Wow! This is a really hot topic — and controversial, too. But certainly with all the “bad” news that comes with stories tied to animus between Republicans and Democrats, the general public’s mostly distasteful opinions of political parties, at some point you have thought: “Wouldn’t we be better off without them?”
You may be onto something there!
Do we Really Need Parties?
“Need” is the operative word for this part of this discussion. There is no doubt that political parties are not necessary for the U.S. or for any democratic country. But just like most other things, if structured, implemented, and operated in the manner in which from their concept they were created, there is good that can come from political parties. But sadly, their usefulness has eroded away, primarily because of bitterness and the unwillingness to consider the opinions of “others” with opposing views. All that most Americans see from the party with which they most closely identify and the opposing party are jabs and extreme disagreements with the other. Very little good seems to show in news reports regarding the opinions of one party’s members about the other party members’ opinions.
The principal author of the U.S. Constitution — Thomas Jefferson — had much to say about political parties. It wasn’t all good but it wasn’t all bad either. Like: “I never submitted the whole system of my opinions to the creed of any party of men whatever, in religion, in philosophy, in politics, or in anything else, where I was capable of thinking for myself. Such an addiction is the last degradation of a free and moral agent. If I could not go to heaven but with a party, I would not go there at all.” When making that statement, it seems to me that the former President was a little put out with political parties at the time. But that wasn’t always the case: “Both of our political parties, at least the honest portion of them, agree conscientiously in the same object: the public good; but they differ essentially in what they deem the means of promoting that good. One side believes it best done by one composition of the governing powers, the other by a different one. One fears most the ignorance of the people; the other the selfishness of rulers independent of them. Which is right, time and experience will prove. We think that one side of this experiment has been long enough tried and proved not to promote the good of the many and that the other has not been fairly and sufficiently tried. Our opponents think the reverse. With whichever opinion the body of the nation concurs, that must prevail.”
My question today: even with Jefferson’s thoughts that political parties “can” have good results and be good for the American political process, do you believe they are good today and achieving positive results? I’m not certain. Why? They have become another arm of power in the political system and have perpetuated the growth and power of the Deep State. Both Democrats and Republicans have stoked the fire. And, contrary to what Jefferson hoped, the fire is not that of unity and amicable conversation and debate of differences, but have become nothing more than derision, anger, and even hatred for members of the opposite party and their ideas.
Too often we see and hear G.O.P. and Democrat party leaders attack the leadership of the other party and even express disdain for opposing party rank-and-file members. In Jefferson’s day, Tories and Whigs were the prominent parties, imaging today’s Democrat and Republican parties. There certainly were marked political differences between the two that often grew to be less civil and more confrontational. But the political intentions of members of those two parties almost always resulted in resolution of differences after the sometimes bitter debate. Often that resolution was simply an understanding that the two would NEVER agree on certain issues. But it almost always ended with understanding and respect for the other’s opinion, even after disagreements. Today, such resolution is not likely at all. And that’s why an answer to this question is so important: Should we end formal political parties?
The Political Landscape Without Parties
That hypothetical brings a myriad of opinions. Let’s examine a few of those about the “look” of politics without parties. With no political parties there would be:
- No political conventions. There would be no need for such;
- Individualism in thoughts and ideas from individual candidates;
- Political debates at least as vigorous as there is today. But there would be intense pressure for a public resolution of each candidate’s policy stances for the purpose of clarity for voters;
- Candidates would be more engaged in actual contact with voters rather than relying on party promotion and campaigning;
- Issues would be more clearly defined by candidates in order to woo voters for their support;
- National campaigns would be more voter issue based because candidates without parties would be forced to be clearer regarding issues so as to differentiate their views from opponents;
- Campaign dollars would be more realistic and more localized and regionalized rather than parties co-mingled national dollars to impact local and state elections;
- Voters would be more engaged with candidates and voting issues than now when candidates (because of party support in dollars) rely on party positions rather than their own.
Of course, issues would still be in existence, many of which would always be controversial and hotly debated. Of course sitting members of the electorate would still be able to weigh in with their support for candidates and their policies just as they do now. The difference would be that support would almost totally be policy and issue-driven rather than purely political party driven.
How Would Campaign Dollars Support Change?
Campaign finance would have to be addressed and certainly revised. Without national parties, individual candidates would be forced to draw financial support on their own. One would think that without parties to raise dollars, the allowed sources of campaign dollars would necessarily have to be drastically regulated beyond the current restrictions. But they almost certainly would be more easily structured because of the termination of concerns of campaign abuse that is now quite often a product of national party fundraising.
