By Donella Meadows
–August 15, 1996–
What are these people with the funny hats at the political conventions cheering for?
What meaning, underneath the heated rhetoric, does either party have? What is there to get enthusiastic about? Both parties are riddled with corruption. They have no principles; they huddle as close as they can get to what they think is the middle of the political spectrum. They deceive and double cross us. They are for sale to the highest bidder. Unless one is a highest bidder, how can anyone have any party loyalty?
Maybe cheering at conventions is like cheering at ball games. Swept away by the excitement, we cheer for the fun of it, we cheer for our side simply because it happens to be our side. That’s the kind of politics I absorbed as a child in a rock-ribbed Republican suburb, where we jeered at Democrats the way Red Sox fans jeer at Yankee fans. It wasn’t until I went away to college and actually met a Democrat that I realized they might be reasonable people — and that there might be reasons for choosing a party more crucial than going along with the crowd.
The media report political campaigns as if they were ball games. I wish they’d quit doing that and remind us that what we cheer and vote for is supposed to have something to do with the way we want to be governed. Whichever party we elect DOES determine how we are governed, but it has little to do with how we WANT to be governed, mainly, I think, because the two huge, meaningless parties offer us no true choices.
Suppose, for example, you want abortions to disappear from the face of the earth. You would never vote for the Democrats, but you should also distrust the Republicans, who fight their own internal battle on this issue. If there were an Anti-Abortion Party, you could vote your heart and soul, and our democracy would be able to measure how many of you there are.
Suppose you want your taxes cut. You might think you should vote Republican, but if you look at what they do, instead of what they say, you’ll see them cutting your income tax (assuming you’re middle class) by $500 and their own income tax (assuming they’re rich, which they are) by $50,000. They make up your $500 by raising your payroll tax. They make up their $50,000 by cutting your benefits. A large number of Democrats go along with this game. So if you’re middle class and want a fair shake, there’s no point in voting for either party — which may be why so many people don’t. We need a Middle-Class Party, a Fairness Party.
Suppose you want the budget balanced, and you’d like to do it not by cutting the pittance that goes to the poor but by cutting the swill that goes to overpriced, useless weapons. Sorry, there’s no party for you; the defense contractors have bought them both. You need a Clean-Up-the-Pentagon Party, a Notso-Macho Party, a Sensible Defense Party.
Suppose you believe, as I do, that protecting the environment is more important than anything else, since without a functioning environment there’s no way to have a functioning economy or society. There are scattered environmental advocates in both parties you can vote for, but no party.
The rabid new Republicans of the 104th Congress have made it impossible for environmentalists to vote Republican, which is a shame, because some moderate Republicans vote for the environment more consistently than do some southern Democrats. Most of our environmental laws were passed 25 years ago by Republicans in Congress and signed by a Republican president. But now Republican majorities put important committees into the hands of the most tree-hating, bug-stomping, clear-cutting, swamp-paving, nature-ravaging, handout-taking, ignorant neanderthals (sorry, but Republican convention rhetoric is catching) in the whole benighted government.
So environmentalists can’t vote Republican. But Bill Clinton has sold out to salvage riders and endangered species exceptions just too many times. If, holding our noses, we vote Democratic, we’re consigning nature to slow, rather than fast, destruction.
We need a Green Party, but not all by its lonesome self, so that voting for it is equivalent to voting Republican. We need a Green Party along with a lot of other parties, as in Europe. Two parties isn’t nearly enough to give 263 million people the opportunity to express our beliefs. We need six parties, or 10. Heck, the Dutch, last time I counted, had more than 30 parties, and there are only 15 million of them, and their elections proceed without mayhem, and they are governed no more incoherently or crookedly than we are.
There is no purpose for the two-party system and its conventions. The conventions don’t nominate. Their platforms are toothless. They have become made-for-TV propaganda, slicker but no more truthful than the stuff the Soviets used to crank out. We don’t need a Republican convention or a Democratic convention or Republicans or Democrats. We need a constitutional convention.
Copyright Sustainability Institute 1996