In this winter of electoral discontent—as The New York Times noted recently, "Only 9% of America Chose Trump and Clinton as the Nominees"—it's worth puzzling over how the Republicans and Democrats can maintain a stranglehold on major political offices. Indeed, both Pew Research and Gallup show that voter identification with each party is at or near historic lows. Who can blame us, especially when the nominating process coughs up fur balls such as Donald and Hillary, the most-disliked candidates ever?
The Dems and Reps are less popular than ever because they each have had opportunities to govern in the recent past and each party screwed things up big time. The GOP under Bush not only inaugurated a series of poorly conceived and terribly prosecuted wars but exploded spending and regulation at home. Bush capped it all off by explicitly abandoning "free-market principles to save the free-market system" in late 2008. Obama took that ball and ran with it, continuing a ruinous foreign policy, pushing a useless stimulus, and squandering his political advantage on what even liberals consider mistakes in hindsight: "the Affordable Care Act and carbon cap-and-trade legislation."
No matter how much liberal and conservative establishments insist that this election present only a "binary choice" (in Speaker Paul Ryan's phrase), the fact is that Americans don't really want either of these options put in front of them. In a 21st century where we all take for granted an ever-increasing proliferation of choices, options, and customization in every other aspect of our lives (commercial, cultural, personal), politics must adapt and stop trying to stuff all of us into two categories that are no longer relevant to how we live today. Think of it this way: We are rapidbly unbundling our cable choices via a la carte offerings and Hulu, Netflix, Amazon, and web-only HBO and Showtime subscriptions. Yet the Democrats and Republicans are selling us the most overpriced, ridiculous bundles imaginable. If you are pro-choice, then you can only be a Democrat, where you need to also support higher taxes, mandatory unionism, and Net Neutrality. If you are in favor of flatter taxes, you're stuck with Republicans who will also bend your ear about ending immigration and abortion (do these things have any necessary connection?) and who can't abide gender-neutral bathrooms.
The question in 2016 isn't whether we're sick of the status quo—the rise of Trump and, in many ways, Bernie Sanders, testifies that we are. The question is how do we get to the next stage of electoral politics, one in which we can sort ourselves with less pain and suffering?
At ABC News, former (read: recovering) political consultant Matthew Dowd suggests that the first step is to push back on partisans who insist on binary thinking and recall the lesson of Southwest Airlines, which successfully challenged a duopoly situation in Texas.
Here in Texas a few decades ago, a young upstart airline decided to enter the marketplace to provide cheaper and better service. Southwest Airlines opened for business with little support, and was fought by the two dominant airlines in Texas, Braniff and American, every step of the way.
Today, Southwest is the most profitable domestic airline, and Braniff is out of business. Airline customers are much better off because Southwest stood up to the two legacy Texas airlines….
n case after case, when the "binary" choice is between broken legacy institutions who have monopolized power for years and who have ignored the demands of customers, the natural result is innovators arise to provide a better, more effective way. And the legacy institutions scream loud and wide and try to crush them.
That sounds about right (Matt Welch and I sketched the inspiring story of Southwest in our 2011/12 book The Declaration of Independents, itself an extended attack on the perils of political duopoly).
Dowd, who worked for Democrats and Republicans back in the day, urges that all sentient voters follow the same dictates we do when shopping for new cars, computers, and clothes:
It is time we reject the messaging from the two major parties, and make choices in our own hearts that help bring the country together. If you don't feel good about either major party choice, then don't be shoved into choosing between what they describe as "the lesser of two evils."
Make an independent and innovative choice that may not win this year, but over time will be successful in reuniting us as a country. We need independents to take back our country and unite us. It is only a binary choice if we listen to the duopoly.
Welch and I talked with Dowd at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia. Here's a Facebook Live stream of that conversation (audio picks up a couple of minutes in). Take a look below. For more convention-related livestreams, go here.