|Posted by Aleck Loker on February 19, 2012 at 11:15 AM|
Partisanship has become so embedded in our political process that loyalty to the party platform overrides interest in the common good—in other words, statesmanship. This unproductive partisanship is most evident in national politics but is also apparent at the state and local level. A statesman is concerned about the next generation, a politician is concerned about his/her next election (to paraphrase J. F. Clarke). What better way to win the next election than to make the opposing party look bad.
In taking positions on national issues, the President and members of Congress align along party lines. Ironically, during an election, presidential and congressional candidates tend to espouse a centrist (or moderate) position on issues regardless of whether they are running as Republicans or Democrats. Once elected, their true political philosophy emerges as they advance their agenda, while moving away from the center.
The party not occupying the White House decides their congressional strategy based on a desire to thwart the President’s agenda, to hamper his reelection chances or to prevent his party from winning seats in the next election. Likewise, in Congress, the strategy of the Republicans is to thwart the Democratic agenda and vice versa. Members of Congress generally view it as critical to their reelection to tow the party line. Of course, there have been some maverick members of Congress who have voted in opposition to their party leadership’s position, but they are very rare.
In Congress, matters of critical importance to the national interest are decided not based on what is best for the long-term welfare of the country, but on the short-term benefit of the political parties and the individual members. The political party system, perhaps advantageous at one time, now prevents the emergence of statesmen and rewards party loyalty. This insidious partisanship has made it nearly impossible to enact legislation that will restore the vitality and productivity of the nation.
Suppose political parties were outlawed. Candidates for office would have to articulate their personal reasons for running for office. They would propose to the electorate issues they felt were critical and what stand they would take on those issues. They would propose solutions to the problems facing the nation, the state or the local jurisdiction. They could not wrap themselves in the meaningless mantle of “Republican,” “Democrat,” or the “Tea Party.”
They would have to convince the electorate of their superiority over other candidates based on their experience, their track record, their apparent ability to build consensus, and the likelihood that they could succeed once elected. Or, as in recent campaigns, they could focus almost entirely on the failings of their opponent—they could continue to sling mud. But without the ideology of the two parties directing the debate, hopefully the voters would demand that the candidates focus on the central problems and their ability to solve them.
If political parties were outlawed, there would be no Republican National Committee or Democratic National Committee. Each candidate would have his/her own committee for election and would not be answerable to a national political machine. Of course, this idealistic approach would need an additional safeguard—campaign finance reform.
Can we outlaw political parties? Probably not. The U. S. Constitution guarantees the right to free assembly and free speech, and both parties would wrap themselves in that sacred mantle. Perhaps voters should insist that representatives put partisanship behind them as they debate the issues and problems that affect us at the national, state and local level. The penalty for not doing so would be replacement of the incumbent at the next election cycle.