First, a story…
So here’s the scenario. You’re in a new city on vacation. It’s your first night in town and you’re pumped. You call up the front desk (or the concierge if you’ve got it like that) and ask them where you should go eat since you’re starving.
So, where’s a guy go around here to get some good grub?
Sir, there are only two restaurants in this town. They…
Wait, what?!?! Two restaurants? Seriously?
Yes, sir, both have been around for decades and have put every other restaurant out of business. You’ll really can’t go wrong with either one!
You hang up the phone a bit dejected. Two restaurants? That’s crazy! Regrouping you figure if there are only two, they must be amazing. You’re a bit worried that you might not be able to find good Thai food but they must have pretty extensive menus and you’re sure you’ll find something you want to eat.
You go downstairs and cross the street. Strangely, like a bad Starbucks joke, the two restaurants are next to each other, their doors practically touching. You have no particular bias so you just go to the one on the left, Chez Pierre.
You head inside and ask to look over a menu so you can see if there’s a dish at Chez Pierre that calls to you. The hostess looks at you confused…
Oh sir, we don’t have menus here. All we offer is the chef’s testing menu. It’s delicious!
A tasting menu? What the hell is that?
Well every night our chef comes up with a five course meal designed lovingly to blend together perfectly.
So I can’t just get a burger?
No, I’m afraid not.
Oooook… so what’s on the tasting menu for tonight?
Tonight we’re having [insert five random dishes].
Hmm, I love a few of those but I just can’t handle the foie gras… That stuff is disgusting. Can I substitute something else?
<inhaling sharply> Oooooh, no, sorry, no substitutions.
You head back out to the street feeling utterly confused by the lack of a normal menu at Chez Pierre. Not to worry though, right next door is Sweet Cream. You collect yourself and head inside.
You walk up to the hostess and explain with much frustration what just happened at Chez Pierre. She proceeds to explain that all they have at Sweet Cream is a chef’s tasting menu as well.
Sweet Cream has a different tasting menu than Chez Pierre but you still don’t get to make any substitutions…
Our current two-party political system is not all that dissimilar to the restaurants in the story above. The parties are more divided today than ever before. There is next to nothing they can agree upon. Forget about bipartisan politics…
Why is that?
As a politician, if you are a Democrat, you must fully align with the parties platform which is skewed towards the left. Similarly as a Republican you must be skewed towards the right.
There is no middle ground anymore. To be in the middle in either party is to commit political suicide in many cases. To disagree with a fundamental party line is a death sentence.
God forbid a Republican agreed with abortion or a Democrat be against immigration.
Is it any wonder we’ve been so unable to come to any sort of bipartisan agreement on health care reform?
Why are things this way? Well I have no evidence to back this up but my gut tells me its popular ignorance. How else would anyone going into the polls and vote if they couldn’t see ® and (D) next to each name? All anyone has to do is figure out which party is “closest” to what they want/value and vote down the line. Hell, to speed things up they should start adding an option at the top of the voting card that just says “All (D)” or “All ®” and be done with it. Some states probably already do this.
The two party system and the strict adherence to the party platforms that are required by it prevents people from having to make crazy informed decisions by… I don’t know… actually researching the candidates. An attempt at saving the people from themselves if you will.
But there’s a big problem with this system. I don’t fully (or even mostly) agree with either party. The problem is there’s only two restaurants and all they offer are tasting menus.
So how do we fix the problem? I’m not sure I have the answer to that unfortunately.
One idea I’ve had comes from the somewhat recent Windows browser ballot changes that have been implemented in the EU. It was decided that instead of installing IE by default, users would be prompted with a ballot screen as part of their Windows installation which would ask them which of the five major browsers they wanted to install/use. A short blurb and a link to learn more is given for each brower. To avoid preferential treatment, the order of the ballot was randomized.
Early indications are that the ballot is working and IE usage is dropping as a result. Giving people an option to make an informed decision can work… what a novel idea.
Could something similar work in politics? Maybe.
Maybe we can’t get rid of political parties altogether (I mean who would pay for campaigns then, right? haha) but what if we simply removed the ® and (D) next to each candidates name on the ballot and randomized the order? Each candidate could give a brief summary of their views on key topics that would appear on the ballot and maybe there could be additional informational pamphlets available at the polling location if voters were interested in finding out more.
Perhaps they’d still just align fully one way or the other but at least then people would gain more insight into the party platforms that way.
I don’t know if it’s feasible or not but one thing’s certain: I hate the chef’s tasting menu because it always has foie gras…