Jan 10 2014

Reasons to distrust two-party politics


Reform Party of California Commentary

Poll data regarding Americans’ trust in the two dominant parties and all three branches of the federal government is evidence of widespread public mistrust and unhappiness. Some poll data suggests that many Americans are now receptive to the idea that a third political party is needed to offset some of the perceived two-party ineptitude and/or corruption. Opinion here fully accords with those beliefs.

There are good reasons for Americans to be unhappy. Average people are economically stressed by long-term low wage growth and there is a common perception that the two parties are more focused on serving themselves and their concerns than they are on serving the public interest.

Reasons to be unhappy with government include periodic revelations that some federal agency or another is doing things that are either illegal, almost illegal or unnecessarily damaging to personal liberties. Information on domestic spying by the National Security Agency (NSA) that Edward Snowden released is a recent example. Not surprisingly, the political system defends itself and its actions, or failures to act, while only dimly recognizing that, yet again, they have fallen short on being sufficiently honest with the public. One key NSA insider, Chris Inglis, considers what Snowden has done to the NSA to be equivalent to burning down a house so that, now that it is completely burnt, it can be rebuilt the right way.

Instead of contrition for being “naive”, we get an arrogant, dismissive attitude that is just more evidence the American people come in second to other concerns. Those concerns did not need to trump the public interest such as the public’s need to know, but they nonetheless did. Mr. Inglis, as intelligent as he probably is, just doesn’t get it. The NSA’s house would have been properly built in the first place if our two-party political system was focused on service to the public interest before service to narrower perceived needs for keeping the public uninformed. Snodwen’s leaked documents have prompted calls from both democrats and republicans in congress to a review and reassessment of exactly what the NSA is doing. Why are these calls for a review and reassessment of the NSA coming now? A review occurs now because Snowden forced it, not because there was any congressional intent to ever do anything. President Obama, congress and the entire two-party system was focused on themselves. They were not doing a proper job of oversight in service to the public interest.[1]

Some things don’t change

A past federal “indiscretion” is worth mention.  On March 8, 1971, a group of 8 political activists broke into an FBI office in Media, PA and stole nearly every document in the office. The burglars then began leaking the documents to the press. The activists knew what they were looking for and they just got lucky that proof of their suspicions were in that office. The leaked documents proved that the FBI was heavily engaged in domestic spying, dirty tricks and other forms of politically-inspired sleaze (New York Times, Jan. 7, 2014; online here). Not surprisingly, the federal government tried to prevent the press from reporting on the, no doubt in the name of national security. The FBI was engaged in trying to suppress political and antiwar activists and dissent. The FBI even tried to blackmail Martin Luther King, Jr. into committing suicide by threat of exposing King’s extramarital affairs if he didn’t.

Some of the burglars in the 1971 burglary and theft have recently outed themselves and explained their motives. The statute of limitations for burglary charges expired March 11, 1976, so none of them can be prosecuted. They all maintained their anonymity until now because they were not interested in personal publicity. They just wanted the public to know what the FBI was doing. Without the Media burglary and theft of documents, there is no way to know when and what changes, if any, would have come to the FBI. Congress was then, just as it is now, asleep at the switch and focused on interests other than serving the public interest. It took whistle blowers to force change.

To trust or not to trust

There are very good reasons that millions of Americans do not have much trust in the federal government, the two parties or their politicians. That two-party system has earned distrust. It deserves to be distrusted. That raises the question about what can or does one do if the situation is deemed to be unacceptable? There does not appear to be much of anything that the public can do other than to simply walk away from the two parties and the system of politics they build and forcefully defend every single day.

Events like these do not happen by accident. They reflect the reality that the two-party system does not put the public interest first. Unfortunately, that is an assertion that both parties, the federal government and special interests who benefit from two-party politics will all vehemently dispute. Change is not going to come from within because from the status quo point of view, nothing is broken and therefore nothing needs to be fixed. Given the circumstances, do you believe that or not?


1. Absent Snowden’s revelations, there is no reason to believe that there would be any reassessment or change at the NSA now or ever. After Snowden, one suggested change that the NSA apparently enthusiastically accepts now would be to have an advocate arguing for the public’s interest in the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance (FISA) court. That should have been done from the start or at least sometime before Snowden blew the whistle. The House of Representatives had plenty of time to cast 40 or more votes to overturn or defund some or all of Obamacare, but it did not have time to cast an even cursory glance at what the NSA was doing. Whose interests did that serve? A separate issue is whether the presence of a public advocate in the FISA court would make a difference. Years ago, congress created the office of National Taxpayer Advocate to protect the public’s interest regarding tax policy. That advocate argues intelligently and forcefully every year for common-sense tax policy changes and every year congress simply ignores everything the public’s advocate argues for. If that isn’t evidence that the public interest is a second- or third-order priority for the two-party system, then what is?