Why Will Getting Rid of Our Political Party System Save Our Country (And Other Ravings of a Good American)

by on August 30th, 2010
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To find a most ardent opponent of the political party system one need not look any further than the President of the United States. Yes that’s correct, President George Washington, the first “dude” to take the oath, and he did it not obliging to any one group claiming victory over another. There were no organized political parties when he took office in 1789. The word “united” (as in UNITED States) meant something of principle; it was the punctuation of a new nation.

By 1796, nearing the end of his second and final term, as Washington looked forward to spending the remainder of his days at his beloved Mount Vernon estate, he was ready and eager to turn the reins of the country over to another founding father (Washington’s hand-picked successor, Vice President John Adams).

Political winds had been stirring however and Washington was aware of increased factions forming among those who governed the fledgling nation. He was disquieted by the implications, and he warned of the dangers of political parties and how they would turn their idealistic government from a collection of good, like-minded folk interested in the nation’s future into a mob of narcissistic, power-hungry professional politicians vying for control and sowing hatred (toward the other party(s)), all the while along the way, to a large degree, forgetting or ignoring the people’s will if it opposed their own agenda.

Father knows best.

In his Farewell Speech he spoke of the disconcerting potential of party-dominated politics that were noticeably taking shape upon the political horizon at the time…

“They serve to organize faction, to give it an artificial and extraordinary force.” Further, “…often a small but artful and enterprising minority of the community (attempt to organize and advance their own cause).” Anyone for a Tea Party?!

According to the plan, John Adams became the 2nd President, and the first president-elect with a political party affiliation – the Federalists. He had ideologue enemies however; those who sought to seize power at the first opportunity. They called themselves the Democratic-Republican Party and were led by Thomas Jefferson, an Adams antagonist.

The Federalists were not a true political party in the familiar image of the aggressively cultivated rhythm of its successor parties. More suitably characterized as a group of elitists; self-ordained with the privilege and power to uphold the precise ideals of – their baby – the Constitution. In principle, this was their sole position and road map.

Jefferson’s Party was of equal measure defenders of the Constitution and political royalty, just as Adams and the Federalists, however, as with every election to follow through the centuries, the ability to convince others that one party is more patriotic and capable of upholding the values of the Constitution than the other is the secret to possessing the brass ring. It’s all about the power; who has it and how to relieve them of it.

Adams’s stint as President was tumultuous, with snarling wolves at every turn. The Federalists were a defiant bunch however, seeking absolution in their faith that their cause was the righteous cause and that they would prevail. But they were also splintered. Alexander Hamilton, a Federalist Party member, did not see eye to eye with the President on many issues undermining his efforts on more than a few occasions and in doing so, helped to reduce their party’s political strength and influence. Weakened by internal fractures, the Federalists were quickly steamrolled into extinction by Jefferson’s better-organized, opportunistic Democratic-Republican Party.

The rise and relatively long-standing rein of exclusivity that the Democratic-Republican Party enjoyed, I believe, in fact, went along quite nicely with what Washington had in mind as the ideal means to govern the nation. To me, his objection to political parties seems to be more specific to his rejection of the potential of sharing the balance of power. He believed, as many of his contemporaries did, that the idea of warring political parties (more than one group with conflicting ideologies) was contradictory to a smooth running government. He felt strongly that better to have a small concession of intellectuals and “know-hows” make all of the tough decisions that were necessary to be efficient. Opposition (particularly of the “public, open forum” variety) would only serve to create discourse and undermine progress. He had a point, I think, in theory, but left out one crucial element that is woven into the fabric and comprehensive definition of democracy – The Will Of The People.

But, for his time, I get it. The country, of course, was very young. The Founding Fathers, I imagine, actually felt like “fathers” to the citizenry. And like all children, especially very young, naive ones, they need their parents’ guidance and protection (sometimes from themselves). It is difficult to have faith in something (or some persons) when it has not truly been thoroughly tested. And frankly, in that infant stage, the true democratic society was little more than an experiment. Hopes were high however, and the chips were all in, but the hand had not yet been played out to the end to know for sure if it was a “winner”. I am wondering if it yet has. My sense is that it has not – we are still waiting to see how it turns out, only the stakes are higher now and the pot has gotten a whole lot larger! The game of “Party Politics Roulette” goes on as well and one day we will be handing off our cards and chips to our kids with a “Good Luck” slap on the back and a fare-thee-well, “We’re outta here!” Have we constructed a retrograde road of false hope, or an enriching path of enlightenment for our future generations to build upon?

