Mitchell Chapman: Improbable solution to political oligopoly

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PITTSFIELD — In business, free markets spurred by many competitors protect the consumer against toxic practices solely because in this scenario, consumers are free to move their business elsewhere. In politics, however, we don't always have this option.

America's political system is not a free market; it's an oligopoly, a market with limited competition arguably sustained by an oligarchy of the wealthiest one percent of the country, who are free to donate to any political organization or political campaign that they so wish, thanks to the disastrous Supreme Court decision Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. And this oligarchy has it in their best interests to continuing supporting two political parties that have monopolies over political ideals and agendas, with all conservatives who want a fighting chance being forced to join the Republican Party, and all likewise liberals being forced to join the Democratic Party. Even Bernie Sanders, the longest-serving independent member of Congress in American history, saw the need to run for the Democratic nomination for president in 2016 in order to have a fighting chance, and his following political revolution has been largely focused on transforming the Democratic Party, bringing them further to the left, rather than supporting independent candidates or working towards making a feasible third political party option.

For most Americans, the notion of there being only Democrats or Republicans as serious political options is so ingrained, as are the roots of these organizations in this country, that the thought of there being more than two political parties rarely crosses their minds, and when it does it's seen as a joke, thanks largely to the fact that the largest third parties, the Green and Libertarian parties, have failed to have lasting political impacts outside of the presidential elections, of which they have always done abysmally.

APPROPRIATION, ASSIMILATION

The reality of establishing a viable, competitive third party, is always tied to a few main factors. The first is duplication. Think of the cases of the Green and Libertarian parties. At their cores, they largely focus on environmental and small government policies respectively, both of which have already been embraced by the Democratic and Republican parties, though it is arguable that the Green and Libertarian parties take these issues to more extremes. Still, they fail to be fundamentally different from the competition, and as such, they fail to stand out in ways that matter.

It also doesn't help that the Democratic and Republican parties are changing organizations, with their politics shifting by the day. This allows them to appropriate any successful third party ideas that arise. We're seeing this with the Democrats pushing for a Green New Deal, something that two-time Green Party presidential nominee Jill Stein advocated for as early as her 2012 run for president, and they've since picked up many policies touted by Bernie Sanders, including free public colleges, universal health care and working towards a living wage of $15 an hour.

The Republican Party has been less influenced by third parties, though it must be noted how they flocked around then-political outsider Donald Trump, who has had a profound impact on the party, mostly in terms of their changed views on accountability (Republicans held former President Barack Obama under a microscope, but won't lift a finger to hold Trump accountable) and foreign policy (think the use of Immigration Customs and Enforcement at the border and the push to fund his border wall).

The two major parties are such that if a serious challenger arises, they can either copy or assimilate them. In many ways, it's like fighting the Borg from "Star Trek."

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How do we break up the oligopoly?

It starts with money. It's hard to get any sort of message out there without having millions of dollars in advertising funds, though with the cases of U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and many of her Democratic freshmen peers, we know it is possible to run successful political campaigns without large donors.

But establishing a political party is a bit different, seeing as a big reason for joining a political party is the support it can give you as a candidate, and that's extremely hard to do without any donor connections. Ideals aside, third parties need to have something to offer candidates if they hope to recruit enough to even remotely challenge the Democrats or Republicans, and facing off against these two organizations would most likely be a multi-generational battle, as both parties have the benefit of hundreds of years of name recognition, donor relations and political experience.

WEALTHY BUY PARTIES

It is clear that having only two major parties is not to the benefit of the majority of the American people, especially when we have campaign donation laws and laws in general that allow wealthy individuals and private corporations to exert a great deal of influence and control over these parties through their wallets, creating a situation where candidates of both parties constantly have to compromise their positions with corporate interests, as well as the overall wishes of party elite.

And even if a major third party is able to establish itself, there's nothing in place to prevent it from being just as bad or worse than the Democratics or Republicans, but more established parties could at least bring a great deal of nuance to our political discourse, having us be able to choose between a choice A, B, C or even D in a variety of political races all across the country, rather finding ourselves more often than not having to pick between the Republican or the Democrat.

The odds that there will be a third major American political party in our lifetimes is unlikely, barring catastrophic failure of the two established names, but if our political system is going to represent the diverse voices of the people, as opposed to compromising and boiling down those positions into market-friendly party-approved "liberal" and "conservative" stances, major third parties are what we need to make the marketplace of ideas in American politics a true and free marketplace, rather than a place of controlled ideals and limited ideas.

Because America is not just right and left; it has a complex, nuanced spectrum of stances, opinions and ideals that should not be lost or curated by party elite or special interests. It's a spectrum that ought to be set free to realize its true potential in our political system.

Mitchell Chapman is an Eagle staffer and an independent voter.


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