March 30, 2004
Senator John McCain, the Arizona Republican
known for his straight talk, recently caused comment, but not enough,
when he said, in reply to a reporters question, that, yes, he might
entertain an invitation to be John Kerrys running
mate, but he stressed that its very unlikely to happen.
Well, why not? Such a ticket
would be sensational two Vietnam war heroes on the same ticket!
and it would be hard for two Republican stay-at-home hawks to
It would also be a natural and
fitting culmination of McCains career as a maverick Republican.
Like Jim Jeffords of Vermont, McCain is a Republican With A Conscience,
which he periodically brings out in public to do tricks like a performing
Republicans who have
consciences are very proud of them. Why hide your light under a bushel?
Use it or lose it.
But the subject was quickly
dropped. Too bad, because McCains remark spoke volumes about our
alleged two-party system.
If, as they pretend, the
Democrats and the Republicans are opposed in principle, why is it even
possible, and not terribly unusual, for politicians to jump from one party
to the other?
Suppose we had two major
parties who really stood for mutually exclusive principles: say, a
Socialist Party devoted to expanding the power of the state and a
Libertarian Party devoted to keeping state power minimal. Each party
would vote against every measure the other party favored, and its
campaign promise, every election year, would be to repeal every law the
other party had passed.
In such a genuine two-party
system, nobody would switch to the other party unless he had a virtual
religious conversion, changing his entire philosophy. Otherwise he would
appear a mere hypocrite and opportunist. An avowed Socialist and an
avowed Libertarian would have nothing in common. It would be nonsense to
ask a Libertarian senator if he might run on the same ticket with a
isnt nonsense to ask a Republican senator if he could run on the
same ticket with a Democrat. Of course he could! Its unlikely to
happen, but only for practical reasons. McCain didnt laugh at the
Everyone accepts this, but few
think about what it implies. We all know that Republicans, when they come
to power, gladly never try to repeal laws passed by Democrats, or refuse
to administer programs passed by the Democrats over Republican
opposition. No, the Republicans adopt those programs as their own and
even try to expand them, as President Bush has expanded Medicare.
When I go to the express lane at
the supermarket the one that says 15 items or
fewer I always seem to get behind someone with at least
25 items who takes several agonzing minutes writing out a check. I often
joke that this is a country tragically divided by warring concepts of the
In the same way, when people
talk about our two-party system, I sense that America no longer has a
clear grasp of the word two. When I look at our parties, I see
only one. My fellow Americans must be seeing double.
The talk-show partisans are
roaring that George W. Bush and John F. Kerry are elemental opposites, like
fire and ice. I view them rather as complements, like yin and yang, who
will only breed more of their kind. The fact that they hate each other
personally means nothing; Im sure Tweedle-Dum and Tweedle-Dee
had their little spats, each violently insisting that the other was a son of
Again, try (hard!) to visualize
election night under a real two-party system. Would the loser
congratulate the winner and urge the country to unite behind him? No! The
loser would say frankly that the outcome was a disaster for the country
as, from the standpoint of his convictions, it would have to be. He
would promise to continue opposing the other partys agenda in
every way he could. There would, and could, be no false comity.
Of course there is little false
comity between Republicans and Democrats either. There is something
worse: real comity. These guys are all in the same racket. They are thick
as thieves for the simple reason that they are all thieves. The only real
issue between them is who will distribute the booty after November.