According to the political scientists, the United States has enjoyed five party systems, ending up in today's Republican/Democratic Party division.
But really, it's always been the same.
There has always been a middle-class commercial party and there has always been a populist power-to-the-people party.
The Federalist/Whig/Republican Party has always believed in an America where if you study hard and work hard you can make a decent standard of living for yourself.
The Anti-federalist/Democratic-Republican/Democratic Party has always believed that you need a politician to fight for the people against the powerful.
For the rich and powerful, there has always been a temptation to lead the populist party. Thus Thomas Jefferson, slave-owning landowner, affected a man-of-the-people image when he arrived in Washington DC to become president in 1801. Ditto Franklin Delano Roosevelt, scion of Dutch padroons. Ditto the Kennedy clan, rich kids of a successful Wall Street speculator.
When they first emerged onto the political stage the Progressive movement of educated youth ran against the powerful city machines and their patronage politics. It was the genius of the liberals of the 1930s to convert the elite Progressivism of the turn of the 20th century into a vanguard cadre to lead the down-scale big city machines and give their crude patronage/clientage politics a patina of good government.
President Obama and his liberal allies in Congress have scorched off that patina in an acid bath, and the great middle class in America now sees the Democratic Party as an unalloyed patronage party, to which you belong if you think that the only way to get ahead is as the rank-and-file in some political army.
The defeat of Mayor Fenty last week is a sign that maybe the white gentry liberals, the heirs of the elite Progressives of 100 years ago, are reaching their limit in the patronage/entitlement/identity/jobs-for-the-boys politics of today's Democratic Party.
The Tea Party, on the other hand, is a pure expression of middle-class commerical politics. Worried about debt and ruinous spending, it is forcing the Republican Party away from a mushy capitulation to patronage politics and back to his origin, the robust politics of the commercial industrial state conceived by Mr. Federalist, Alexander Hamilton, in the early 1790s.
How will it all turn out? My judgement is that the key to the future is middle class women. The feminist movement turned women to the left, and got them to believe in patronage politics for a while. But I think that middle-class women are not voting their interest when they vote for patronage, identity, feminist politics. Women stand or fall by the families they build and the children they raise to adulthood. Welfare state patronage politics plays merry hell with all that, and women are not stupid. They are trusting, and they believed the feminists when they told them that they needed to stand for women's rights. But women are not stupid. They know what their children need in a global competitive economy, and it is not the patronage politics of the Democratic Party.
All this is to say that the two party system lives and you ain't seen nothing yet!