I understand why we have the political system that we do. The historical intentions of our founding fathers are clear… depending upon what time in history you examine them. First we have to pause, and look at the existence of two separate realities, and moments in time: the infancy of our patriotic ideals as originally formulated by our leaders between 1775 – 1797, and then there is just about everything else beyond 1797 (post-Washington).

We can label them, if we like: The Puritan Era (1775 – 1797) and The Plague! (1798 – Present Day)

Not that the “Puritan Era” was so pure. Let us understand that Club Washington looked upon the essentials of running the country similar to that of a monarchy. But who can blame them for their restricted vision? Their role model by default – their estranged parent country, England – was not exactly a pillar of democracy.

Blemishes and all however, their hearts were in the right place. The heightened ideals of a truly democratic society (at least as “democratic” as they could possibly imagine at the time), was groundbreaking stuff. But even in those early (“Puritan Era”) days, it is fair to assume that the seeds of The Plague! were already on the winds looking to pollinate the political landscape.

And so then we have just what Father warned about, and it all officially started when the door hit Washington’s bottom on the way out of the nation’s capitol. The era of centralized truth – self-absorbedness, self-promotion, and self-serving motivations and manifestations, i.e. the Political Party Parade, was just beginning.

So, as illustrated in the idealistic hopes of the “Puritan Era”, we have the framework on why we have the political structure that we do, initially; then in the subsequent era, “The Plague! to present time”, we have the reasons why we have the system that we do, for real, gloves off, warts exposed. We can now see the flaws; in retrospect it was a bad idea then, it is an even worse one today.

After more than 200 years of hopeful, yet more often self-serving refinement and stubborn adherence to stay the course, we can now, I do believe, consider it perhaps little more than a failed experiment that needs a drastic overhaul. Of course, there is no outline that exists to help the process get out of its own way, therefore, opening the horizon for forward, productive movement. This sticky realization must not glue us in place however, we need to realize the danger and pull ourselves free, the sooner the better.

The Democratic-Republican Party stayed in power and monopolized the political scene by achieving what the disbanded Federalists secretly wanted to, but could not – autocracy. They had no real opposition. The President, in truth, was selected from a short list of “candidates” that dwelled only within that very exclusive group. And no such thing as the “will of the people” having influence as to who would become the President – it was orchestrated for them; no need for the ladies and gents to concern themselves with such a lofty burden, their best interests were being looked after by the dominate D-Rs; from Thomas Jefferson through John Quincy Adams, they ruled the land.

It was Andrew Jackson in 1828, after suffering a bias-based defeat to John Q. in the previous election, despite winning the plurality of the popular and the electoral votes, who restored party rivalry by helping to found the Democratic Party as an agitate to, what he vehemently considered, the corrupt Democratic-Republicans.

After its nasty defeat to “Old Hickory”, and successfully portrayed publicly as outdated and out of touch with the people, the Democratic-Republican Party were forced to concede their holy ground, but they did not disband entirely; to stand out from their opposition – the wildly popular Democratic Party – they dropped the “Demo” moniker and took up a new name… the National Republican Party.

However, following a couple of unsuccessful runs in an attempt to wrestle away the presidency from the Democrats, it was clear that the “Republican” handle, by reference, was too reminiscent of the old guard. They needed to shake it up a bit, appearance was everything and it started with a new label, again. They settled on the “Whig” party. It was an immediate success.

For the next decade and a half, the Whigs and Democrats exchanged barbs, insults, accusations, and the executive throne. Not until Abe Lincoln’s campaign for a seat in the Illinois State Senate, and his keenly calculated switch to a new party that was threatening to stir things up, giving the then-dominant Democrats grief in many local elections around the country, did the Whig party morph into the once familiar, recycled label – the “Republican” party. Everything old is new again!

What’s in a name anyway? Neither the Republican Party, nor the Democratic Party of those early days had staked any association with their surmised namesake – the Democratic-Republican Party. Just as the Democrats and Republicans of the 1800s have little to no profound relation to today’s version – from what I can tell, most political historians tend to believe, if anything, that they have flip-flopped their ideological rhetoric (today’s Dems are more in tuned to yester-years Reps and vise-a-versa).

