[Election-Methods] Partisan Politics
Fred Gohlke <fredgohlke <at> verizon.net>
2008-03-02 15:45:42 GMT
This site focuses on methods of conducting elections, but most posts
address only a single aspect of that topic; the way votes are counted.
Is not the object for which votes are cast a matter of even greater
concern? When our public officials are not representative of the people
who elect them and are masters of misdirection, obfuscation and deceit,
ought we not ask ourselves whether there is a taint in the method by
which they are selected? Ought we not consider the role of political
parties in the political process?
Political parties are quasi-official institutions designed to acquire
the reins of government. They sponsor candidates for public office by
providing the resources needed to conduct a campaign for election. As a
condition of their sponsorship, they require that the candidates support
the party, thus giving the party ultimate control of the elected officials.
In the United States, our governmental system is defined by our
Constitution, and nothing in our Constitution expresses or implies the
need for political parties. They are an extra-Constitutional invention,
devised to advance partisan interest. The problem of partisanship was
well understood by the framers of our Constitution:
"When the Founders of the American Republic wrote the U.S. Constitution
in 1787, they did not envision a role for political parties in the
governmental order. Indeed, they sought through various constitutional
arrangements such as separation of powers, checks and balances,
federalism, and indirect election of the president by an electoral
college to insulate the new republic from political parties and
factions." Professor John F. Bibby
A "party system" developed in our nation because our early leaders used
their standing to consolidate their power. Politicians in a position to
do so institutionalized their advantage by forming political parties and
creating rules to preserve them and aid their operation:
"The Democratic-Republicans and Federalists invented the modern
political party -- with party names, voter loyalty, newspapers, state
and local organizations, campaign managers, candidates, tickets,
slogans, platforms, linkages across state lines, and patronage."
These features advance party interest at the expense of the public
interest. They show how political parties are an embodiment of human
nature; they put self-interest above all other considerations. They
function precisely as a thoughtful person would expect them to function.
Political parties are grounded in partisanship. Partisanship is natural
for humans. We seek out and align ourselves with others who share our
views. Through them, we hone our ideas and gain courage from the
knowledge that we are not alone in our beliefs. Partisanship gives
breadth, depth and volume to our voice. In and of itself, partisanship
is not only inevitable, it is healthy.
On the other hand, partisans have a penchant for denigrating those who
think differently, often without considering the salient parts of
opposing points of view. They seek the power to impose their views on
those who don't share them, while overlooking their own shortcomings.
Communism and National Socialism showed these tendencies. Both had
features that attracted broad public support throughout a national
expanse and both degenerated into destructive forces because their
partisans gained control of their governments.
The danger in Communism and National Socialism was not that they
attracted partisan support; it was that the partisans gained control of
government. In general, partisanship is healthy when it helps us give
voice to our views. It is destructive when it achieves power. All
ideologies, whether of the right or the left, differ from Communism and
National Socialism only in the extent to which their partisans are able
to impose their biases on the public.
Partisanship is a vital part of society ... provided it is always a
voice and never a power. The danger is not in partisanship, it is in
allowing partisans to control government.
OLIGARCHIC PARTY STRUCTURE
The political parties that control all political activity in the United
States are in no sense democratic. The American people do not elect
those who control the parties. In fact, most Americans don't even know
who they are. They are appointed by their party and serve at the
party's pleasure. We, the people the parties are supposed to represent,
have no control over who these people are, how long they serve, or the
deals they make to raise the immense amounts of money they use to keep
their party in power. They constitute a ruling elite above and beyond
the reach of the American people.
When we allow those who control our political parties to usurp the power
of governing our nation, it is foolish to imagine that we retain the
power bestowed on us by our Constitution. It is a tragedy that so few
of us recognize (or are willing to acknowledge) that we have
relinquished our right to govern ourselves to unknown people who
proclaim themselves our agents.
Corruption pervades our political system because the parties control the
selection of candidates for public office. Candidates are not chosen for
their integrity. Quite the contrary, they are chosen after they
demonstrate their willingness and ability to dissemble, to obfuscate and
to mislead the electorate. They are chosen when they prove they will
renounce principle and sacrifice honor for the benefit of their party.
The result is a circular process that renounces virtue and is ruled by
* Candidates for public office cannot mount a viable campaign without
party sponsorship, so they obtain sponsorship by agreeing to the party's
* The party, assured of the loyalty of its candidates, attracts donors
because it can promise that its candidates will support the objectives
set by the party, i.e., the goals of the donors.
* From the donors, the party obtains the resources it needs to attract
appealing candidates and bind them to the party's will.
