Are We Slouching Towards
A Two-party System?
On March 11 the New York Times printed a story by Anthony DePalma under the
headline, Naftas Powerful Little Secret.
It was a long, thorough, serious, even-handed and temperate story, which
means that not many people are likely to have read it. Admit it. You didnt
read it, did you? Its not too late. Heres a link to the full text.
Meanwhile the only reason Naftas little secret is still a secret is because
most of us werent paying attention to it when Mr. Clinton and his Wall
Street advisors were sneaking Nafta past us in the early Nineties.
Only the handful of tiresome pinkos who read rags like The Nation, The Progressive,
and Z Magazine were fully informed back then--endlessly informed, really--that
the North American Free Trade Agreement would allow faceless and
unaccountable tribunals, acting in secret, to trample over the laws of any
nation that signed it.
...those pinkos plus a handful of tiresome America-Firsters, for Ross Perot and Pat
Buchanan were saying the exact same thing, at high volume and often.
Most citizens who happened to overhear these freak shows were likely to dismiss
the charges as uninformed falsehoods. Certainly this was the response from the White
House, from Congress, from TV, from the papers, and from the free market
priesthood in university economics departments.
So naturally Nafta passed. And years passed. And it develops now that
corporations have taken to using the agreement--who could have predicted such
a thing?--to trample on the laws of sovereign nations. And not merely the
laws of lesser nations, but our own good old American laws.
For instance, right now a bunch of Canadian undertakers claims that a
Mississippi court violated Nafta when it fined them $500 million for trying
to drive honest American undertakers out of business. This makes the
sovereign state of Mississippi look like some dirt-poor, ignorant banana
And UPS is arguing, before another secret Nafta tribunal, that
the very existence of the Canadian postal system constitutes unfair
competition. (Of course there is no real parallel between this and the
Mississippi outrage. Unlike American undertakers, Canadian postmen are
a brutal, ruthless bunch of socialist monopolists.)
Meanwhile, reviewing the history of Naftas powerful little secret has led me to a new
appreciation of bipartisanship, although not quite in the Bushian sense of
the word. Mr. Bush is nostalgic for unipartisanship, the form of governance
to be found in the Texas legislature and increasingly in the United States
Congress. I am nostalgic for something different.
He may not be aware that the prefix bi comes from an ancient Greek
word meaning two. This would suggest that in olden times we might
actually have had two political parties with differing ideologies. Could such
a curious animal appear again in the United States?
The history of Nafta suggests that maybe it even is. In that instance we saw
the first stirrings of an alliance between the far left and the far right
against our native, north-of-the-border two-headed PRI. Mr. Clinton had the political
skill to prevail against the tiny uprising. Mr. Cheney probably wont.
Already now we are seeing the same two fringes groping toward merger as
ignorant symbols clash by night over faith-based initiatives. And we will be seeing lots more
of the same thing in the coming Rumsfeld-Powell struggle between
neo-isolationism and world leadership--or, to put it a little differently,
between minding our own business and poking our nose in everywhere. Generally
with Cruise missiles.
For myself, Im planning to repose full faith and confidence from now on
in the political judgment of two men. This is to say that whenever Pat Buchanan and Ralph
Nader agree on something, so will I.