One can argue that given our current situation the two party system has some real failings, despite our advantages. There is real discontent with both parties. This suggests some sort of problem. Reasonable questions include asking how and why we got here. Although there are multiple reasons, three major factors keep coming up: Special interest money, rigid political and religious ideology and self-interest before public interest.
The last one is hard to pin down. Politicians in office rarely admit they put self-interest above the public interest. However, politicians out of office occasionally do.
A recent example (brought to my attention by Jeff Vanke) is comments made by former California legislative leader Willie Brown, who recently said that the the civil service system was “set up so politicians like me couldn’t come in and fire the people (relatives) hired by the guy they beat and replace them with their own friends and relatives. . . . . . Talking about this is politically unpopular and potentially even career suicide for most officeholders.”
That’s an admission against his own interest (his reputation) because he was involved. Mr. Brown was termed out of office and had nothing to lose, reelection-wise. Mr. Brown did not say those things while still in office. That would have been too politically damaging, i.e., “career suicide”. This is an example of political self-interest before the public interest and explains why the public rarely hears about it.
Another example comes from former senator Max Cleland (D-Georgia). Mr. Cleland admitted (interview comments at 14:15-19:02) that he voted in favor of invading Iraq, even though he was not convinced by the Bush administration’s evidence for Iraqi weapons of mass destruction. He admitted he did so at least partly because of deference to the Bush administration and partly because of political self-interest in the midst of his re-election campaign (political suicide to vote against invading Iraq). Based on his comments, Mr. Cleland presumably would have voted against authorizing force if his political self-interest was not a factor.
Those are examples of political self-interest before the public interest. Is the human trait of doing that anything to worry about? Take Mr. Brown’s example of politicians not wanting to tell the public the truth about government. Apply that to how America conducts itself, for example, in war. If you believe that the government doesn’t want the American public to really know what is going on, then when Americans say they support or do not support a war, how reliable is their opinion? How can they come to an informed opinion, if political self-interest dictates keeping citizens in the dark?
The answer is that they can’t.