Democrat or Republican. Inescapably, that’s what Washington boils down to all too often. Currently, there are only two members of Congress who are listed as Independents (both senators).

The trouble is that, with the absence of a third (or fourth, or fifth) party, the two parties are forced to play a never ending game of political chicken. It basically comes down to this: No one issue can be focused on, because the two parties oppose each other on every one, so every issue is in play simultaneously. It’s only when someone blinks that the other side can eek through some legislation. Now functionally, I realize this isn’t entirely the case. Bills get passed and signed into law all the time. But it seems to me that our current system promotes politicizing every issue, rather than good-faith searches for solutions. It promotes pushing a partisan agenda rather than meaningful compromise to address specific issues. I think a multiparty system could help with that.

In a multiparty system, the interests of certain parties overlap on some issues and stand in opposition on others, just like our current system, but there are other parties to turn to. To form the consensus, a party must align with other parties holding a similar opinion. There’s a lesser probability of riders being attached because all the interested parties want to see the legislation go through. They don’t want to cause a gridlock or scare of their allies.

Let’s look at an example. First, let’s assume a two party system like the one currently in the U.S., and let’s assume three issues, A, B,  and C, which each have two opinions on them, “Up” and “Down”. Let’s say that the Democrats are “Up” on issues A and B, but “Down” on issue C, and that the Republicans are “Up” on issues B and C but down on issue A. There’s an overlapping interest on issue B, so someone proposes a bill addressing issue B. If the bill goes through clean, it passes. But suppose the Democrats were the ones who proposed the bill. The Republicans can’t look weak or behind, so they attach a rider opining “Up” on issue C as well to appease their constituency. The Democrats now don’t feel like they can swallow C just for the sake of B, so they add a rider calling “Up” on issue A. Now either everyone passes it anyways, or (perhaps more likely) the bill dies because neither party can stomach the other’s rider and nothing is done about issue C.

Now let’s assume the same issues, only this time with four parties, each with equal representation. Party 1 is Up, Down, Down (on issues A through C, respectively); Party 2 is Down, Up, Up; Party 3 is Up, Down, Up; and Party 4 is Down, Down, Up. Together, Parties 2, 3, and 4 will have the numbers to legislate on issue C together, and it’s unlikely a rider will get attached because they don’t wish to jeopardize their majority. Yes, Parties 3 and 4 might try to move on issue B at the same time, but it would be much easier simply to pass the first bill, then work with Party 1 on B.

I know these examples are overly simplistic, and that a multiparty system is certainly not exempt from extensive political maneuvering. But it seems to me that such a system would give the American people a better, more nuanced voice in Washington, and would encourage real action on more issues.

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