Dorothy and her companions in “The Wizard of Oz” chanted, “Lions, tigers, and bears, oh, my! Lions, tigers and bears, oh, my!” Today, we are all trying to follow the chant of the populace that goes, “Democrats, Republicans and tea party, oh, my!”

During the past 20 years, our political geography has moved from just Democrats and Republicans to Democrats, Republicans, independents and tea party. We have evolved from two political parties to four, with none of them dominant. Yes, but, you say, the independents are not an organized political party. True, but no one has ever accused the Democrats of being organized either.

Twenty years ago a national polling group asked thousands which political party they supported. At that time 34% said they were Democrats, 32% said they were Republicans and 22% said they were independent. Not long ago they ran the same poll asking the same questions. This time 32% said they were Democrats, 22% said they were Republicans and 38% said they were independents.

We have come to expect that Democrats will be more liberal than Republicans. A liberal, by Webster’s definition, is open to new ideas and willing to use tax money to influence social change. Republicans, almost by definition, are conservative and support tradition and social stability. The independents are the “swing” party. They tend to move back and forth between the Democrats and the Republicans. They have always been with us, but today they exceed the number who profess to support either of the historically dominate political parties.

The elephant in the room over the past four years is the tea party group. They are
well to the right of conservative Republicans, and they are strong enough now to unseat the speaker of the House and demand one of their number fill that role. They have many things they don’t like about the state of our country, including President Obama’s health-care plan, illegal immigration, and not enough troops in the Mideast, to name but a few.

One of our political strengths for most of the past 200 years has been that there has
always been a majority party in each house of Congress. That means someone has always
been in charge there. If any individual or group thought something needed to be done they could take their petition to the leadership of one of the houses of Congress and get a hearing. Now where do you go? The Republicans have the majority in both houses of Congress but former Speaker John Boehner would testify that the party leadership has not been in control for some time. Today, there are four different groups vying for control in each house of Congress and no group has a clear majority.

The voters in the United States have tended to swing back and forth between the more liberal Democrats and the more conservative Republicans. Over the past 35 years the presidency of the U.S. has moved in that familiar pattern. We have had Jimmy Carter (D), Ronald Reagan (R), George H.W. Bush (R), Bill Clinton (D), George W. Bush (R) and Barack Obama (D).

Republicans and Democrats each have a support base that may range from the far right to the far left of the political spectrum. That is more like the French multi-party system than it is the traditional two-party system of the United States. That can’t be good.

To complicate matters, our presidential sweepstakes every four years has developed
into a search for a wizard. We tend to vote for the one who can generate enough smoke
and mirrors to make us think he can help us find our way back to the yellow brick road.
Now, that is a scary thought. Oh, my!

Dr. Mark L. Hopkins writes for More Content Now and Scripps Newspapers. He is past president of colleges and universities in four states and currently serves as executive director of a higher-education consulting service. You will find Hopkins’ latest book, “Journey to Gettysburg,” on Amazon.com. Contact him at presnet@presnet.net.