, by threatening to join Republicans in, well, filibustering a vote on the current bill.
So for those of you keeping track at home, here’s the score: There appear to be not two, but five distinct ideological groups with significant support (Progressives, Blue Dog Democrats, Republicans, Libertarians and Tea Party conservatives), but even these groups bleed into each other at times.
We also have several senators going rogue on both sides of the aisle. Add that to easily corruptible political parties that are losing supporters by the day, and what does this all mean? Simple, the two-party system may be going the way of the dodo.
This is not to say the two parties will completely collapse. There’s an obscene amount of money and power that comes with membership in one of the two parties, so the establishment certainly won’t just let them fall. But we could definitely see unprecedented success for independents and alternative parties in 2010 and beyond.
Republicans and Tea Partiers are at least united in decrying the President’s efforts to make this country “more like Europe.” If their civil war doesn’t end soon, the new multi-party system that would emerge from the rubble would be, you guessed it, more European.
Kevin Hollinshead is a junior political science major. His column appears Mondays in the Collegian. Letters and feedback can be sent to email@example.com.