I’m wondering if a simple way to eliminate a lot of the problems (perceived or real) in the American political system might be to eliminate political parties.
Too many politicians and political candidates, it seems, abandon their positions in order to jockey for power within their party. The whole Clinton impeachment debacle would, I’m convinced, have played out much differently if various politicians, on both sides of the aisle, hadn’t felt the need to defend their party’s interest rather than the Consitution’s. Politicians often find themselves ostracized by their party for crossing party lines to endorse someone who they honestly feel is the best candidate for another office. Politicians whose views diverge somewhat from their party platform often find they must toe the party line rather than their own espoused views in practice, or be prevented from seeking higher positions.
In the U.S., we don’t have a parliamentary system, we vote for individuals. Wouldn’t we get more honest voting out of the elected individuals if the whole party structure was eliminated?
So I open this debate with two questions:
Do you think that eliminating political parties would improve the American political system?
(for the lawyers in this crowd): Is there any way to do this short of a constitutional amendment? Is it the First-Amendment right to assemble that protects the organization of political parties?
“Sherlock Holmes once said that once you have eliminated the
impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be
the answer. I, however, do not like to eliminate the impossible.
The impossible often has a kind of integrity to it that the merely improbable lacks.”
– Douglas Adams’s Dirk Gently, Holistic Detective
I don’t think you could word a constitutional amendment in such a way that it could do what you want it to.
Also, I don’t think it would really help. Campaigning is basically done through 30 second television ads these days - you can’t really learn anything about the candidates unless you invest some time of your own into research (and most voters do not).
The problem with politics goes deeper than partisan politics or finance or anything else you care to point at: its voter apathy. Even people who supposedly care don’t invest much time in learning about who they support (much less questioning the policies they support themselves). After the election, its just business as usual.
Well, as I recall, the American Founding Fathers didn’t like organized political parties ("factions, they called 'em), wrote essays denouncing them, and made no provision for them in the Constitution.
As I also recall, this show of good intentions didn’t last until the end of Washington’s first term of office.
So, I think the first question, at least, is rather like asking, “Wouldn’t the world be a better place if there were no poverty?” Everyone would agree with that; how to achieve it is the difficulty.
It is often said that “anything is possible”. In fact, very few things are possible, and most of them have already happened.
We do have voter apathy, but I would argue that a significant cause of this is the current system.
I don’t know if we can or should eliminate parties, but I am reasonably sure that a two party system tends to promote black/white thinking. We hear it over and over,that “there are two sides to every issue” when the reality is that sometimes there are three or five or seventeen. Yet a two party system encourages its members to automatically reject anything that comes from the other party unless it is so bland as to be agreeable to all.
We can legally make it eaiser to break the stranglehold the two major parties have. We can also, of course, vote for 3rd party candidates. The Reform Party in MN got a lot less minor when, for whatever reasons, a plurality of the voters elected Jesse Ventura as Gov. Whether or not this success is translated to others remains to be seen; what is clear is that change is possible.
There is no way to abolish parties under the present constitution; the First Amendment would prevent that directly as an infringement on political speech (the most strictly protected type), as well as an infringement on the derived fundamental right of association.
As to the idea, well, I simply point out that there doesn’t seem to be too many examples of states that allow and or have either more or fewer parties that are doing better than we are at governing. I look at Italy and shudder when someone suggests adding more parties.
And, really, stop and think: if you didn’t have formal parties, wouldn’t people who agree on various topics do much the same thing informally, anyway? After all, that’s how parties got started here in the FIRST place.
Yes, but it would be done the proper way: associating with people with whom you agree, not tailoring your positions to properly fit into the party structure.
I mean, if someone wants to get anywhere within the Democratic Party, he has to toe their line on all their positions: abortion, affirmative action, labor unionism, social spending, etc. Why should someone like former governor Bob Casey of Pennsylvania, who was main-line Democrat on most of those things, but against abortion, find himself shunned by both Democrats for the anti-abortion stance and Republicans for everything else? With no parties, he’ll work with anti-abortion folks on abortion issues, and liberal folks on the other issues. Or the Log Cabin Republicans, who agree with Democrats on gay rights, but with Republicans on economic issues…again, shut out of any serious involvement because they don’t go 100% with a single party.
And what about the Clinton impeachment? If Democrats weren’t seeking to protect one of their own, if Republicans didn’t view the White House as being occupied by an individual who disagrees with them, but by a party that opposes them, might we not have had substantive hearings in the House, and a true trial in the Senate (assuming the House would have voted to impeach even in a non-party environment), rather than the strictly partisan rhetoric that came out of both sides?
The parties aren’t a convenient means of associating with people of like opinions. They’re structures organized for the sole purpose of perpetuating power. That, IMHO, is not the way our electoral system was meant to work.
Obviously that is true Satan - but the problem is that the “We” is pretty darn small. How many people actually agree with every policy on the Democratic or Republican platform? Nevertheless the parties convince most people to vote as a block. All the decisions are still made in back rooms as the political elite compromise to get what is most important to them. The people making these deals are not necessarily elected leaders. Obviously not every republican is created equal - there is considerable wrangling among factions within each party and this tends to be ironed out in the congressional elections. Since it works out this way though - it kind of begs the question of what we need the party for.
Let’s assume for a moment that there are no political parties, but the process is difficult enough so that only a managable number of candidates (say 6) wind up on the ballot nationally.
So what happens – no one gets a majority and the presidential election gets thrown into the House of Representatives, while the vice presidential election gets thrown into the Senate.
