The Real "Third Rail" in American Politics
by Shah Gilani
A third rail sometimes runs alongside (or between) the twin rails of a train track to provide electric power to the train. You don't want to step on these high-voltage rails, unless you're game for the shock of your life, or death, as the case may be. In politics, the "third rail" is a metaphor for an issue that's "charged" enough that, by supporting it, you risk derailing your career. Me, personally, I get a real charge out of political discussions, especially contentious issues.
But there's one "third rail" in politics that no-one ever seems to want to talk about. And I don't understand why. It's not even charged. In fact, it's more of a non-starter for most people. They don't get electrified by it; they get indignant, as if you're stupid if you even bring it up. Okay, call me stupid... To me the real "third rail" in American politics is that there is no real third party, or fourth or fifth party, for that matter.
There's nothing in the Constitution about parties or the need for a two-party system.
There's nothing in any of the Founding Fathers' personal or public papers, or anything anywhere on any Revolutionary battlefield, or in the dispatches from Constitutional conventions, or ratification assemblies, or anywhere in our history that even suggests or hints at a two-party system. In fact, in Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and Jon Jay's Federalist Paper No. 10, we are warned that: "A zeal for different opinions concerning religion, concerning government, and many other points, as well of speculation as of practice; an attachment to different leaders ambitiously contending for pre-eminence and power; or to persons of other descriptions whose fortunes have been interesting to the human passions, have, in turn, divided mankind into parties, inflamed them with mutual animosity, and rendered them much more disposed to vex and oppress each other than to co-operate for their common good."
The problem with a two-party system is that both parties are opposition parties all the time. There's no room for compromise. There's no middle ground.
This is where we are in America today. We don't have the fruits and balance of a divided government. We are a nation divided by two warring parties. Federalist Paper No. 10 also warned us that:
"Enlightened statesmen will not always be at the helm. Nor, in many cases, can such an adjustment be made at all without taking into view indirect and remote considerations, which will rarely prevail over the immediate interest which one party may find in disregarding the rights of another or the good of the whole. Complaints are everywhere heard from our most considerate and virtuous citizens, equally the friends of public and private faith, and of public and personal liberty, that our governments are too unstable, that the public good is disregarded in the conflicts of rival parties, and that measures are too often decided, not according to the rules of justice and the rights of the minor party, but by the superior force of an interested and overbearing majority."
My message today is this: Our two-party system isn't working. It's too divisive. It's turned us into a nation of two opposing sides, when there aren't just two issues we face - there are thousands.