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 Seeing Double 

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 reporter’s question, that, Read Joe's columns the day he writes them.yes, he might “entertain” an invitation to be John Kerry’s running mate, but he stressed that it’s 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 beat.

It would also be a natural and fitting culmination of McCain’s 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 pony.

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 McCain’s 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 Socialist.

[Breaker quote: How 
many parties do you see?]But it isn’t nonsense to ask a Republican senator if he could run on the same ticket with a Democrat. Of course he could! It’s unlikely to happen, but only for practical reasons. McCain didn’t laugh at the question.

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 number 15.

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; I’m sure Tweedle-Dum and Tweedle-Dee had their little spats, each violently insisting that the other was a son of iniquity.

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 party’s 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.

Joseph Sobran

Copyright © 2004 by the Griffin Internet Syndicate,
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