For 150 years since, it has been a wild kingdom ride; the Donkeys and Elephants have been going at one another fast and furious. And we, as if spectators at a prize fight, have been sitting back and watching, waiting I imagine, for a dominant champion to emerge victorious. We have been taught from childhood by parents and peers alike to exalt one combatant while disparaging all others solely because of their “party affiliation”. And yet, over that course of time, there has been no clear-cut winner, no one party to lay claim to the title of “Party for the People for All-Time!” For a time we are led by the Republicans, not long thereafter it is the Democrats, and back and forth it goes. How can they both be so right at different times in the opinion of the vast majority and all together be so wrong at other times? Partisan gridlock is about the only constant that we can count on to exist no matter which party is “in power”.

In my perfect dream world, a particular party loyalty should not make the candidate who they are and limit who they can become, and thereby what they can and will accomplish, or even attempt to accomplish. Would it not be ideal if a candidate, no matter the office of consideration, could stand before us and state their honest beliefs and ideas, beholding to no one group and their stringent rhetoric, but devout only to the order of the country, the state, or the district? Would it not benefit real progress and assist to eliminate the logjam that we presently endure post-election after post-election?

Ever since our 2nd President John Adams, the president has been elected and carried into office upon the shoulders of one or another specifically agendized group, i.e. political party. And so it goes, strength in numbers, a self-satisfied thriving bond with a common goal of winning at all costs first, then worrying about maybe accomplishing something of merit after the fact. Political parties are self-serving, bureaucratic behemoths that cause more overall harm than good and it is time that we, as The People of this great country, demand better for the sake of our children’s future and beyond.

There are many choices but no real alternatives; only several political groups to attach our hopes to. In fact, the Independent Party, for example, now number approximately one-third of all registered voters in this country; a steadily impressive climb since the ’70’s. People are mad as hell and they are not going to take it anymore! Right? Well, they certain are angry and feeling powerless (so what else is new?). But, in reality, if you query most of those “Independents” you will know that their allegiance lies firmly with either the Democrats or Republicans, and not with any designated “Independent” candidate.

Why? The answer is easy… Money. Money = Exposure. Exposure = Electability.

Libertarian, Freedom and Peace, Green, and most recently, the Tea Party, along with Independent, are the more prominent of the alternative parties. And though it is captivating that there have been some notable victories by some of these “long-shots” as of late in particular, can we view these few small ripples on the vast political ocean as a revolution of meaningful cultural (change) proportion?

In my vocabulary, there is a world of difference between the meanings of “extreme” and “radical”.

I consider extreme behavior to be unacceptable, whether it be extremely joyful or extremely gloomy, extremely liberal or extremely conservative. There needs to be more than a sprinkle of calm, common sense to every concoction to make it palatable and therefore reasonable.

I like, however, the idea of radical change when necessary, and therefore appropriate. I do not think it extreme in the least to suggest that by getting rid of our current political party predicament that we might very well save the fate of our country. If it is the right thing to do, applying the right logic, facts and reason (open to other opinions of course), then it cannot, by definition in my internal dictionary, be judged an extreme measure. Is it necessary? I believe it to be. Is it radical? You bet it is. Radicalism we need. Extremism we already have in spades, examples abound, and it serves to confuse and frighten us, keeping us downtrodden and paralyzed.

So, where to from here? Is there another path? A better way? I insist that there has to be! I am admittedly meager in my ability to propose an absolute answer to this challenge, but I can offer an assortment of bits and pieces, an intellectual massage of sorts to stimulate the subject matter and offer an initial rough draft of change.

How about this?… I strongly believe that there should be no party affiliations. Zero, zip, nada. No Dems and GOPs; no Indies either, nor Green Party, Peace & Freedom, or Libertarians, etc.

Of course, the new flavor of the month – the Republican Party spinoff – the Tea Party, is no exception and only serves to add waste to the pile. It is no less a political group with an extraordinary narrowly-directed agenda, than are the Big Two, along with all other political parties.

The emergence of the Tea Party is, on the surface, very reminiscent of the birth of the Republican Party of 1855. Just as the original Republican Party was born from the womb of the old, unfashionable Whig Party, so has the Tea Party begun to distance itself from its parental ties with the modern Republicans. Though the meat of their rhetoric are/were dissimilar, the essence of the sudden popularity of these two upstarts are/were cut from similar cloth with a painful social shout-out – a strong dissatisfaction with the status quo and a rebellious cry for change.