Local and state campaigning would certainly be without the current rash of out-of-state funding through national parties to impact local and state elections. Elections would be driven by local and state support — both in campaign structure, local actual voting results, and in dollars.
Would Americans Accept “Death to Parties?”
That’s a tough one to answer. First, the Establishment — both Democrat and Republican — would fight tooth and nail to keep the party process alive. Why? Not so much because party leadership feels having two parties is the best scenario in which to operate American elections, but because there is SO MUCH MONEY IN THE PARTY SYSTEM. Billions of dollars — yes BILLIONS — flow through party and candidate coffers during every national election cycle. Naturally, a piece of those billions falls into party treasuries for whatever leaders in those parties determine to direct those dollars to.
Additionally, each party has massive overhead in physical locations, buildings, administrative staff year-round, and staffing state and even local offices during campaign time. And “campaign time” is almost perpetual, for there are national races every two years and state and local elections most years in between. Elections in America have become big business!
When one realizes the number of campaign dollars that flow through parties and the impact at federal, state, and local levels, it’s easy to understand why the fight would be staggering if the decision was made to end national political parties. Remember this: power and money drive ALL political concerns, policies, and issues almost exclusively. If not last on the list of importance to the election process, voter concerns regarding election issues are way down the list. That fact alone should drive a serious conversation about the elimination of national parties.
I haven’t heard many conversations anywhere about the possible elimination of national parties, have you? We certainly will NOT hear any such conversation from the parties themselves, that’s for sure! But that discussion is about as old as the structure of American political parties in the first place. Even the father of our nation — George Washington — had serious issues with political parties. It is not that Washington failed to understand the contribution of parties, but he was greatly concerned that they had previously, and would again, grow seeking more power than other groups to the detriment of the whole.
Washington was aware that many viewed political parties as destructive because of the temptation to manifest and retain power, but also because they would often seek to extract revenge on political opponents. He viewed this to be detrimental to the young country as an entire nation. President Washington expresses genuine concern in that “the alternate domination” of one political party over another, thereby allowing one party to enjoy temporary power over the government that would use it to obtain revenge on the other.
He felt that this tendency toward atrocities directed at the party out of power “…is itself a frightful despotism. But this leads at length to a more formal and permanent despotism.”
Washington argued that political parties needed to be restrained in a free country with a government empowered by the consent of the governed and established through popular elections. He warned of the possibility fearing they could distract the government from its required duty to the people and even lead to the eradication of the freedoms established by the founding.
Doesn’t it seem to you that the Father of the United States — its first President — saw the dangers of political parties that are playing out in our nation today? Evidently as powerful and popular as was George Washington, his very vocal concerns regarding the danger of political parties and their assumption of political power over policies fell on deaf ears, or at least there were not enough who shared his concerns to end that practice.
Today we watch as political parties have been the greatest contributors to the creation and perpetuation of the ruling class in D.C. The American political process has literally evolved into a monster, (some would say a “dinosaur”) that requires more and more from Americans to simply survive. But is it worth it?
What if we just abolished political parties at every level, let that little box on our tax forms that we can check to pay $1 to the presidential campaign be the extent of any money that can be split between the top two candidates for president? What if there was a second box on that form that we can check to pay $2 for U.S. Senate and House of Representative candidates that can be split between the top two candidates in our Congressional and Senate districts? What if all state and local candidates were on their own in campaigning? Don’t you think that would change things?
Here’s what I think would happen: once again Americans would see candidates forced to back away from old-time party politics and pick up issues that apply to voting constituents in their respective districts. The same would hold true for presidential campaigns.
We might add one more thing for campaigning: radio and television broadcast airwaves belong to taxpayers and are regulated by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). Currently, there are no requirements that force any stations to carry campaign ads. However, if they choose to do so, they must set a rate to charge that is equal to the lowest rate for the time slot in which they run, and they must make the same time available to purchase to every candidate in that election cycle.
Or we could just make it mandatory that each broadcast station provides free of charge a certain number of commercials to each presidential candidate, Senate, and House candidate, and also state and local candidates. Either way would make sense.
The bottom line for this journalist is this: the current political party system is totally beyond reason. The only ones who do well during campaigns are sign makers, radio and television broadcasters, and political parties who use a large portion of campaign donations to fund operations. Let’s make a change.
Let’s for once let voters decide who they want in each political position WITHOUT any input from national entities who though having a stake in each election have NO stake in how the governing by whichever candidate wins in each election is going to impact voting constituents.
After all, isn’t the U.S. government supposed to be “OF the People, by the People, and for the People?”
After all, I’ve never seen anywhere in the Constitution an added a tagline to that which states, “as determined by political parties?”