A Party of Two is No Party at All

Since November is just a few weeks away, the two opposing forces that will define the month are gathering their arsenals for the final onslaught. Republicans have begun to arm their TIE fighters and power up their Death Star. For them, it is the final stand to maintain a stranglehold on their waning powers. On the other side, Democrats train their youthful Orc hordes in an effort to overwhelm those in control. In the middle of it all stands a man with all of the grace and wisdom of a knight from “Monty Python.” His name is Ralph Nader.
It is that time of year when both parties gather and complain about Mr. Nader’s absurd onslaught against the White House. It has long been accepted that he cost Al Gore the election in 2000. As a direct consequence, Democrats filed a lawsuit in an effort to keep him off of the ballot in 2004, which is when he gathered only a third of a percent of the votes. It was a dramatic drop, even from his already low numbers in 2000.
Since I was a child, I have scratched my head and wondered why someone would fight such a futile fight. Nader, and other candidates like him, can never hope to win. His party cannot gather the same funds as the juggernauts in the Republican Party. His candidacy will never be in the pop culture spotlight as the Democratic campaign. Without massive exposure or near limitless funds, how can he hope to win the presidency?
Today, I understand that winning is not the point. Ralph Nader runs to show that anyone can, and because he believes that our country is under no obligation to have a two-party system. No matter what he says, he knows he will not win. Any kind of bluster he has blown in the past was about raising his statistics and helping his hopeless fight look a tad less hopeless.
The truth is, Ralph Nader is not a babbling fool, but is actually waging an impossible war against the system. The politician is less Monty Python and more Randle Patrick McMurphy. None of this changes the fact that he is a complete kook and that voting for him throws away all practical use of your vote. His opinions are way out there and he could never run the country if he ever won by some crazy happenstance. Still, I support his hopeless fight.
Having a two-party system where only two candidates make it to the general election is terrible for our country. Western culture is obsessed with putting objects into binary and easily-separated groups: black, white, good, evil, with us, against us. The result is an active effort to ignore third options and force people to “play ball” and compromise their values. By the time the candidates are within reaching distance of Washington, they have become so watered down that we are no longer voting for people, but parties.
The two-party system fosters an environment where it is impossible to advance without playing by the rules. Someone who does not quite fall into the party lines is seen as an outsider and is ostracized. Unless someone has immense independent wealth or boatloads of charisma, like Theodore Roosevelt or John McCain, it becomes impossible to accomplish anything outside the party lines. With a multiparty system, there are more places to go and more opportunities.
However, I would not dare say a multiparty system is perfect. It has a central weakness epitomized by the old saying, “A giraffe is a horse made by committee.” It means that when multiple parties get together and try to accomplish a goal, the goal tends to turn out a little screwy.
In our country, power is not divided among enough hands. It is as if we are only allowed two systems of ideas. Ralph Nader has chosen to stand up to this system by working within it. There was never any rule that stated he could not put his name on the ballot, only social pressure, to which we forced ourselves to adhere. The Constitution never laid out a two-party system; it tried to prevent one.
Even George Washington warned the United States about the dangers of bipartisan politics. Yet, for hundreds of years, that just seems to be the way it has worked out. There has not been a truly viable third party since George Wallace’s American Independent Party in 1968.
I believe that if there is one factor that will create the downfall of America, it will not be disease, greed or a war against the machines. It will be the two-party system because it provides limited options and creates bitter power struggles.
Ralph Nader is a loon, but I admire the way he fights the good fight and works through the system’s imperfections.

Kevin Pease is a fourth-year psychology and social behavior major. He can be reached at kpease@uci.edu.