The two-party system under which our country operates has some advantages, but one overwhelming disadvantage: Too often it puts bad people in office. The rise of independent voters, those who decline to state affiliation, helps overcome the two-party flaw, but often there are not enough independents to make a difference.
Next month, voters in San Diego’s 50th District will have a chance to demonstrate the strengths and weaknesses of our two-party system when they elect a member of Congress to succeed Randy Cunningham, who turned out to be a crook. As usual, the primaries reduced the June special election to the usual suspects: The Democrat is Francine Busby; the Republican Brian Bilbray.
Normally, Republicans win in this now-reconfigured district, which is dominated by Republican voters. How else could Cunningham – known to be vainglorious, dimwitted and sleazy even before he was exposed as a crook – have won so easily and so often? Cunningham was a perfect demonstration of the central two-party system flaw: the tendency among many voters to vote party, not candidate.
Despite a handful of small parties – Greens, Libertarians, Peace and Freedoms, etc. -ours is a classic two-party system because one of the Big Two always wins in November, no matter whom is nominated. The small parties garner their one or two percents, but the most they can hope for is to be spoilers, like Ralph Nader, who gave us George W. Bush and his now-imploded administration.
Two-party systems have the virtue of providing government stability. Since only two parties ever win, one will have the majority, the other the minority, and the country will never be governed by unstable coalitions such as exist in multi-party democracies such as Italy or Israel. But the virtue of stability, especially in a presidential system such as ours, fails to outweigh the flaw of producing too many bad candidates.
How was Cunningham, whose outstanding characteristic was venality, able to win election after election in this well-educated, affluent and presumably politically sophisticated district? Part of the answer was the blind Republican Party loyalty of too many district voters.