Are political parties the worst mistake America ever made?

George Washington didn’t believe in political parties, and I think he was right! Partisan fighting has done a lot of damage to this country for as long as we have had political parties. Some of our senators and congressmen would rather screw over the country than work with someone from the opposite party for a real solution.
We know government can work without parties, because the justices of the supreme court, our nation’s ultimate authority, don’t have political parties.

I sympathize. But the problem is, how do you prevent people from forming political parties without severely limiting their freedom?

I will try to be gentle, but I have to ask–
Just where exactly have you been???

If you follow the national discourse at all, it’s well-nigh impossible to avoid some commentator criticizing the Supreme Court, or some member of it, for political or partisan actions.

And there are reams upon reams of commentary analyzing upcoming Supreme Court cases, and talking about how the justices will vote based on their political opinions.

One of the slogans of the Progressive Era was, “There is no Democratic or Republican way to pave a street.” The Progressives had a technocratic and ostensibly nonpartisan/nonideological vision of good government. One legacy of that era is “nonpartisan” elections in many towns, cities and counties today; but those units don’t really have any better of a track record than those with partisan elections, AFAIK. Perhaps somebody here can argue the contrary.

Political parties are an inescapable symptom of representative democracy. Humans like labels.

It’s not that we like labels, but that we’re smart enough to know that if we team up, we’ll beat the loner. Even chimps know that.

they may very well be inevitable
but having only two parties - we really need to fix that

Two parties are inevitable with winner-take-all elections like in the US. You can’t “fix” that without fundamentally changing the election system.

I live in Portland, Maine. We have a ranked-choice voting system for our mayoral elections. I think this should be used everywhere. The candidates don’t have parties in these elections iirc.

A few points:

  1. The Supreme Court justices may not have parties, but they absolutely** do** have party allegiances. They are appointed by the President on the understanding that they will support that party’s policies in the future. This is why it’s always such a big deal when one of them retires, because whichever party is in power gets to stock the bench with a someone who will vote for their side for decades to come. Justices consistently and predictably vote along party lines.

  2. If parties were abolished, what would take their place? Politicians naturally have shared interests and ideologies. They would very rapidly identify who holds a certain ideology and band together in voting blocs. Even if forbidden from actually identifying as a “party,” they would undoubtedly create alliances and confederations that serve the exact same purpose.

  3. The two party system has many disadvantages, but it also keeps things remarkably stable. For example: If you have two parties, the winner of the election can at least claim that 51% of the voters supported them. I know the situation is more complicated than that, but stick with me. If you have a country with many competing parties, like 5 or 6 or more, then it might so happen that a candidate with only 20% of the votes wins. This creates an extremely chaotic and unpredictable situation where a person with only marginal support can still win it all… And it actually might exacerbate the problem of candidates pandering to extremists.

  4. Parties can serve an important function as gatekeepers. This is about to become extremely important WRT to people like Trump and Carson. In an ideal world, everyone would have equal chance to become President and the decision would be made based on the power of their arguments. However, we live in a world where fascist, racists, and lunatics are able to grab the spotlight and, inexplicably, command the attention of voters. If the party itself can serve as gatekeepers and prevent a wacko candidate from rising to power (see point 3, above) then the two-party system might actually serve an important safety function. Whether this theory works in real life is about to be tested.

Yea, I think its basically inevitable. Indeed, one of the interesting things about the early US is how quickly it fell into a two party system, despite the fact that all the important players seemed to dread such a development. Even before the end of Washington’s first term, Congress was self-sorting into Federalists and Republican blocs. It seems to just be a by-product of how humans operate.

And I’m not sure its a bad thing either. It’s pretty close to impossible to get a real sense of a political candidate as an individual. They generally have pretty similar resumes, and its not like its possible for them to sit down and have a heart-to-heart with each of their constituants. Candidate X may be a likable guy on TV and a corrupt blow-hard in real life. I have no idea.

But if he’s a Democrat or Republican, then I can tell you how he’ll vote to roughtly 90% confidence. And since for legislators anyways, the main thing they do is vote on legislation, its pretty useful if they sort themselves into parties.

This is the political myth that just will not die. I’ve seen numerous people who should know better buy into it. There was no such thing as a Republican party until the 1850s. It was the Democratic-Republican party!!!

Later shortened to just the first part.

And it was pretty much inevitable. A political organization works better than a group of individuals with the same political views. The organization gathers and manages more assets, presents its message to a wider audience, and wins more elections. That means that in a democratic system, the politicians who belong to organizations marginalize the politicians that don’t.

It’s hard to imaging that the Founders, even if the hated political parties, didn’t realize they were inevitable because of the very system they set up. Or, not even because of the particular system-- didn’t every governing body that ever existed result in the members forming factions?

Don’t tell James Madison

Their Republican Party was a different one then the one today. But it was generally called the Republican Party, Democratic-Republican was only rarely used until after 1850, when historians wanted to distinquish it from the GOP and the National Republican (the other other Republican party).

I think they all realized it was a possibility, which is why they spilled so much ink worrying about it*. They certainly would’ve been aware it was a common development. The British Parliament had Tories and Whigs, the Continental Congress had had Federalists and anti-Federalists. The (Virginia) House of Burgessess had had Aristocratic and Yeoman factions, and I’m sure the other State legislatures ended up with similar systems.

But you kinda had to be an idealist of one stripe or another to be a revolutionary. So presumably at least some of them sincerely believed that it could be avoided in the Federal gov’t.

*(though I suspect a lot of what has come down to us as the Founders worrying about party was actually just political spin. Saying you’re in it for your common good (“a uniter, not a divider”) while your enemy is a partisan threatening to tear the country apart (“Splitter!!”) was as effective a political strategy then as now).

Houston’s mayoral election is officially non-partisan. But it’s very hard for a known Republican to become mayor. (Groovy Austin is not the only island of Blue in the state.)

Only having two is certainly a problem. 5 might not be so bad.

If that were so, other countries with First-past-the-post systems would have two party systems. But they don’t. Canada, Britain, India and the Philippines all have FPFT and multi-party systems.

It’s only the US that has the duopoly. Pointing to FPTP is not an answer.

Only having one is certainly a problem.
How many more you require for good governance is a more vexed question.

With all these much vaunted checks and balances in the US system; how a minority US government (inevitiable with multiple party systems) could function would be worth selling tickets to see.