Whenever people at my school hear that I’m interested in politics, the first question they ask is “Are you a Democrat, or a Republican?” I tend to dislike this question for a number of reasons. First, either answer comes with a host of implications and people automatically assume you associate with all of the beliefs of the party. If you are to say you are a Republican, you may even face significant bias at my school, situated in primarily liberal Los Angeles. No one even thinks for a second about the dozens of other political parties, like the Libertarian or Green parties.
Throughout America’s history, there have generally been two major political parties, with a few exceptions. It began with the Federalists and Anti-Federalists; then it was the Federalists and Democratic-Republicans, the Democrats and the Whigs, up to the modern day where our country is obviously split between Republicans and Democrats. One difference is that in the past, while tensions between parties were high, compromise happened more often. After all, our entire Constitution was built on a series of compromises (Three-fifths Compromise, Connecticut Compromise, the electoral college, etc.)
Over the weekend, I went to a debate tournament and participated in a format called “extemporaneous speaking” (extemp for short) for the first time, in which you go into a room and draw three topics out of a box. You then pick one and have thirty minutes (without internet!) to write a seven minute speech about it. For my first round, the topic I picked was something along the lines of “Now that the 2012 election is approaching, what should the Republicans do in preparation for 2016?” My speech, though consisting of many components, focused partially on the importance of compromise to make sure the system continues to function as it should, laws are passed, and the Republican party isn’t painted as unnecessarily stubborn and reluctant to pass laws that could potentially benefit the entire nation. I got first place for that round. Political compromise sounds appealing on paper, yet these days it rarely seems to happen.
Barack Obama has tried to pass numerous pieces of legislation, only to be outvoted or filibustered by the Republican House majority (I have graphics showing representation of House and Senate in a slideshow at the bottom of the page!) There wasn’t a single Republican vote on Obamacare, even after many attempts to appeal to Republican Congresspeople. There is a group of Tea Party Republicans who refuse to vote for any legislation that proposes any tax whatsoever, regardless of the predicted benefit. Of course, it is not only Republicans who don’t compromise, I only use these examples because naturally, since we currently have a Republican House majority and a Democratic president, clash is bound to happen. This development is honestly quite alarming, for a number of reasons, the most important being that legislation isn’t being passed to make progress in the country and it signals further division between the two parties. If two parties can’t work together… can a country’s government really function at all?
A government must have compromise to function and actually get anything done that appeals to the majority of the country, so this current system could be very detrimental. The question that this begs is… how do we stop that from happening? The simplest solution would be to force legislators to compromise, but it is very difficult to manipulate human beings’ minds, and this would likely lead to them being replaced by their party with another legislator who appeals more to the core of the party. What we need instead is structural solutions; huge cultural shifts that are nearly impossible to start. I’ve said it enough times to sound like a broken record, but I think the first step is abolishing the electoral college. This would allow other smaller parties to become more prominent and help people see the broader spectrum of views than just the Democratic and Republican parties. What else can we do? It’s hard to say, but it’s imperative that this country learns to compromise before it filibusters its way into a political standstill.