In a previous editorial, staff writer Laura Waldron commented on how the current state of the American two-party system signaled the failure of American politics. While it is true that political partisanship has become pervasive and highly visible as of late, it is hardly anything new. The fact that Democrats and Republicans refuse to concede to each other can be seen as just another example of the two-party system going about its usual business. For example, the party divisions during the Civil War and Reconstruction were much more pronounced and inflexible than they were now. From before the 1860s and past the 1960s, a span of over 100 years, (with the exception of the twelve years of Reconstruction from 1865-77), the South remained solidly, resolutely, and stubbornly the domain of the Democratic party, and the southern representatives and senators clashed openly with the moderate and radical Republicans of the north long after the last shots were fired in 1865.
Woodrow Wilson’s presidency in the early 20th century was another classic example of partisan bickering in American politics. Republican senator William Cabot Lodge, who considered himself Wilson’s academic rival at the federal level of government, launched a vehement and unrelenting partisan attack on the Democrat Wilson’s policies, among these being the resolutions for establishing the League of Nations after World War I. On the issue of holding America responsible to the requirements of the Treaty of Versailles and to the needs of the other nations in the League, absolutely no concessions from Lodge were made for Wilson, and vice-versa. The end result was America refused to enter the League Wilson had advocated for.
In the 1960s some of the civil rights legislation being considered in congress faced unrelenting opposition from the Republican party and some of the more conservative members of the Democratic party. The conservative wing of congress, eager to see the Civil Rights Act of 1964 die, cynically inserted language which would grant not only more comprehensive rights and protections for racial minorities, but also for women. They did this in the hope that the clause to promote women’s rights would cause the liberal Democrats to see the section as too extreme and therefore cause a wholesale rejection of the bill. The plan backfired, however, and the bill passed with protections for both minorities and women, to the dismay of conservatives.
So partisan politics is nothing new in the U.S. If anything, the fact that the American two-party system has lasted this long is remarkable, and it has definitely seen worse. So does this mean we are stuck with this two party system, which, even though it has endured more damaging trials, is today still blemished with obvious faults? Not really. Since the 60s more and more Americans have self-identified as politically independent, rather than siding with either political party. The Watergate scandal of 1974 was a major turning point in public perception of American government altogether; by that time, many citizens saw both sides of the government as untrustworthy, and as a result, a generation of politically moderate voters took root. Even reactionary movements like the Tea Party are a testament to this, and as time goes on, broader platforms and philosophies will emerge. So, there is hope, though–as evidenced by the long tradition of partisan hackery in America–it might take awhile to manifest itself into something more palatable…and civil.