Election 2016

The Two-Party System Is a Shambling Zombie

It's time to breathe new life into America's undead political parties.


Reporter: "Are they slow moving, Chief?" Officer: "Yeah, they're dead. They're all messed up."

Dialogue from the 1968 pop-cult classic Night of the Living Dead sums up the condition of America's two venerable political parties. Like Zombies, Democrats and Republicans brainlessly plod along, barely hanging on as organizers of choice in our campaign and governance politics. Impotent shells of their former selves, they spawn no new committed partisans, with the upcoming millennial demographic seeking more than just two choices, declaring independence from one-size-fits-all politics. The parties are two old oak trees, providing some shade but rotting at their cores.

The Grand Old Party is split into five branches—actually three limbs, a twig, and a re-surfaced rotting root. The Party of the People has two divisions competing for dominance among its presidential, congressional, and state electoral wings.

Reason TV: Trump and Hillary vs. The Walking Dead—story continues below

Here are findings from autopsies of the bodies left on the political landscape after the Zombie Political Apocalypse of 2016.

The GOP's five divisions (which overlap of course)

Main street, Wall Street conservatives. They are the Bob Dole, Mitt Romney, and Paul Ryan Republicans, who say they seek small government, with little regulation of a fabled free market, demanding low taxes and balanced budgets. Many of them make comfortable livings on K Street in Washington, as corporate welfare lobbyists.

Social conservatives. The anti-gay, anti-choice TV preachers and their flocks are reliable Republican voters, with exit polls revealing a remarkable 81 percent of white, self-identified evangelicals supported Trump, the twice-divorced and thrice married-to-foreigners New Yorker, who has held various positions on abortion and gay rights.

Economic libertarian conservatives. Northeastern, country club Episcopalian Republicans are a dying breed. They make wealth-centric voting decisions, holding blue blood noses in the presence of their Southern, Bible-beating soc-con brethren. Some were publicly part of the #NeverTrump crowd, but probably supported the cheesy real estate magnate in the privacy of no-selfies-allowed voting booths, to protect their bank accounts.

Neo-conservatives. Few in number, they are a twig, not a branch of the GOP tree. But they loom large in old print media editorial and op-ed page propaganda. With help from The Washington Post and The New York Times, these ideologues are always ready to sacrifice American lives and treasury. They gave us the Bush-Cheney elective war in Iraq and Obama's 2009 surge in Afghanistan, working with the neo-con lite faction in the Democratic Party, headed by Hillary and Bill Clinton.

The white nationalist alt-right. Just when we thought it can't happen here, it did. Alt-right Stephen "Breitbart" Bannon was designated as chief White House strategist by Donald Trump, becoming part of the definition of Republican. Sweep back dirt from the rotting roots of the Republican Party tree, and you expose the white nativists, given aid and comfort in the past year by their chosen leader Trump, haranguing against Muslims and Mexican rapists and murderers.

The two Democratic divisions (which also overlap)

The progressive, process liberals. These Democrats-in-the-electorate are championed by Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. Erstwhile opponents of elective wars and Wall Street bankers, they demand social inclusion of a long list of identity groups, particularly black, brown, Asian, and LGBT people. They want a lot of free stuff, including more Social Security and Medicare for early baby boomers, and tuition-free college for boomer grandchildren. They are citizens united against the First Amendment and its free political speech guarantee, which they want constitutionally amended so they can feel free to speak in "safe spaces."

The now-old New Democrats, colluding with crony capitalists. This congressional and in some cases gubernatorial division of the Democratic Party reared its head in the mid-1980s, as an alt-left option to throw-backs to early 20th century progressives, along with 1950s complete-the-New-Deal, 1960s Great Society, and 1970s McGovern identity-politics Democrats. They are crony capitalist-friendly, tough-on-defense, neo-liberals. With guidance from their pollsters and media consultants, they seek to attract Reagan Democrats to their election-by-election coalitions, forgetting that Reagan Democrats are mostly dead. They give liberal lip service to the social-issues policy frame, while focusing on the economy, stupid, and a neo-con lite foreign policy. They are represented by New York's Chuck Schumer in the Senate Democratic caucus.

So where the hell does that leave the two "major" parties? As a libertarian Democrat, I have no interest in cleaning up the stinking mess left by elephants in the Trump circus. But I would suggest to fellow Democrats that we focus on up-and-coming millennials and their desire for more choices in all three issue frames of politics: economic, foreign, and social.

Start with choosing an institutional party chairman or chairwoman who understands we are now less than the sum of our parts. We are nearly dead. We're all messed up.