Parties Need to be Strengthened

Fareed Zakaria has an interesting take on the Republican Party (which in my mind also covers the Democrats), and its seeming inability to “control its extremists.” I just heard him on his weekly CNN program, but you can see a recording of it here: .

My take-away from it is that the political parties in the US have gotten too weak. They’ve lost the ability to purge radical voices from their ranks, which in turn gives those radical voices a place to enact their insane desires to tear down the civility of the country, to destroy our ability to work together for the betterment of all.

I don’t know if there’s an easy solution to this problem. It seems to be a side-effect of the information age. Political parties, way back when, had all the power, because they chose the candidates, and in most cases (other than local elections), voters knew nothing about the candidates on the ballot except for their party affiliation. Thus, the party was supremely important in determining who a voter would support, and in a candidate getting elected.

But in the era in which anyone interested in running for office can reach out to millions of potential voters without even choosing a political label, and when such a candidate can then run rampant over the party loyalists (a result of the move from nominating conventions to open primaries), the only check on a whack-job’s candidacy is if the other candidates can whip up an even larger, more fervid base. That’s good for a laissez-faire attitude, but bad for anyone hoping for any accountability or high-mindedness in their candidates.

So why do we need party labels at all, if these random non-party nuts can hijack the parties? We need them because our two major parties have spent the last two centuries ensuring that they maintain dominance. If you want to be on a ballot, you have to collect a lot of signatures in a very precise fashion in a limited window of time, and you have to do it in each state in which you want to run. Or you can just get the nomination of one of the major parties, and you’re automatically on the ballot nationwide.

To bring this back to Fareed’s and my original point, I think the parties need to grow back their moral backbones. They need to be able to say “No, we don’t care if you show up with this rabid horde of extremists. We don’t care if you can raise a ton of money from those eager to prove they are more radical then anyone. We as a party stand for certain ideals, including good, inclusive government, and your extremist rhetoric is not welcome here.” I’m not really sure how we can do that. All I know is that letting those at the extreme edges of the parties gain more and more control is not the path to a good future.

When I was in college, Professor Levin talked about the American system of government. Of how, in a two-party system, the way to win (or so we all thought) was to get as close as possible to the middle of the political spectrum. The theory was that those at the outer edges are going to vote for their party regardless of who the candidate is, because they don’t want the other party (which is even farther from their views) to win. So the purpose of a campaign is to convince the undecided middle to vote for you, rather than the other party.

But we seem to have overturned that political theory in the last several elections. I don’t know if it’s the rise of money in politics, or if it’s a result of the unrelenting narrative that the government can’t or won’t do anything (an attempt to dishearten the center from voting, so that the outer edges can wield greater power). We find ourselves in a country where, if you’re not with me, you’re my enemy, rather than simply a neighbor with a different opinion. And we need to say “no, that’s wrong. We can both want the best for all and have well-reasoned opinions, and still disagree with each other. And even when we disagree, we can still hang out together and enjoy each other’s company.”

I started this piece quoting Fareed Zakaria talking about the Republican Party, but I don’t think that’s correct anymore. I think the insurrectionists, the loudest voices, those threatening the stability of the government, should properly be labeled the Trumpian Party. I think the Republican Party has all but disappeared into the Trumpian. Which is not to say that the Democratic Party is blameless and healthy. It, too, is suffering from the rise of its own extremists. But their demands for political purity (the reason Senator Al Franken was forced to resign, for example) mean that their radicalization will take longer to wreak its own brand of havoc.

It’s galling for me to say this, because I’ve always been passionately anti-party. In part, that was because none of the major parties completely echo my own views, but in part, it was due to my own form of idealism. I liked to think that allowing all candidates equal ballot access would give we the voters the greatest selection of choice, and that we would then choose the best people. But as we’ve seen recently, reality doesn’t always mesh with my ideal world. And people, by and large, are more venal and selfish than altruistic and high-minded. I’m still a rational anarchist, but that particular political philosophy does not seem to work well with human beings as we are currently constituted.

Want to help me form a party to marginalize all the extremists?

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