Is Our Two Party System Crippling Health Care Reform?

By on August 24, 2013

senateSince health care became a major issue during the New Deal years of Franklin Roosevelt, both parties have at one time or another attempted to address the growing crisis of American Health Care. Lyndon Johnson, Clinton and Obama made the most headlines with their efforts. Truman famously made it part of his celebrated campaign of 1948, though little was accomplished after 1946. What is not well known is that Eisenhower firmly linked health insurance to employment by guaranteeing tax breaks and incentives, Nixon wanted HMOs to become the predominant delivery standard to bring down costs, Reagan expanded Medicare in his last years to cover catastrophic events and George W Bush expanded Medicare by adding Part D for drugs and tried to reform it through privatization. Nixon even flirted with universal coverage in his waning days, engaging Senator Ted Kennedy, of all people.

Unfortunately our current system of government, with all its filibustering rules and senate and house subcommittees  chaired by folks determined by seniority and the party in power, guarantees that unless one party has overwhelming majorities in both houses and the White House, change is frustrated and action becomes inert. Presidents often get to make changes early or not at all. The clintons bobbled their chance. Obama learning from history got something enacted– but just.

In England a coalition government headed by David Cameron can at least move things forward as long as he can work something out with his minority coalition partner Nicholas Clegg of the Social Democrats, the traditional third party.  Here in the US, we have a three-party system as well, but two of the parties are locked together as one these days. After the Civil War, with Republicans having the upper hand and wanting to punish and even exploit the South, it was a no-brainer for southern politicians to find a home in the Democratic Party — the Dixiecrats. As the New Deal came along and Democrats become the progressive party, the alliance grew uneasy. Dixiecrats could be counted on to fight change because many changes threatened segregation, core to the way of life in the south.

The Dixiecrats were conservative socially, if not always fiscally, racist, faith-based, deeply religious in fundamental Christian tenets, suspicious of intellectuals, wary of scientific advances, risk adverse and resistant to change. Franklin Roosevelt dealt uneasily, but effectively, with the southern wing of his party. sometimes giving in on issues like universal coverage. Truman struggled with them too, though he himself was from a so-called border state. Kennedy largely ignored them in his early years and paid a price.  Lyndon Johnson understood them well and played them like a harp. He used his huge majorities in the aftermath of the Goldwater debacle to move along a progressive agenda with a hand that now inspires awe.

No surprise then that in 1968 the South which had been moving away from the Democrats since World War II formally broke with them and fielded their own candidate Governor George Wallace, ‘the fighting little country judge”  of Alabama. He assailed “pointy-headed intellectuals,” and the Federal Government wanting states rights to prevail so the south could do as it pleased. He was blatantly racist. He declared “there wasn’t a dimes worth of difference between the two major parties.” An assassin’s bullet put him out of the race before it ended, though did not kill him, but as winner Nixon looked at 1972, he understood that a southern strategy to bring the Wallace-ites into the public fold would be key to victory.

Today the Republican Party is an alliance between the rump of what formally were fiscal conservatives and right of center small government but carry a big stick Republicans and the Wallace-ite Dixiecrats. The north-eastern wing of the party — the Henry Cabot Lodges, the Bill Scrantons, the Jacob Javitses,  the Clifford Cases, the Nelson Rockefellers are long gone. Even the Nancy Landon Kassebaums, Mark Hatfields and Bob Doles have been driven out. Gerald Ford would no doubt be suspect if he returned today. The biggest, noisiest element in today’s GOP seems to be the Reactionary wing, the so-called Tea Party, that so resembles the Wallace-ites in their behavior and tactics. They have succeeded in neutering any change or progress on issues popular with the majority of  the American people. And they have paralyzed Washington and the prospects of any action in the next three years and beyond.

embattled president

The best thing that could happen now for this country would be that this indigestible element in the Republican Party — the Wallace-ites who voice is Ted Cruz and Rush Limbaugh and others — would split off and become a party of its own. Yes, it would have command the south, at least for a while, where its natural roots are located. It would also have appeal also in the faith-based tent revivalist centers of the mid-west and the retirement communities of Arizona and Florida. It would always be a force to reckon with for both parties. And it would always be a check on sudden and abrupt and ill-advised knee-jerk change, currently not a big concern. But it would allow the left of center and right of center parties to come together periodically and address in a timely fashion the issues that face this nation as it moves forward.

We have no Liberal counterweight to the Wallace-ite Reactionaries. There are no Communists a or Socialists any more. Never much were. No Radicals on the left of any kind. For too long it has even been  suspect for a politician to call themselves a Liberal. Only Bernie Sanders of Vermont seems to have a legitimate claim to that title. How did this come about? Opinions don’t harm us. Actions alone do.

With a left, left-center, right-center and right party, we might be able to accomplish things. Many of those in the Independent column would return to the Republican fold. Others might also move off the sidelines and become more engaged. Right now the two party system in this country, one left-of-center and the other far right have paralyzed it. All viewpoints deserve their say. No one should be drowned out. The ACA needs tweaking and course corrections. There is no turning back.

Since the civil war we have essentially had a three-party system lacked inside a two-party structure. The Constitution did not demand just two parties. We via our representatives in Congress, did that to ourselves. Our current two-party government is not equipped to deliver course corrections. We now have people like Senator Tom Coburn talking impeachment.  For what? Trying to do something about a crisis?  Shame on these people. This inner struggle between two parties locked together as the current GOP has trashed the once venerable Republican Party. We need another Dwight Eisenhower to emerge and revive the distressed GOP — and paralyzed Washington. And we need it badly. A pox on the two-party system.


Tom Godfrey

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