This cycle makes political parties conduits for corruption. Businesses,
labor unions and other vested interests give immense amounts of money
and logistical support to political parties to push their agenda and to
secure the passage of laws that benefit the donors. The political
parties meet their commitment to the donors by picking politicians who
can be relied upon to enact the laws and implement the policies the
donors' desire. The politicians so selected are the least principled of
our citizens, but are the only choices available to the American people
in our "free" elections.
None of this is a secret. The parties conduct their business with our
knowledge and tacit approval. We know, full well, how they operate. We
know about the "party bosses", "pork barrels", "party loyalty", "slush
funds", "party whips", and the whole lexicon of political manipulation.
Since we know these things exist and do not prevent them, we are party
to the very corruption we decry.
THE MYTH OF CORRUPTIBILITY
Some believe we cannot remove corruption from our political systems
because humans are corruptible. Why should we believe such a canard?
We are misled by the high visibility of deceit and corruption in our
culture. The idea that it is inescapable leads to the self-defeating
notion that trying to correct it is futile.
The reality is that the vast majority of humans are honorable,
law-abiding people. They have to be, for society could not exist
otherwise. By far, the greater percentage of our friends, our
relatives, our co-workers and our neighbors are trustworthy people.
The reason our political leaders are corrupt is that party politics
elevates unscrupulous people by design. It does so by heeding the
notion attributed to B. F. Skinner: "The bad do bad because the bad is
rewarded". Since the goal of a party is to advance its own interest, it
rewards those who do so, unfettered by the restraints of honor. Once
these unprincipled people achieve leadership they infect our society
because morality is a top-down phenomenon.
The idea that we can't remove corruption from our political systems
because we are corruptible is nonsense. It is a myth. The problem is
not the people; it is a political system that demands subservient
politicians at the expense of integrity. The vast majority of our peers
are honest, principled people. When we make probity a primary concern
in our electoral process, the pervasiveness of dishonesty in our society
PASSION VERSUS INTELLECT
Political parties appeal to emotion by applying the principles of
behavioral science to manipulate the public. They mount, finance and
staff campaigns designed to inflame the passions of the electorate.
Communication during election campaigns is one-way. There is no genuine
attempt to consult the public interest and the serious issues are seldom
those raised during a campaign. Surveys are conducted to find "hot
buttons" which generate a desired response and professionals use the
information to mold "messages" which the candidates and the parties feed
the public in a flood of misinformation. It is a rabble-rousing technique.
Intelligent decisions require dialogue; assertions must be examined, not
in the sterile environment of a televised debate, but in depth. The
electorate must be able to examine candidates and discuss matters of
public concern, and, with the knowledge so gained, make decisions. They
have no opportunity to do so.
SEPARATION OF POWERS
The U. S. Constitution separated the powers of government in such a way
as to operate as checks upon each other. Separation of Powers is lauded
as a cornerstone of our Constitution. I'm unaware of any substantive
disagreement with this view of the intent of our Founders.
Political parties persistently attack the Separation of Powers. They
use their immense resources to maximize their power by forcing our
public officials to vote en bloc on crucial issues, making a mockery of
the safeguards we rely on to protect our freedoms. When a single group
of people with a common interest succeeds in controlling multiple
branches of our government, it is ludicrous to imagine we have a system
of checks and balances (as was vividly demonstrated by our recent
experience with the baneful effects of single party dominance.)
Political parties, in their omnivorous quest for power have, during my
lifetime, gone a long way toward destroying the greatness of my
homeland. Unrestrained, they will succeed.
It need not be so.
Those who seek good government need not tolerate the corruption of party
politics. We do not need partisanship, which sets one person against
another; we need independent representatives who will think for
themselves and reach intelligent decisions on matters of public concern.
In other words, to improve our government, we must change the way we
select our representatives.
We have the technological ability to support a more democratic method;
the big hurdle is to get people to acknowledge the problem. Many fall
victim to the common malady of believing our press clippings. We've
been told so many times through so many years that our political system
is the best in the world, some of us can't admit it is a cesspool of
corruption, funded by special interests that buy the laws we endure.
Most Americans assume political parties are legitimate centers of power
under our Constitution. That is untrue. Nothing in our Constitution
authorizes, institutes or enables political parties. The laws that do
so are enacted in the various states.
Breaking the stranglehold the parties have on our political process is
non-trivial. It depends, not on our Constitution, but on our will. We
must want to build a political system that puts public interest above
partisanship, a method that responds to vested interests but is not
controlled by them.
Political systems are always an embodiment of human nature. Until we
learn to harness our own nature, we can improve neither our politics nor
our society. There is no Constitutional bar to devising a more
democratic process; the only impediment is ourselves. Since we can not
divorce our political institutions from our own nature, we must make
virtue a desirable attribute in those who seek political advancement.
That may be difficult ... but it is not impossible.
Such changes occur slowly. Ought we not start to consider the methods
by which they can be accomplished?
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