The strict father model and the nurturant parent models are two paradigms suggested by the political thinker George Lakoff. If one views the government as the parent of the family-nation, then the strict father model is a metaphor for conservative politics.
There are several tenets that undergird the strict father model. One is that children gain knowledge through a system of rewards and punishments, also known as operant conditioning. Another is that strict parents yield children who are more self-disciplined and more self-reliant. The third is that the father’s job is to deliver rewards for “good” behavior and negative consequences for “bad” behavior. One evocative metaphor of this type of parenting would be letting young children cry until they go to sleep instead of picking them up and rocking them when they continue to try. Another metaphor would be making children earn money to buy their own car without any assistance from the parents. There have been some researchers, though, who have found links between this sort of parenting with children who lack spontaneity, conscience and engagement with society.
A person raised according to this line of thinking would be less likely to support a woman’s right to abortion. This person would view an unplanned pregnancy as the result of poor decisions, either by the woman alone or by the man and woman involved. The woman should not be able to “get out of” this pregnancy through the simple tool of abortion. The trip to the abortion clinic and the procedure are viewed more of an escape mechanism than a tortured decision to end a life. A metaphor for women who get abortions are viewed by this person as sexual libertines, unable to control their desires long enough to either secure birth control or to simply abstain from sexual activity until such time as they are in relationships where they are prepared for one of the consequences of sexual intercourse – the arrival of a child. Another metaphor from this perspective would view abortion as the murder of another person whose existence threatened the murderer’s convenience. While some of these people might make exceptions for women in the cases of rape, incest or endangered health as a result of the pregnancy, because the first two scenarios do not involve the degree of sexual license that most pregnancies would, in their minds.
The “nurturant parent model” also features expectations of the parent placed on the child, but those expectations come with some more freedom. One metaphor is that children are supposed to explore the world around them, while the parents provide a measure of protection. This protection comes in the form of guidance and meeting needs. The operative theory behind this parenting model is that if a child believes that it will have its needs met, it will have more confidence in the face of challenge. The basic tenets of this model include the idea that one can only teach compassion and respect by example; another metaphor for this is that the world is as hostile as it is friendly, but it does demand respect; true discipline has more to do with compassion and respect than literal obedience.
Politically, the nurturant parent model is closer to the liberal philosophy of governance. The idea is that people learn to become responsible, productive citizens as a result of respectful treatment from the government. A metaphor of this could portray the work of the government as a helping hand, reaching out, or the grandfatherly images of President Franklin Roosevelt, talking from his fireside to the American people during the depths of the Great Depression, giving Americans hope. When people need assistance, the government is there to lend a hand.
It is more likely that those who believe in this parenting model would support a woman’s right to abortion. While no one views abortion as a positive outcome, the fact is that if a woman finds herself pregnant but lacks the means to support that baby, she has a choice to make: raise the baby with help from the government-parent or abort the baby and start over. The decision is left to the woman instead of the government-parent. While no one would say that the choice is easy, or even particularly moral, the fact is that the decision is hers to make.
The electoral college is a system unlike any other in the world for electing the leader of a country. In most democracies, people go to the ballots and vote, and those votes are tallied. The results are called the “popular vote,” which determines the winner. In situations where no one gets a majority, either the top two candidates then enter a runoff to see which is the majority winner, or the top percentage winner is named the victor.
The electoral college, though, is different. One of the reasons for this is that the framers of the Constitution wanted an indirect government. Instead of a pure democracy, the American structure is a republic. Each state has a number of electors assigned to it that corresponds to the level of representation that the state has in Congress. This is why populous states like California and New York are so much more valuable in Presidential elections than tiny states like Wyoming or Vermont. When you watch the results of a Presidential election on television, as the evening goes on, you see a map fill up with red or blue states. One color signifies the candidate from the Republican Party, while the other color signifies the candidate from the Democratic Party. The only recent exception to this was the candidacy of Ross Perot and the Reform Party, one of the few third parties to ever have a major impact on a Presidential election. When there were three parties, one of them was assigned the color white for its states.
As each state’s election results become conclusive, the news agencies tracking the election will start assigning hypothetical electoral votes. Currently, the “magic number” for electoral votes is 270; once a candidate has hit that, he or she has the majority and is the presumptive winner of the election. However, the waters are a little murky at this point. For example, while some states have “winner take all” rules that dictate that the winner of a state’s popular vote gets all of its electors, other states do not. Indeed, each state names two slates of electors ahead of each Presidential election, one for each of the two major parties. The winning party’s electors are sent to cast their votes when the House of Representatives certifies the results of the election from the previous fall. However, even in states with the “winner take all” rule, the elector is free to vote for whomever he or she chooses. If an elector does not follow the results of his state or district, he or she is called a “faithless elector.” When this happens, it is usually the result of an attempt to show some sort of protest. This is extremely rare, but it does happen every election or so.
