The wacky disadvantages of the two-party system, including the fact that it doesn't represent minority voters at all, more or less, are inbuilt. In a two-party system you can produce a situation in which no one is accurately or fairly represented anywhere. I don't think we can really call that democracy.
Arab-American voters, who traditionally vote Democratic at 60-70 percent, are extremely disillusioned with the Biden administration, for very good reasons. Perhaps they feel that weapons provided by the Biden administration are raining on the Palestinians, while Biden personally backs Israeli propaganda to the hilt, agreeing that last week's hospital strike was launched by Islamic Jihad, and throwing into doubt the completely plausible casualty figures given by the Gaza health ministry: minimizing the catastrophic reality. The Biden administration is apparently trying to mend fences, meeting Arab-American leaders, and qualifying their previous statements.
Many progressives I know are horrified by what's happening in Gaza and are threatening not to vote for Biden. But they will, when they stare at the alternative (= Donald Trump). I don't think this is any substantive problem bearing on Biden's chances for re-election.
"The open disdain toward Biden from many in a reliably Democratic bloc is among the many signs the conflict is quickly remaking U.S. domestic politics," write The Washington Post's reporters in the story linked above. But it can't re-make American politics, which is stuck. Neither Arab-Americans nor any other minority group are in a remaking sort of position. They can’t escape the Democratic Party. They can thrash about, threaten and cajole, but they will, each and every one of them more or less, end up voting for Biden. They have no leverage. This is a two-party system.
The Biden administration should reflect on the approach they're taking to the Gaza conflict. I hope they are. But if they are, I doubt they're not doing it because they will lose Arab-American votes. As it looks now, Arab-Americans, like the rest of us, will again face a choice between Biden and Trump. And it's very unlikely that a viable independent or third-party candidate can emerge in our system as currently constituted.
"Incensed U.S. Arab and Muslim advocacy groups this week called Biden’s remarks about the death count dangerous, and some prominent voices from those communities chimed in on social media, saying that the president had lost them and that they were considering sitting out the 2024 election." Considering sitting it out, mind, not pledging to vote for Donald Trump, he of the Muslim ban, or Cornel West, who doesn't have a chance. They probably won't end up sitting it out. But if they did, this would slightly depress turnout in a group that constitutes one percent or so of the population. Even in a close election, that's not going to be decisive.
The two-party system has many Arab-Americans over a barrel, to the point of more or less forcing them to vote for someone who many of them believe is complicit in the mass killing of their people. You can call that representative democracy if you like, I suppose.
Speaking of The Washington Post, columnist Perry Bacon last week formulated a crystalline version of the problem. He voted for Biden in 2020, of course. He'll "probably" vote for Biden in 2024, he knows. Then he says the Biden administration condones "hyper-aggressive bombing" that has "killed thousands of people, including children." He attacks the administration for throwing doubt on Palestinian casualty figures and participating in Israel's disinformation campaign, and for nodding along as Israel cut off water and power to Gaza. He almost accuses the Biden administration of participating in the war crime of collective punishment (he prefers the phrase "general punishment").
"Some progressives and Arab Americans in particular are saying they won't vote for Biden again. I don't know whether they will follow through on those threats," writes Bacon. I doubt it, if the choice is Biden or Trump. In a two-party system they will end up capitulating to the party whose policies Bacon has just devastatingly enumerated.
Bacon is basically saying: You're participating in a genocide. I will vote for you anyway. In a case like that, we'd have to say that the two-party system is directly causing great moral suffering, and not only for pundits. You’re very likely to have to violate your most dearly-held beliefs to participate at all. Or for that matter to refrain from participating.
Bacon should know a lot about this dilemma. The very worst-case scenario in a two-party system has been demonstrated above all with regard to African-American voters. In national elections, and in many state elections, they just have no power, contrary to what everyone says all the time. It's often said that the Black vote decides elections. Rather, it helps constitute the baseline immobility of the two-party disaster. That doesn’t serve the interests of Black voters whatsoever, but there’s basically no way out in the system as currently configured. The problem is chronic and systemic, and really is "a threat to democracy."
In 1992, Bill Clinton got 83 percent of the black vote. Then came the Los Angeles riots, the Sister Souljah moment, the crime bill, super-predators, increasingly racialized mass incarceration, and the dramatic disintegration of black communities. In 1996 Clinton got 84 percent. Maybe there was a slight decrease in turnout, amounting to a couple of percentage points in the 50 percent of the Black people who vote. That would be a few percent of about six percent of the population. Clinton won easily. There was almost no insult he could’ve delivered, and no policy disaster he could’ve advocated, and no intensification of systemic racism that could’ve changed the black vote.
That means Clinton didn’t have to do anything to win the black vote; he didn’t have to represent the interests of black voters to get their votes. In fact, he didn't represent their interests, and he did get their votes. Biden got 90 percent of the Black vote in 2020, Clinton 93 percent in 2016, Obama 97 percent in 2012. Even Obama was criticized for ignoring many Black concerns. But not taking Black interests into account is fully rational, in this system, if it might cost you white votes and you're going to get 90 percent of the Black vote no matter what you do.
The two-party system tries to reduce all opinions to two and all choices to binary. "If you want to see what it looks like when democracy is in trouble, this is what it looks like," said Harvard "political scientist" Daniel Ziblatt: it looks like eight members of the Republican congressional caucus who disagree on some matters with the others. Disagreement within a party seems insane, impossible or undemocratic, to two-partiers. That these congresspeople would attempt to vote for or express their opinions or (as they see it) represent their constituents, is allegedly the essence of anti-democratic demagoguery or creeping fascism. Democracy, as experts such as Ziblatt insist, requires two gigantic groups dividing the whole population, each of which is entirely homogeneous in itself or at least actively engaged in crushing all dissenters. I think we could probably generate a better characterization of "democracy," though not at Harvard.
At any rate, I appreciate Perry Bacon's honesty and even his exhaustion. He's saying: I'm stuck. I'm going to vote for Biden no matter what. I really hate what he's doing and he's participating in mass killing. I will vote for him anyway. Now, to be fair, Bacon agrees with and admires Biden on a number of grounds, as he says. Still this particular disagreement seems overwhelming, a matter of life and death for thousands of people. Bacon seems more sad than angry that he'll end up voting against some of his most fundamental moral commitments. But the problem isn't any one particular person's apparently forced choices; it's the system that forces them.
—Follow Crispin Sartwell on X: @CrispinSartwell