How To Break The Two-Party System

Partisanship is paralyzing our country in a time when we most need action. Here's how to end the rancor

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The frustratingly high tone of hyper-partisanship has forced many Americans to question both the validity and the efficiency of our two-party system of government. Thought leaders such as Thomas Friedman and Matt Miller, titans of business including Howard Schultz and Duncan Niederauer, and, most importantly, everyday citizens have been trying to have a conversation about the introduction of independent and third-party American leadership. We are living through a period where core members our parties have, for a collection of reasons, retreated to unfamiliar ideological corners and left many of us in the center of the ring, alone, trying to find a champion.

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This is not the first time the problem of two parties has been raised. Organizations such as No Labels and Americans Elect have made valiant strides towards promoting candidates for the Presidency who are not beholden to a particular party’s manifesto but rather focus on solving the nations challenges with a clear-eyed commitment to pragmatism. While I fully support the premise behind this effort, I also feel that the strategy as structured will have a very difficult time making a real dent in the national dynamic. This is not because there is no appetite for alternatives; quite the contrary — the hunger of the American people for legitimate candidates who can accomplish things is at its highest. However, the change must come from the ground-up, not the top-down.

Instead of focusing on a third-party or independent candidate capturing the presidency as a make-or-break strategy for 2012 (the chances of which are close to nil), we must first begin by seeding candidates for offices that have the most direct involvement with the American people on the municipal level. I suggest this movement start out with the audacious goal that at least 25% of all mayors in America by 2015 will be independent/non-major party affiliated. Building on this momentum, the next target should be that by 2020, at least 25% of all governors will be independent/non-major party affiliated. As Americans become more accustomed to such candidacies and are able to see the results of independent leaders and independent leadership, the idea of a third party run for the White House won’t seem out of the realm of possibility.

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We already have jurisdictions that have mitigated the impact of bi-partisanship, reinforcing the notion that “There is not a Democratic or Republican way of getting the trash picked up.” States such as New Hampshire and California hold open primaries, where parties do not wield the same power they may on a national or a state level. No party has the market cornered on good ideas, nor does efficacy bleed red or blue exclusively. We need to be agnostic to party labels and focus on results; in my eyes, this is the most American thing we can push for.

I understand and fully appreciate the epic challenges that exist within this argument; we cannot expect an independent force to snap the two-party stronghold overnight. And the financial power and special interests behind the default system cannot be underestimated. However, as we continue into this century and strive to maintain the values of our representative democracy, it is fair to question whether the two-party system that has been stalwart in our system of government for centuries has run its course. It’s ambitious. Maybe its even borderline foolish. But all of the greatest movements in our nation start out from similar unorthodox baselines.