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Gregg: Troubles of party system laid bare

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Once there was a Republican Party; today there is not.

Once there was a two-party system in America; today there is not.

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Those, in a nutshell, are the most serious and substantive lessons to be drawn from the defeat of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) in a GOP primary contest last week.

After all the bloviating, to use an old Republican term coined by President Harding, by the pundits on Fox, CNN, and in newspapers and on websites, the real concern is the disappearance of the Republican Party as a functioning party.

With Cantor’s startling loss, a reality has been bared that has been suspected and whispered about, but has never before been displayed so publicly and starkly.

It is that the two-party system, which has been essential to the orderly governance of the nation for a long time, is now in shambles.

That structured system, whatever its flaws, has facilitated the reasonably rational and effective governance of a large and complex nation. Now, it has splintered into a series of fiefdoms or factions.

One need look no further than the European nations of France, Greece, Spain and even Germany to realize that it is virtually impossible to effectively govern a democracy when political systems are debilitated by the presence of too many parties or factions.

By definition, the people who gather around those parties or factions are true believers. They speak mostly to others who share the same specific, and often unyielding, goals. They do not see the need to reach beyond those who are already of like mind, and convince or persuade the uncommitted.

This, ultimately, is a recipe for inaction and stalemate.

This is especially true in our form of democracy. Unlike the parliamentary systems that dominate in Europe, where the reins of government are held by the party or parties that control the parliament, we are a government intentionally divided, with a two-house legislative branch and an independent executive.

Thus, under our system, a proliferation of factions or parties generate even greater forces for inertia, and make it even harder for the government to govern.

The purpose of the two-party system, when it is working, is to begin the process of compromise.

This is critical in a checks-and-balances system because it gathers together people within each party of various views and pushes them toward agreement as to how they wish the government to move forward.

With noncommunicative factions or strident sub-parties, such movement cannot occur. Things just stop. And they have.

This is the message that Cantor’s defeat delivers, in neon lights. But it is in fact a message that has been building and has been sent out by both parties for some time now.

It may be that in the short run, Democrats can take glee in the dysfunction now apparent in the Republican Party. But Republicans have not cornered the market in the rise of factions and the deterioration of the party as an effective vehicle for governance and coherent policies.

The Democrats are not far behind. Those on the left are being pushed aside by the hard left, which is intent upon the resurrection of progressivism (more accurately named socialism) as the key cause of the Democratic Party.

Factions, whether on the right or the left, are not much different when it comes to intolerance and an inherent antipathy to compromise and thus to governing.

Eric Cantor is a conservative. He was a strong leader of his conference and of the House of Representatives, a good spokesman for those who want a smaller and less intrusive federal government.

What he was not, was a member of a faction. He was a member, and a good one, of a party that he wanted to see govern.

It used to be called the Republican Party. It is hard to know what to call it now.

Judd Gregg is a former governor and three-term senator from New Hampshire who served as chairman and ranking member of the Senate Budget Committee and as ranking member of the Senate Appropriations subcommittee on Foreign Operations.