American and Canadian Political Parties and the Nature of Democracy

Posted: January 4, 2012 in Current Events, Election, Integral Studies, politics

What would the American political landscape look like if, like most countries in the world, it had more than two political parties.  Ken Wilber has commented before that there are at least four real parties.  There are extreme and moderate liberals in the Democratic party and, similarly, extreme and moderate conservatives in the Republican party.  The current Republican leadership race gives insight into the intricacies of the Right, -intricacies that might be better noticed by people who did not grow up in a two party system.  It seems that the Right can perhaps be divided into three, not two, factions.  There are the moderate conservatives (which may be a dwindling breed because of the trend towards polarization), there are the extreme conservatives who also tend to be social conservatives and evangelical Christians (who make up a far larger part of the scenery than is probably good for the process, determining their votes on issues like abortion and gay marriage rather than economic and foreign policy issues) and then there are the extreme political conservatives that fall into the Ron Paul, Libertarian camp.  This last category has been underestimated, but with the kind of support that Ron Paul has been getting in the votes and polls, especially among younger voters, it has become a significant factor.

That makes at least three conservative factions, each with their own specific and unique agendas.  Add to that the fact that the Left will likely have at least two factions, extreme and a moderate wings, much like what the Liberals and the NDP at least used to be in Canada.  European countries have Social Democracy or Labour parties in addition to a potpourri of other parties across the political spectrum.

In these other countries, the diversity of parties is often accommodated with coalition governments.  Regardless of what Harper says (-he’d clearly like his Conservatives to be the only political party in Canada-) coalition is a necessary element in a political system which has more than two parties.

The current mess in the U.S. Republican race show what kind of mess arises when you try to lump several ideologies into one mass.  Romney supporters and Ron Paul supporters are not in the same ball park.  Many candidates have out-rightly stated that they couldn’t in good conscience vote for one or the other of these individuals, who represent the extremes of their “party”.  Tea Part candidates and elected Congress members constitute less than a quarter of the seats or the popular vote, and because of their situation within the Republican party as kingmakers, have a disproportional share of the power.  The result, as we’ve seen, is a dysfunctional U.S. government, polarized and paralyzed, largely because they’ve forgotten the true nature of democracy.

Democracy involves representative government.  It needs to be government “of the people, by the people and for the people”. Well, the “of the people” is pretty well under control.  “By the people” is questionable when you have lobbying by special interest groups for their own profit dominating the decision making process.

And “for the people” means for all of the people.  In Canada, we have a Conservative govenment which boasts loudly that it represents a majority of Canadains, while only having attained 40% of the popular vote.  Because of the Canadian electoral system the Conservative party does have a majority of seats in the Canadian Parliament, -a fact that they crow about whenever the opportunity arises-, but the fact of the matter is that more people voted against them than voted for them.  Notable to this fact is that most of the people who voted against the Conservative Party had a significantly Left oriented ideology.  The surge of the NDP party shows the inclination and trend in Canadian political temperament to be moving away from a conservative world view.  And yet the Conservative “majority” will gleefully rule as if they spoke for all Canadians.  Because they have a majority of seats in Parliament they can and will advance a political agenda which is contrary to the wishes of a majority of Canadians.  This is not democracy.

What’s the solution?  The U.S. Congressional system was originally based on the Iroquois Confederacy system of government.  Before establishing the American Constitution, Ben Franklin spent time with Iroquois leaders because he admired their form of government.  In this system there were several “houses” which consisted of tribal representatives.  Checks and balances existed so that any proposed decision had to make its way through each house and attain consensus before moving to the next.  Consensus was the goal, because then no particular tribe or house would feel that it was being ignored or discriminated against by a particular decision.  Government was conducted on the principle that it had to represent the wishes of all the people, not just the majority.  In all leadership training I’ve taken or taught, consensus has always been touted as being the most effective and fair method of reaching decisions, although clearly with a large group or a government system, it may be impractical and cripplingly slow.  The Iroquois weren’t in a hurry.

How do we include that kind of respect for all ideologies within a society in a practical government system?  How do we promote the idea that all facets of society must be fairly considered and represented in decision making?  To me, part of the answer is making politicians understand that rigid, polarized attitudes just won’t work.  As we’ve heard repeatedly in the recent U.S. political deadlocks, compromise is essential if you are going to move in a positive direction.  Everybody can’t get everything they want, which is what certain extremist elements in the U.S. are demanding.  In Canada, the Conservative Party is engaging in a gluts of conservative legislation, claiming as much political territory as they can while the getting is good.

We have to have representative government, but perhaps, like the Iroquois, we have to introduce some element of checks and balances that better reflects the popular vote.  In Canada, we are currently examining the relevance of our own Senate, which is currently an anachronism from the old days of the House of Lords.  What if the Senate consisted of 100 members which were appointed for the duration of an electoral period only, by the parties represented in Parliament and based on the popular vote?  Right now they are looking at rearranging the Senate by geographical location, and that has some advantages in fair representation too, but that’s following the American model, which doesn’t seem to be working.

What would be best for both Canadians and Americans is for politicians to just respect that fact that compromise is necessary in order to properly respect and represent as many views in society as possible.  That, combined with a strong Constitution and Charter of Rights, will help to make sure that the spirit of democracy is achieved.  The fact is, though, that politicians are not well known for doing the right thing, and the nature of the beast tends to be rooted in opportunism, so it is essential for some mechanism to be introduced to the electoral process in order to encourage this kind of approach.  The alternative is a continued polarization of ideologies.  In the U.S., I can see this escalating to a point where there is ideological conflict and perhaps even warfare.

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