Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Can A Two Party System Endure Without Two Parties?

David Montgomery engages in a thought experiment about using proportional representation to elect members of the South Dakota House of Representatives. He concludes:
South Dakota is part of a broader, stable, two-party system, and I don’t think this system would overturn that. It would make it easier for small parties like the Libertarians to impact public policy, and maybe in certain cases they might even hold the balance of power and be able to enter into coalition governments to run the House. But generally I expect we’d see a clear two-party system endure. [Emphasis mine]
The words "clear" and "endure" seem odd choices. First, state legislatures in general seem to be increasingly dominated by a single party:
Divided government still rules in the nation’s capital after Tuesday’s vote, but unity is increasingly the name of the game in Annapolis, Topeka, Concord, Little Rock and other capital cities.
In a little-noticed footnote to the elections, votes to fill legislative seats produced the highest number of states with one-party rule in 60 years. Democrats or Republicans now have sole control of the governorship and both legislative chambers in 37 state capitals.
The trend toward single party rule seems a recent national phenomenon:
The number of states with divided government is down from 31 just 16 years ago to 12 today, prompting speculation about the country’s evolving partisan geography.
South Dakota, however, has a much longer history of single party rule. The state has a 70 member House. Democrats haven't held over 25 seats in this century. The state hasn't had a Republican governor since 1979.

Montgomery acknowledges:
Democratic officials and candidates lament about how when voters don’t know enough about individual candidates, they default to the “R” — a tendency that would only be exacerbated here.
I've lived in South Dakota since the early 1980s; I haven't seen any evidence of an actual two party system. There's been the cult of McGovern and a few people with a historic family name but no real Democratic party, If a two party system is going to "endure," shouldn't it actually exist?

Perhaps someone within the Democratic Party hierarchy should do a thought experiment about how to create a sustainable party.



Troy Jones said...

McGovern and Kneip focused on building an infrastructure outside their own cult of personality. They worked to make the Democrat convention a significant event even if they weren't winning. In an effort to have strong candidates and win elections (vs. having followers in these positions), they weighed in on the selection of candidates for the Constitutional Offices and Legislature.

They also encouraged a separate infrastructure to speak out and define issues in the body politic. They didn't suck the oxygen from the room but breathed oxygen into the room.

In the last few years, the state Democrat party has even gone farther backwards by giving focus to the "cult of issues" like opposition to the Governor's economic development fund, education reform package, and some abortion laws.

Yes, "cult of personality" can result in some electoral victories (Daschle, Johnson, Herseth) or "cult of issues" can impact a few issues. But it doesn't build an influence on a broad range of issues in the legislature, county commission, or school boards where people are most affected day-to-day.

Their ceding daily governance results in the ceding of daily relevance.

I want strong parties (Dem and GOP) because it leads to a more robust discussion of issues and finding solutions. It will make the GOP stronger with regard to crtical issues and prevent distraction on the mundane or insigficant.

But as much as I want the GOP to have a strong dance partner in the governance of the body politic, whether the Democrat Party matters starts with Democrats. They just don't get it.

Troy Jones said...

When Kneip and McGovernor weren't "running" vs. winning. OOPS

LK said...

It doesn't appear as if we disagree much on this post. (OK, we're always going to disagree about HB 1234 and that type of ed reform.)

If my memory serves, McGovern lost in 1980 before I moved here. I should note that my family listened to KBJM radio in Lemon when I was growing up so I always got a lot of SD news.

That being said, I really don't know what McGovern or Kneip did to build a party or hold one together. I will take your word for it that they were effective party builders. I may even be willing to admit that the word "cult" was hastily chosen. I think it fits because Democrats seem to be pining for the days of McGovern for the past twenty if not thirty years.

My broader point and one I probably should have made explicitly is that the state needs a two-party system. Single party domination produces bad results. For the record, I don't want to experience single party rule in state like Hawaii that has a Democratic monopoly either.

Troy Jones said...

Cult has a connotation that I don't intend. It is too often only used in connection to nuts.

Reagan, Roosevelt and Kennedy are icons because their ideas and ideals embodied them, and not vice versa. This is an example of "cult of ideas."

Contrast McGovern and Daschle. McGovern is too an icon but not Daschle. When Daschle left the scene his footprints have been washed away after 8 years. McGovern's remain after 33 years.

A philosophy, set of principles, or policies can be advanced where a person (cult of personality) is the critical vehicle. But, when the person is gone, the advancement stops until there is a new person.

When the principal vehicle is a party (which gets energy from collective persons), the principles and ideals move on.

I do think our society has a problem in this regard. We have become a culture that over-emphasize the cult of celebrity. Seriously, why should we even care what comes from the mouth of Madonna?

Remember when we had Bill Buckley and John Kenneth Galbraith. Their "celebrity" was their ideas and not their personality.

BTW, your broader point was quite clear. I just wanted to reinforce it from a different perspective.