The False Dichotomy of Bipartisanship


Judge overturns Ohio law, restores in-person early voting  in 3 days leading to Election Day (
Ohio Democratic officials fired for attempt to extend early voting (Reuters)

I wasn’t sure how much of last week’s Republican National Convention I’d try to catch, but I saw a fair bit of it and I was glad I did, if only to see the Romney campaign deal itself yet another series of setbacks. Republicans desperately needed people to enter their convention talking about the economy and exit it talking about how great a president Romney would be. Instead, they entered it talking about “legitimate rape” and exited talking about whatever thing that was Clint Eastwood did on national television before Romney’s speech. I understand Republicans’ desires to get Eastwood out there to rally their base and appeal to moderates — he’s a lot better than some of the celebrities they trot out like Pat Boone and Victoria Jackson — but it was clear they wanted Dirty Harry, and what they got was Grandpa Simpson. Seriously, the whole time Eastwood was rambling , I was expecting him to look down and shout “There aren’t my pants!” Romney followed that with the best speech of his campaign so far, but hardly anyone’s talking about that since Eastwood stole the show in the worst possible way, and in a few days President Obama is likely to give another barnburner of a speech, the last really competitive long-form speech of his presidency regardless of what happens in November.

The campaign ads have definitely picked up here in Ohio, and for good reason, because Romney is not polling well here and, as many others have pointed out, winning the presidency without carrying Ohio is an all-but-impossible task for Romney. This is probably thanks to the big push Republicans, led by Governor John Kasich, made to destroy the power of public unions last year, much like another Republican governor, Scott Walker of Wisconsin, did around the same time. Unlike in Wisconsin, though, Ohioans got a repeal of the bill Kasich signed on the ballot last year, and Ohio voters defeated it by a 22-point margin. Ohio Republicans have had serious image problems since then, and if the presidential election tightens up, it could very well be Republicans’ overreach on dismantling unions here in Ohio that keeps Barack Obama in the White House for four more years.

That isn’t to say that Republicans aren’t doing their darnedest to increase Romney’s chances of winning Ohio in November. Much like other states in the country, Republicans in Ohio have been passing new laws making it harder to vote in the state by tightening voter ID requirements. Republicans have been doing this under the guise of “protecting the vote,” but given the dearth of voter fraud cases in this country since 2000, many have brought up the possibility of Republicans doing this to make it harder for lower-income voters that historically vote Democratic, particularly minority voters (one recent poll showed Mitt Romney’s support among African-Americans at 0%), to vote in November, which could conceivably swing close states Romney’s way. It doesn’t help that Ohio kind of embarrassed itself in 2004 with all the voting problems in that year’s big election — some Ohioans waited in line for over eight hours, or else got fed up and didn’t vote at all — and if Ohio hadn’t gone for Bush then John Kerry would have become president.

These recent voting controversies in Ohio went national thanks to Rachel Maddow bringing them up repeatedly on her MSNBC show. Removing the last three days of early voting is kind of a big deal, because many African-American churches have historically taken their congregations to vote early on the Sundays before election day, and if they hadn’t known about this change — I certainly hadn’t gotten any notification about it from the state before it was overturned — a lot of eligible African-American voters may not have been able to make alternate plans to vote. More important to me was the problem we had earlier, where voters in Republican-leaning counties would have had more hours to vote, a blindingly obvious problem that our Secretary of State did “fix” to an extent after repeated segments about it on The Rachel Maddow Show, although now there are additional problems with county elections officials getting fired for trying to extend voting hours even further.

The problem arose because in each county in Ohio, the countywide panels that determine some local voting rules, such as early voting hours, are each made up of two Democrats and two Republicans. Democrats statewide, if not nationally, support extending early voting opportunities to make it easier for people to vote. What was happening was that in the rural, solidly Republican counties in Ohio, Republicans were supporting extending early voting hours, but the Republicans in Democratic-leaning counties were opposing them. With the deciding vote being cast by our Republican Secretary of State, it was looking like there would be more opportunities for voters in Republican-leaning counties to vote, until the Secretary of State rightly decided that early voting opportunities would be the same in every county across Ohio. No amount of rhetorical gymnastics would be enough to “explain” that discrepancy.

It’s the composition of those panels, though, that really bothered me. Yes, they’re “bipartisan,” but they’re only truly representative of Ohio if you believe the false assumption that there are only two political parties in the state.  What if the panels had been composed of a Republican, a Democrat, a Green, and a Libertarian? Given that third parties tend to benefit from an increased voter base, they would not only have probably stopped this whole controversy about different voting hours in different counties before it started, but the panels would have been more representative of the diversity of elected officials Ohioans have to choose from. I chose the Green and Libertarian parties because their presidential campaigns are on enough ballots nationwide that they could conceivably get 270 electoral votes, and thus the presidency; if you include other third parties who have their presidential candidate on Ohio’s ballot this year, you can add the Constitution Party and Socialist Party USA to the list as well.

It stuns me how in this election, when dissatisfaction with both the Republican and Democratic Parties seems to be the highest I can ever remember it being, third parties aren’t seeing a significant upswing in interest and coverage in mass media. Granted, as a member of the Green Party I do have a personal interest in seeing the party get more attention, but even if I did identify as a Democrat or a Republican, I would still want a greater diversity of opinions out there in the public sphere. In the language of logic, thinking that you can only choose between a Republican or a Democrat is what’s known as a false dichotomy, an incorrect assumption that there are only two sides to an argument. More than ever people are fed up with both parties, and yet ever since the 2000 election and all the “Ralph Nader spoiled the election for Al Gore” gobbledygook, it seems like people think they have to hold their noses and vote for the big R or the big D, no matter how much they disagree with the party or its candidates.

The way the “big two parties” monopolize the corporate media is sickening. It’s been obvious since the 1997 expansion of cable news networks that the idea of there being some kind of 24-hour news cycle is ridiculous, and yet instead of the news networks expanding their coverage of third parties, which might at least be informative, we get the same Republican and Democratic talking heads hour after hour, each network aping the format of the others when a show gets decent ratings, we’re locked into this false dichotomy mentality, and every time I see James Carville’s bald head on my television I want to scream. Just like with sports rivalries, though, there’s a lot of money to be made in that black-and-white, “us versus them” presentation, and so it probably isn’t going away any time soon. I know Current is paying more attention to the third party candidates, and bravo to them for doing so, but they shot themselves in both feet with the way they handled Keith Olbermann, and I don’t see them getting a bigger footprint on television unless they somehow manage to land another anchor of similar stature or controversy.

I can’t say that the “horse race” of two-party politicking doesn’t have any interest to me — I’ll be watching the Democratic National Convention this week, probably betting with myself on which of their promises will be the first to go once President Obama has to deal with all the obstructionist Republicans in Congress — but no matter what happens when the election is done, it seems like we’re in for more frustration, more anger, and more bellyaching about how our two-party system creates far more problems than it solves. I wish I knew how to convince people to give the other parties a shot. A lot of people would probably be less dissatisfied with American politics if they did.

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