But with all of its flash and glitz with new faces leading the “rebellion”, the Tea Party does not stand alone among the numerous affiliations littering the political landscape. It is neither unique nor improved; it is simply a new member to the old guard. It is a posterchild-like representative of the insidious threat that George Washington identified in his farewell speech when he described “…a small but artful and enterprising minority of the community…”. Bingo!

No Congress and/or Senate that is “controlled” by one specific party – if that party is in opposition to the party affiliated with the President – will ever cooperate on any substantial level simply due to two overriding, immoveable, irrefutable reasons… blind alliance and beholding to party-line politics no matter the subject, no matter the repercussions (to our country and its citizenry), and the irrepressible ego factor. These narrow-minded, thinly moral truths are what, in large part, hold us back from meaningful progress and a future that we can have faith in.

It seems that most everyone’s idea of political reform is to form yet another party to oppose the party or parties that they are unhappy with. And of course (in my mind) this only compounds the problem to its core. Garbage in, garbage out, is garbage all the same.

A few years back I went Independent. You know the story… fed up with the reoccurring political logjam inevitably re-and reproduced by the dance of partyism. So, I made my statement. I can wear my dissatisfaction for the current political system, with all its warts and dysfunctional behavior, on my chest like a badge of honor.

Of course, the Independent Party, being just another political party, offers little to no relief from what ails us, but it shares a lineage with its younger, or smaller cousins – the assorted fringe parties, including the fashionable Teas – and that is as an evidentiary statement to our nation’s state of despair and present direction.

Once we have eliminated the requirement, even the possibility, of a candidate’s political party affiliation, what is left? The answer: A candidate who stands on his own; with his own ideas, intellectual resources, and articulateness creativities candidly exposed for all to observe and evaluate, based on merit in association with the vital political and social challenges of the day.

(In the Deluxe Edition of my proposal, we would have all candidates’ appearance, religion, ethnicity, and sexual preference hidden from public view and scrutiny. All candidates would therefore be judged solely on what they have to say about the issues with no fear of persecution or influence of prejudice. A perfect world perhaps? Actually, a precise version of true, blue democracy. Can we handle it? I wonder. I cannot say for certain. We should ask our children what they think, after all this soon will be all theirs, our turn is almost up and we have pretty much screwed the pooch big time to this point.)

Let us explore further how a party-free political campaign race might take shape relative to potential candidates…

Under the proposed futuristic rules, as with the present, first they must qualify. The typical qualifications would apply – citizenship, age restrictions, residency requirements if applicable, etc. But inevitably, with no party affiliation to spearhead the campaigns, it will be necessary for the candidates to stand on their own personal laurels and public expressions concerning the critical issues at hand.

However, before the candidacy can be approved (in addition to the enduring qualifications previously noted), the candidate-hopeful must take a government history and current affairs exam and PASS it. One would not hire someone, for example, for an accountant position if the applicant could neither add nor subtract very well. Political office job-seekers should be held to similar expectations relative to their job specifications.

Finances and the influence of money have regularly been a bone of contention. Candidates have won elections because of it; still some have lost in spite of it (Meg “How Much Does It Cost Anyway To Buy The Darn Governorship For Heaven’s Sake?!” Whitman); and a great many good (and not-so-good) candidates have dropped out of races before reaching the finish line not having enough of it in order to sustain the long, extravagantly expensive State or Federal level campaigns. The playing fields can be drastically uneven, creating a potential and often realistic advantage for the candidate(s) with the largest treasure chest.

Solutions? Here are some ideas:

Each candidate will be required to raise – through campaign contributions – an attainable, minimum amount of cash. Once all candidates have reached their individual, mandated monetary goal, any additional funds that happen to be raised by any one or more of the candidates is to be split evenly among all of the candidates. The purpose of this fiscal design is apparent – no candidate will be allowed to raise more campaign money than his or her opponent(s). Violators will be immediately expelled from the race.

All television, radio and print media will be required to give equal time – for advertising and public appearance coverage – to each candidate. Political commentators who praise or vilify one party or the other because of foggy-lensed allegiance will be forced to focus on specific issues and the facts in direct relation to the candidates themselves rather than what political party they belong to.

