Sobran Column -- One-Party Democracy
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One-Party Democracy

October 5, 1999

The new conservative cliché on Pat Buchanan is that he is no longer a conservative. But the argument behind this proposition is damning to those who assert it.

The columnist Mona Charen says that by leaving the Republican Party and running on the Reform Party ticket, as he obviously means to do, Buchanan, if he took votes from George W. Bush, “could elect Al Gore or Bill Bradley president.” Accusing Buchanan of sacrificing “principle” to “egotism,” she asks: “How much does he care about abortion and other social issues if he is willing to increase the odds that a Democrat will be appointing judges for the next four years?”

Miss Charen assumes that Buchanan would run expecting to lose. If he really thinks he could win, her argument falls at once. But even if Buchanan were running as a spoiler, Miss Charen has given the game away.

If a Democrat is elected president, he will nominate pro-abortion justices and judges to the federal courts. But they would still have to be confirmed — and Miss Charen implies that the Republicans would confirm them!

And why not? She’s quite right, though she doesn’t seem to grasp what she is admitting. The allegedly pro-life Republicans have voted overwhelmingly to confirm Bill Clinton’s pro-abortion nominees, including Supreme Court justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer. Mrs. Ginsburg was confirmed by a Senate vote of 97 to 3, and the Republicans — led by Orrin Hatch of Utah — absolutely fawned on her.

Clinton’s lower-court appointees, who consistently support late-term abortions, have also enjoyed Republican support. Meanwhile, such pro-abortion justices as Sandra Day O’Connor and David Souter were appointed by Republican presidents — and Republicans in the Senate voted to confirm them.

This is exactly why so many conservatives are ready to bolt the Republican Party, and why Buchanan charges that Washington has a one-party system “masquerading” as a two- party system.

In crucial respects, the Democrats and Republicans are partners rather than foes. They join to exclude rival parties from the ballot. The chief difficulty any new party encounters is “ballot access,” because the two major parties, often in the name of campaign “reform,” have the legal power to set the hurdles for entry so high that a new party exhausts its funds and energy just getting a niche on the ballots of the states. They may spend millions of dollars collecting signatures, only to have those signatures arbitrarily invalidated.

In effect, a new party has to apply for a license to run against the Democrats and Republicans. And the Democrats and Republicans control the licenses.

In short, the two giant parties absolutely agree that there should be only two viable parties. Yet if there is one idea the Founding Fathers would have abhorred, it’s that the government should have the power to regulate its own opposition. They agreed that the people should be free to unseat those in power; that’s the whole point of elections — to enable peaceful revolution. And they defined tyranny as the concentration of all power in a few hands; and a government that can decide who may oppose it meets that definition, by denying the people the right to remove their rulers.

In most other areas of life, from religion to TV channels to food and dress, Americans enjoy a wide range of options. But not in politics, where they are told that two options constitute “democracy” and any more options would create “anarchy” — though the European democracies (and a few states in this country) somehow survive with multi-party systems.

In the business world, if two corporations even try to control an industry and eliminate smaller competitors, they face stern antitrust action. But not in politics, where the two giant parties enjoy electoral hegemony and use every device to keep competitors off the market.

If the Democrats, when they controlled Congress and the presidency, had passed legislation to keep the Republicans off the ballot, everyone would have recognized a crime against self- government. But when both giant parties do the same to smaller parties, nobody seems to mind.

Joseph Sobran

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