I long believed that the two-party system was the backbone of America’s political stability because it pushed each party to seek coalitions rather than ideological purity. In times of national trauma, those coalitions fractured, as before the Civil War, or one party assembled an unbeatable coalition, as in the Great Depression. We are now in a time when the Republican demand for purity threatens the government, and the two-party system seems unable to cope with it. One reason is money. Legislators are beholden to those who have it, and the Supreme Court ended decades of efforts to regulate it with its abysmal 5-4 decision in Citizens United v Federal Election Commission. “It’s a bad decision,” a friend who knows it well told me. “It denies the legislative process the ability to treat corporations and labor unions differently from individuals. It’s a raw case of the court’s exercise of political power.” But the court is not going to reverse itself, and there isn’t much stomach for reform among legislators who depend on the current system.
What can be done to break the closed loop of money and politics? One step is to make politics local again: Encourage unaffiliated candidates to run, reform ballot-access laws, curb gerrymandering. These are small things, but they might lead people to challenge the monopoly of the two-party system – which may be the only way to rescue our electoral process from the grasp of big money. We’d better hurry. The Koch Brothers are already working that territory hard.