{Let us pray… Dear God, you parted the Red Sea, cured the gravely ill instantly, and turned apples from something forbidden into something that keeps the doctor away… Why can’t you make FOX-News and MSNBC get along? They are media leaders in blatant propaganda for the two contemporary political parties; equally bias, equally unnerving in their delivery, and unfortunately, equally detrimental to the common goal – a unified nation. Their commentators, among many others in the holy media world, by virtue of their television saturation primarily, are part and parcel to the fuel that helps propel the runaway train (that is our beloved country) to possible ruin. Amen.}

Revamping the nation’s political system would be sadly deficient without addressing the most challenging and elusive weak link – the Voter. My goodness, have you ever spoken with someone, briefly or in-depth, and gone away from the conversation saying to yourself, “My Lord, that person’s vote is of equal value to my own!” And I am not speaking to basic differences of opinions; I am referring to education and articulation of the context of the issues, free from harmful misinformation, prejudice upbringing and ignorant influences, limited access to facts and truths. When even an educated guess is something of a stretch come time to cast their ballet.

It should start in the schools. An overview of our nation’s important current affairs should be part of the curriculum, providing a foundation for basic understanding and hopeful curiosity developing into a healthy, growing inquisitive nature for American youth.

Voting age is presently 18. Sure, keep it at that. But, make a basic high school diploma or GED a prerequisite to voter registration – remember, along with meeting the high school requirements, they would get the benefit of standardized national affairs education too.

Now, here is the really radical part that ignites the torch, lighting the way to reconstruction… Each and every registered voter is further required to take and pass a governmental history and current affairs examination in order to be allowed to vote. This exam would be less extensive than the one required to run for office, but it would be helpful in getting the voter to put in some time to find out what is going on around them better.

Without much doubt, initially we will experience a dramatic drop in voter participation likely on every level of government. Some will not make the effort to participate in the testing process, giving up their right to vote; others will not pass the exam and therefore will not qualify. But still others – many others – ultimately will not go to the polls for the most disturbing reason – without a party designation next to the candidates’ names, how in the world can they know who to vote for?! So they won’t vote; without their hand being held and their decision for one candidate or another made uneasy and not-so automatic, it all will seem like too much darn work.

But take heart America, those folks who make the effort to vote (to study the issues, the candidates, and thereby the consequences) will mostly be far more expectant to cast a vote of thoughtful reason and sound value than the countless votes that are routinely carelessly deposited at ballot booths throughout this great country of ours, with less than thoughtful intentions or sound analysis and forethought. So, as the quantity drops the quality rises – a nice trade-off I would insist. And of course in time – perhaps a generation or two – the increase in voter absence would turn around with a huge upswing when more and more Americans become educated to the new way through their classroom studies and beyond in renewed hope in the American political system.

I suspect that most would consider this more government intrusion, and I concede that it to be. However, I am not one to dismiss government intervention when and where needed.

So, an American utopia; the ultimate political and social experiment meant for advancement toward perfection? How silly is that? Maybe in reality, however if sincerely embraced in the heart and head, then pressed into action by the will… The Will Of The People… it can certainly be a powerful force, moving mountains and parting seas, so it would seem. But we have to want it. We have to demand it. We must try and rid our society of the things that do not work – trial and error after trial and disaster – or we will forever live with the ramifications of stubborn avoidance and the status quo.

* * * * * * *

Note: In the 2010 elections, California voters took an encouraging step in a better direction by approving two Propositions… one (Prop. 14) creates a statewide open primary system potentially making it more likely to elect our lawmakers by virtue of their abilities and not necessarily by their party affiliation; the other (Prop. 20) will redraw legislative and congressional district boundaries established by an independent citizens commission rather than the lawmakers themselves.

(March 29, 2011: Happen to catch the scuttlebutt out of the U. S. Supreme Court as they appear poised to strike down a provision of a campaign financing system in Arizona that gives extra cash to publicly funded candidates who face super-funded privately financed and independent groups? The conservative-minded Justices are skeptical of the Arizona law, claiming it threatens the First Amendment; they feel it is designed to level the playing field for candidates. Pause. Well alrighty then. Where’s the love? Not a real positive sign for fair play political reform, is it?)

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