The House votes among the top 3 finishers, so the other 3 are busy making deals, and there’s a lot of horse-trading and backroom power plays going on. After 30 or 40 ballots, someone finally wins.
Meanwhile, the Senate votes between the top 2 finishers. Same amount of horse trading and power plays. The country winds up without a President for a month or so. The President and Vice President don’t trust each other, and neither have a real power base in Congress to get anything done.
Or would you rather have direct popular elections – in which case probably 80 percent of the voters don’t agree with the eventual winner.
In theory, I totally agree with everything Chaim wrote, and have occasionally written such things myself. But in practice, I have to admit that DSYoungEsq, posted 01-28-2000 04:33 PM, makes some very valid points. Disbanding the current party system is impractical and unworkable. The solution is to create new parties for people who agree on specific issues.
How about simply removing all goverment support for such parties. No one gets tax status breaks for claiming to be a political party, the goverment doesn’t do any matching funds, all funds donated must be declared publicly, and similar. You can’t get rid of the parties, but you can get rid of any favoritism and goverment acknowledgement of them.
>>Being Chaotic Evil means never having to say your sorry…unless the other guy is bigger than you.<<
Surely there is no rational person here who believes for one moment that they will freely and willingly give up their power, is there? And overturning their system of choice will result in nothing more than a new system even more sinister and more impenetrable.
“Every revolution evaporates and leaves behind the slime of a new bureaucracy.” — Franz Kafka
Good point Lib. Remember all those congresspersons who ran in '94 who were talking about term-limits? Several of them promised they would not seek re-election more than once, for some it was considered the cornerstone of their campaign (new blood in Washington and all that). All of them lied.
Well, I personally think that two political parties are insufficient to represent the range of political views present in this country. In Switzerland (which has a very stable government) there are three major political parties at the national level, and the federal council (seven ministers sharing the executive power) is always divided amongst the three parties.
I think this shows a fundamental mis-understanding of political parties in the United States. The most obvious example that contradicts this assertion lies in the southern states, where members of the Democratic party for YEARS totally rejected typical Democratic issues and remedies while maintaining the voting bloc and identification with the party. Southern Democrats were, in many cases, more conservative than the majority of Republicans in, say, California (before the rise of the Orange County conservative machine).
Parties grew out of two things: 1) the guarantees in the First Amendment to freedom of political speech (and the recognized associated freedom of political association), and 2) the needs for relatively stable voting blocs in the legislature. Remember, in this country, we don’t have a government that combines all aspects of power in one institution (compare, e.g., Great Britain, where the majority party in Parliament controls everything). Those who felt a need to strengthen the federal government’s power quickly saw the need to organize to oppose those who wished a weak federal system. You will note, ironically, that the first real party, the Federalists, didn’t last past 1816; their rivals by default, the Anti-Federalists, are still around as the Democratic Party.
From the beginning, then, the idea of party was really one of voting power, where a common overall theme brought a group of representatives together. You might note that single issue parties have rarely managed long life (a notable exception, arguably, is the Republican Party, though considering them simply the anti-slavery party is a naive view, IMHO). At various times, parties have held considerable governmental power, but even in the most powerful years, with the exception of local politics, rarely able to spread beyond one state, the mechanics of vote-bloc maintenance have meant that people of considerably diverse beliefs have been able to maintain the support of the same national party.
Even today, this is evident in the Republican race for President. Senator McCain is hardly someone with views held in common by Mr. Forbes, let alone Mr. Bauer. The fact that both of them can compete for the blessing of the Republican party is testament to the considerable divergence of opinion within the party.
If there is a true difficulty with our two-party structure, it probably lies in trying to establish political power without espousing either consistently liberal or consistently ‘conservative’ views (I put that word in quotes because, frankly, the idea that enforcing one particular moral code through government imposition is hardly a ‘conservative’ ideal). The middle-of-the-road person has no party to call his own, often finding the opinions of each party at different times to reflect his or her own thinking. To this, I simply say: form your own party, convince enough people that your views are more correct, more worthy of being given the power to implement, and you may end up becoming a new party.
1) Do you think that eliminating political parties would improve the American political system?
No, I think it would shift even more power into the hands of those “non-political” groups that organize while the true majority of (lazy, apathetic, or just too-busy) people would feel even more isolated from the system. If the NRA, the Big Business Lobbies, and the Moral Majority were the only de facto “parties” I doubt it would be an improvement to the system.
More parties with less power, not two with all of it, would seem to be a better answer.
I’m surprised that you shudder when you view Italy, DSYoungEsq. Under the libertarian theory “That Government Is Best Which Can’t Find Its Ass With Both Hands,” shouldn’t they provide our goal? Or were you addressing the issue of corruption?
2) (for the lawyers in this crowd): Is there any way to do this short of a constitutional amendment? Is it the First-Amendment right to assemble that protects the organization of political parties?
(I’m not a lawyer, and I don’t play one on TV, but…) As already addressed, such a ban couldn’t be done (practically), and shouldn’t be done (ethically). What should be done: all parties should be effectively emasculated by making their funding (contribution) and favor (access) systems entirely open to public inspection and accessible only to concerned private individuals, and by making sure that elections remain local affairs. (That is, voters in Florida have no business supporting the election of Texas candidates, period; no soft money, no out-of-area funds.) Combined with the end of tax breaks for political activism, that might end some of the abuses that offend you; for the others, well, things will work right once we’re all perfect.