George Washington, in one of the greatest speeches ever delivered, his "Farewell Address", predicted our current state of affairs with the two party system.
"However combinations or associations of the above description may now and then answer popular ends, they are likely, in the course of time and things, to become potent engines, by which cunning, ambitious, and unprincipled men will be enabled to subvert the power of the people and to usurp for themselves the reins of government, destroying afterwards the very engines which have lifted them to unjust dominion."
Indeed an entire section of his speech is devoted to warning us of the danger of political parties to the democratic process. Certainly, we have become a nation of only two parties whose interests are almost indistinguishable today. As Bill Moyers has pointed out, both the Democratic and Republican parties are owned by corporations. It is the interest of those corporations that drive our legislation and not the good of our people. The Health care debate is sparkling proof of that. Corporations have funded "community organizers" who have deluded the ignorant and simple into actively working against their own best interests! Of course, real reform was never an option at all. The Blue Dog Democrats have been bought lock, stock and barrel by the insurance concerns to make sure no real reform passes. They have tripped all over themselves trying to walk the line of obstructing reform without getting caught with their hands in the cookie jar. For Republicans whose entire party is owned by corporate interests it was never any question.
All around the Internet people both Democrat and Republican are steaming mad. Not just about health care reform but rather about the impotence of their party. Sure, there are a few "third parties" out there but most are single issue parties or extremist fringe parties.
Yet, we see the two big players beginning to shake loose at the seams. The left Democrats have become disillusioned with a party that is for the most part, indistinguishable from its opposition once elected. The Moderate Republicans are fleeing a party that has been taken over by corporations and the extremists they manipulate like so many puppets. Republicans in areas outside the deep south actually bear little relationship to their party that is increasingly controlled by crazed secessionists - eerily reminiscent of the Democrats on the eve of the Civil War.
In essence our two parties are strangely similar on the "big" issues. It is only the hot button issues where they can mobilize the masses and give them a sense of mattering where the parties differ. Although it appears the health care debate offers vastly different plans, in reality they do not. The truly revolutionary plan never made it to discussion. That would have been a Universal health care system with a single payer like most civilized nations. In its place we have a "public option" which, honestly, is looking like a long shot because the Democrats owned by the insurers are dead set against it. President Obama has already made deals with the pharmaceutical industry that gives away any bargaining power for lower drug prices. In reality, the "reform" will be minor and will probably leave the corporate sponsors of our two parties in a better position - which is what was intended in the first place, despite all the Sturm und Drang of the masses that give us an illusion of mattering.
So, where are the new parties? Where are the vibrant parties made up of those on the Left who believe in a more kind and caring government and those in the center who believe in a balance between social services and private enterprise? Why are we simply sitting around complaining about how Obama sold out the base to be "bipartisan"? Why do I hear Republican friends bemoan how their party has been hijacked by lunatics and religious extremists (nee terrorists)?
Perhaps it's time for people in the center and on the left to begin organizing opposition to the Democratic and Republican Parties. After all, if they truly are shrinking to the extremist core on one side and the corporate core on the other, shouldn't there be room to dethrone them? Shouldn't we heed Washington's advice?
How much more interesting and responsive to see a government made up of even half a dozen vibrant parties each responding not to corporate interests but to their constituents. Could we even imagine a Congress where coalitions would be needed to pass legislation rather then "bipartisanship" which is simply code for doing the bidding of corporations?
Then again, as President Washington warned us, the power and influence of our two parties might be too much to break. After all, we're so scared of the "other guy" getting into office that we'd never dare vote against a Democrat or Republican and hazard a chance on a small party candidate. The parties have seized the reins of power so tightly that it would take massive effort to break their hold and that of the corporations. We have been brainwashed into looking at our political process the same we do a football game. We cheer on "our" side without really even thinking if "our" side is reflecting our own beliefs or interest. In reality both sides are the same when it comes to big issues.
As a nation it would be necessary to figure out how to dismantle corporate personhood that has been growing since the 19th Century when it was decided a corporation had all the rights of a citizen. That lead inexorably to our current quagmire of a government that is bought and paid for by billionaire CEO's. A government where people are so deluded that they are vomited forth into the streets, armed and screaming by their employers to do their bidding.
Still, I hope. I hope that one day we will see the demise of the Democratic and Republican parties as the only real games in town and a rebirth of vibrant political coalitions built not on money and name but on real principles and ideas about how our nation should proceed. It may well, be the only thing that can truly save us from another horrendous fracture.