The reason for the selection of this system is that the Founding Fathers did not trust the voters to make the best decisions, and so they put electors who would be nominated by the legislators to finalize those decisions. Just like the Founding Fathers did not want one ruler in the form of a monarch, they also did not want power placed in the hands of the masses. As a result, they found a way that the privileged leaders in politics could preserve the gains of the young nation by controlling those who came after them in a stronger way than abiding by popular vote would have done. Given that, when the Constitution was first written, only white, male property holders could vote, it seems that the Founding Fathers would blanch if shown the current group of people voting in elections.
Over time, several problems have arisen. Originally, electors cast two votes each; the winner was the President, and the runner-up was the Vice President. In 1800, though, the candidates (Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr) tied. The House of Representatives cast 36 separate votes to pick a winner, and while Election Day is in November, the winner was not revealed until February 7, 1801, which led to considerable chaos in the nation. The 12th Amendment was passed to eliminate dual voting by electors. After that, electors voted once for President and once for Vice President. In 1824, the winner of the popular vote did not win the electoral college for the first time. Andrew Jackson won the popular vote and the most electoral votes, but no candidate won the majority of electoral votes. However, in the political wrangling that characterized the House vote, John Quincy Adams emerged the winner. This led to accusations from Jackson that a dirty back-door campaign had kept him from winning the White House, as one of the other candidates, Henry Clay, threw his support to Adams – and ended up being named Secretary of State after Adams was named President. The most famous recent example took place in 2000, when George W. Bush won the electoral vote as a result of a Supreme Court decision to stop ballot counting in Florida and award him the state. Al Gore, who won the popular vote, lost the election. There was frustration, because Gore had won the most votes. Also, the Supreme Court was mostly made of conservative justices at that time, which made many suspect them of political motives in ending the recount. Given the state of modern culture, a popular vote makes more sense and creates more of a mandate for the new leader.
The two-party system is another oddity of American politics that sets it apart from much of the rest of the world. While there is a collection of small, ragtag parties, the Democrats and the Republicans dominate political contests at all levels. It wasn’t always this way – at first, the Federalists and the Democrat-Republicans were the main parties. Many of the Presidential elections before the Civil War featured candidates from more than two parties; the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, though, only feature a handful. Theodore Roosevelt took on the Republicans by running under the Progressive Party banner in 1912; George Wallace took on integration by running as a “Dixiecrat” in the 1960s; Ross Perot ran under the Reform Party banner in 1988 and 1992. In other countries, though, there are more than two parties that hold power. One example is Israel, that in its current Knesset has members of twelve different parties and alliances in seats. Japan has four major political parties.
The key difference in the United States is that candidates win most elections by earning a plurality, which means the most votes. There is no reward for coming in second. The parties aim to be as big as they can, trying to cover up differences between the candidates and the voters. Because there are no coalitions and no rewards for lower finishes, there is no reason to build a party that gets votes regularly but not enough to win an election. There are no rules against the formation of third parties, but the plurality method of elections keeps them from winning many votes. Also, the United States has single-member districts for representation. Each legislative district only has one representative in the legislature. In some countries, districts send multiple members, which gives an opportunity for people coming in second to gain power as well. There are also other countries that populate their legislature in proportion to the number of votes a party gains in the elections. If a party carried 25 percent of the popular vote, the legislature will have approximately 25 percent of its membership from that party. In systems where there are many parties, coalitions form to build power, and individual parties have access to power that is just not realistic in the United States. In those coalition-oriented countries, parties are more likely to stay true to their platforms – and smaller. Compromise is still necessary, but the dynamic is different.
The electoral college narrows down the possibilities for third parties even more. It is difficult for a third party even to gain standing on ballots, and to earn electoral vote, a candidate has to carry an entire state in most cases. When Ross Perot ran for President in 1992, under the banner of the Reform Party, he earned about 19 percent of the popular vote – almost one in five people. However, he did not carry any states, and so he had no electoral votes. Other recent popular third-party candidates have included John Anderson in 1980 and Ralph Nader in 2000; both candidates carried significant percentages of the popular vote but received zero electoral votes. No third-party candidates have won any electoral votes since George Wallace’s controversial “Dixiecrat” bit in 1968.
While the two-party system is more stable than coalition-based government, because there are fewer upheavals in leadership, there are several disadvantages as well. Both parties are contesting for the middle voters, which can make it difficult to distinguish between them at times. There are always people who do not feel included in the system, making the overall feel less democratic. When third parties do emerge in our elections now, they serve mostly as spoilers, as Ralph Nader did in 2000, peeling crucial votes away from Al Gore.