Among the various complaints I’ve heard about the state of American democracy, I’m probably most sympathetic to the idea that it’s just not British enough.
Since the current two-party dominated system solidified after the Civil War, no state has really been considered a lock for Democrats or Republicans. From New England to California, they’ve swung one way or another with each party very nearly capturing all Electoral College votes on a few occasions.
But since the 2000 election, the more conservative “red states” and more liberal “blue states” have been pretty clear. Politicians at the federal level fall into one of the two parties, while a few extremely rare independents show up on the election graphics in yellow. It’s led to candidates placing a great deal of focus on states that are balanced enough to go either way, and plenty of jokes about just why Ohioans are suddenly so important to the country.
When I spent a few months in England in 2004, I would often listen to the BBC before going to bed to enjoy some of the highlights from Parliament that day. In the audio clips, the members routinely made cutting arguments that never failed to rouse a cacophony of “here here!” and outbursts of disdain. If Congress acted in the same way, I’m sure CSPAN would have a lot more viewers.
It wasn’t until I got back that England had its parliamentary elections, a rather more complex process than our own. For one thing, there are three major parties. They have their own red and blue, even if they have opposite meaning from our own color scheme: Conservatives as blue, Labor as red. While we have a few dots of yellow on the map, this is the color given to a sizeable chunk of the House of Commons to represent the dozens of Liberal Democrats in Parliament. And the process ensures representation by several smaller parties besides.
Perhaps most bizarre was the way the results are announced. Candidates aren’t sequestered in headquarters surrounded by supporters, but on stage at some public place. They’re all wearing ribbons of their party’s color, making the election look a bit like the awards ceremony at a grammar school spelling bee. Once the results are read, they each get a chance to make a short concession or victory speech to the people who have gathered at the venue.
No one is shut out from this part of the process. Perhaps the best example was one district where, as the results were being read, the camera panned to each candidate in their suit and tie. Then it moved over to a man who looked like a bombastic Texas oil baron, dressed as he was in a white suit and cowboy hat. His button took up most of his coat and featured all the colors of the major party. Without a change in tone, the announcer read off the results for the candidate from the Raving Monster Loony Party.
This party has gone a long way toward injecting some comic relief into the political process. Their most recent platform included suggestions such as replacing the road map to peace in the Israel-Palestine conflict with a more modern GPS, putting an end to greyhound racing to keep the country from going to the dogs, and banning self responsibility “on the grounds that it may be dangerous to your health.”
Somewhere in my computer, I’ve got a partially completed platform based on the Raving Monster Loony Party’s tongue-in-cheek ideas and a loose idea of launching a half-serious campaign for national office via Facebook. That way I don’t have to beg for any money, after all.
Alas, I’ve been a bit too busy to finish it and I missed a perfect opportunity to put it into practice in this year’s Senate race. That was practically a Raving Monster Loony Party on its own.
Oh well. There’s always next time. And at least now the campaign ads can stop.