How long has the two-party system been stagnating democracy? No, really. Take a guess. Guess!

No…longer than that. 

Since the 1840’s the national party system has paused in its development.  Parties, rather than issues, started to monopolize all important and election and party machinery suddenly started to dominate, if not monopolize, all nominations.  Parties also started to monopolize the procedures and administrations of Congress as well as virtually all of the state legislatures.  These schemes of party organization and procedure would remain the same for over a century to come.  Parties no longer served a liberating or democratic role, but rather a constricting, conservative one.  With a few exceptions, the two-party system has functioned this way ever since.

The tendencies of established parties were as nearly opposite to those of new parties as is possible in dynamic, modernizing society.  For one thing, the established parties contributed to the status quo in government structure.  Political leaders, including members of Congress, developed a fundamental stake in the integrity of the state boundary because it was the largest unit for electoral office.  This force had a powerful impact on the substance of much important national legislation throughout the last century, from social insurance to environmental protection.  Parties have participated in a silent conspiracy to prevent policy innovations from departing too far from eighteenth-century constitutional structure.

The established parties also made elective offices less democratic by resisting leadership change and policy innovation.  From the courthouse to the White House, the parties have not of their own accord brought new elites to the fore or offered powerful checks on existing elites.  Neither do they regularly bring new issues to the fore.  It has been rare for the two major parties to take opposite stands on new controversies; it is much more common for new cleavages to develop within the existing parties, providing incentives to avoid addressing these controversies.  The parties are working for themselves and have been for over one-hundred and fifty years.  We were born into the system, and that makes it that much easier for us to accept it whole-cloth, but we don’t have to.

This is what I’m learning…it will be much more entertaining when this argument is couched in The Frogs.  I promise…but your thoughts on the matter would help.

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