Not too long ago I posted a piece on the problems with volunteerism. While I’m a fan of the work of many volunteer and charitable organizations I don’t see them as alternatives to mandatory institutions. One aspect of American society that I feel suffers greatly from its voluntary nature is primary campaigns, and to a larger extent the entire party structure. Since both of these are at the root of determining how our entire government works it creates huge problems.
The Endowment Candidate
The problem as I see it is not that candidates collect money from wealthy citizens and corporations. The problem is that the donors expect high levels of influence because of their donations. High level donors expect the same level of courtesy they receive with the rest of their philanthropy such as having college buildings named after them or the specialty dinner events where they can bring up the issues that are unique to their needs. This often can result in a situation where the needs of the many are overshadowed by the needs of the few, or the one –to pervert the logic of Mr. Spock.
The Independent Majority
Our problems are compounded by the modern winner take all stakes of our two party system. In recent years there has been a breakdown of compromise in DC. The result is that the party in power in order to actually do anything must have total control. The problem with this is according to self-reporting the majority doesn’t back either party. 40% of Americans self-identify as independent leaving another 30 percent each amongst the two parties presumably . This means whatever party’s actually in power has a high probability of acting outside of the majority will.
The Destructive Party
The fact is the party system works against our democracy. Political parties are opaque entities that wield far too much influence on the government. My problem isn’t the things political parties stand for. My problem is the way they control the process. The Democrats and the Republicans control every aspect of how we govern and elect who governs despite neither holding a plurality much less a majority. Most people believe they are somewhere in the middle in terms of political beliefs. We crave compromise because that is where we believe the center lies. However the political parties work against this. The political parties harden and widen the chasm between ideas and make compromise the uncanny valley of politics.
The Undemocratic Party
My biggest problem with political parties is they prevent outsider participation. This is most obvious in our political debates for president. Ross Perot was a watershed moment in our modern politics. While I think it is overblown to say Perot cost Bush sr. the election, he did have one long lasting effect. His performance in the debates spooked both parties; Because Perot was not bound to either party, and was nigh-on-crazy, he brought up topics and issues that were often on the minds of the public but not to either party’s political advantage to discuss. After that election the two parties colluded to make it virtually impossible to gain that kind of spotlight again as a third party candidate. We have a name for groups that behave this way, these aren’t parties anymore they are political cartels, and the sooner we acknowledge them as such we can do something about it.
We’re All Independent
What we need to do is get rid of the useless barriers of party affiliation. Right now we must register our political affiliation in order to vote in primaries. Why? How do we practically gain from barring people from participating in the primary process? It seems to me that everyone should be able to participate in the primary process if it is to play such a powerful role in determining who we get to choose from for the general election. The justification for this is that we volunteer to be a part of it or not. The reason why so many people identify as independent is because the parties as they are are horrible at representing them. If the primaries were open to all voters politicians wouldn’t need to pander to the base, and then moderate to the middle. The parties could still have their internal structures but it wouldn’t be creating artificial commitments with registered voters. These artificial commitments are poisonous it pits countrymen against each other before the issues are even brought up. Think about it, you could know nothing of a proposal but if you’re a registered republican you’re predisposed to dislike it if it is put forth by a democrat. Or worse still if it is proposed by a member of your registered party you’re predisposed to like it without necessarily vetting the idea. It’s this blind trust I’m most afraid of. The blind trust led us into Iraq, and keeps us from really discussing the ongoing drone strikes. It is simply bad for our democracy to have the unnecessary artifices. Breaking down the party structure would also help to restore the comity of congress, decreasing the strength of the party increases the strength of the democracy.