Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Be Careful What You Wish For.

If you read my blog even sporadically, you'll know that it isn't the least bit uncommon for me to start a post with no real idea where it's going.  I tend to see something that gets me all in a lather, and I have to comment on it.  And, of course, I want to present myself as the highly intelligent being I know I am. (I'll thank you not to think of Fredo Corleone when you read that: "I'm smart! Not like everybody says... like dumb... I'm smart and I want respect!") 

I know you all rabidly follow any and all proposed legislation in Israel's Knesset. Of course you do!  OK, maybe you can be forgiven if you're not overly concerned by the fact that one small group of Ultra Orthodox Rabbis may narrowly re-define who is and who isn't a Jew.  Even if the subject isn't all that near and dear to your heart, you should read the article...it's pretty frightening.

This post won't be specifically about that. If you want to read something vilifying any of the many factions perpetuating unrest in the Middle East, you'll have to go elsewhere. This isn't even really going to be about my opinion of who should be considered a Jew under Israeli law.  For the record, (and for what little it's worth), this is one area where I think you should let your definition be dictated by your enemies.  One of the driving forces behind the founding of Israel was the putative need for a Homeland...a safe haven for Jews.  If the Nazis categorized you as Jewish enough for an oven, you should qualify for Israel's "Law of Return".  (And, as an aside, I haven't read the proposed legislation, but it seems to pin the definition on traceable genealogy or conversion by the right Rabbis.  Under the first criteria, I'm pretty sure that Jews for Jesus qualify...as long as they had enough Jewish ancestors before they became...uh...Christians.)

So, what the hell is this post about.  It's about the two party system in the U.S. Didn't see that coming did you? 

As long as I've been paying any attention, I've heard bitching about Democrats and Republicans hijacking the political process and bemoaning the lack of an effective third party.  There's certainly nothing preventing any third (or fourth or fifth or ad-infinitum) party from coming into it's own and getting it's agenda a hearing.  There's nothing in the Constitution about political parties...they just came into being.  And lest you forget, there have been Whigs, Federalist, Progressives, Know-nothings, Bull Mooses (Meese?), Communists, Nazis, Socialists and Reconstructionists...all of whom were actual players at one time or another.  Since the Civil War, Democrats and Republicans have been dominant, but you'd be hard pressed to recognize them as the same two parties over the last 150 years.

But one thing they have managed to do is to inadvertently insert one more element of checks and balances into the Government. Our Government does a lot of fairly stupid things, but having Democrats and Republicans fighting each other tooth and nail over every little thing creates, at the very least, the illusion of deliberativeness.  And, truth be told, a government that's gridlocked is preferable to one that's precipitous.

Over the last couple of years, the Tea Party folks have made enough noise to be taken seriously.  Admit it, even when you're railing against them, you're only bothering because they seriously worry you.  The Tea Party has taken great pains to say that they're not Republicans (few people suspect them of being closeted Democrats).  They try to define themselves as ordinary unaffiliated citizens concerned about over taxation and government intrusiveness.  For the sake of argument, let's take them at their word, for the moment. (If you want to argue about that, please follow the people who left because I didn't want to scream about Israelis and Palestinians.) 

And let's, for the sake of argument, suppose they somehow manage to become a substantial political player over the next decade or so.  Imagine, if you will, 44 Tea Party candidates being elected to Congress in 2018...fully 10% of the House.  No legislation would pass without enlisting Tea Party members to your cause, be it Republican or Democrat in origin.

And, since, truthfully, the main point of commonality among the Tea Party members is disaffiliation, it's actually a given that they've banded together in spite of the many agendas they actually represent.  I don't see the Tea Party remaining unified in any significant way.  And not only, would they splinter into groups concerned by various single issues, they'd ultimately draw off from the Democrat and Republican fringes.

The concept of any kind of coalition government in the U.S. having to kowtow to some tiny fringe party scares the crap out of me.  It might be one thing if I thought that different factions would reach consensus based solely on ideological lines, but that's not how things usually work.  Factions get other factions' votes by promising them support for their pet issues.  I really don't want to envision what Republicans in need of three more votes in the House will offer members from the Southern Evangelical Party for their support.  And if you think I'm being strictly partisan here (maybe just a little bit), I'd rather not contemplate the Democrats in the same situation trying to woo the members of the I'm-OK-You're-OK-let's-do-a-doobie Party either.

 There are 12 parties represented in Israel's Knesset.  The party pushing this new legislation has 15 seats.  Seven of the 12 parties have 5 or fewer seats.  Nobody there gets anything done without lining up support from a bunch of other party's members.

I don't want to sound alarmist; we've got a Constitution and a Supreme Court, so I'm not all that concerned about having citizenship redefined to require membership in a specific church.  And I don't think a proliferation of political parties would make any real difference if someone gets bright ideas about repealing or writing new Constitutional Amendments.  You don't need officially recognized factions to bring the crazies out of the woodwork.  But laws don't need to be unconstitutional to be bad laws.  I'm sure you can think of some without overly taxing your brain.

The Two Party System sucks.  But it beats the hell out of the chaos that multiple parties would create.  In addition to the two parties keeping each other in check, they also serve as a control on their own fringe elements.  I may be kidding myself, but I think that specter might even be enough to scare the crap out of the Tea Party.

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