Are Political Parties Bad for Society?

Recently, much commentary about US politics has suggested that political parties are harmful, and that the United States would be better off if we either eliminate party labels from the ballot, or at least that we eliminate the connection between use of the party label, and whether or not the candidate bearing that label is actually nominated by that party.

Last month, reporters for several newspapers in Arizona, Florida, and Mississippi published stories suggesting that if we cut the connection between a party label and whether that party actually nominated that candidate, US politics would be improved.

These stories suggest that when the major parties nominate candidates, the candidates are extreme in their views, unreasonably partisan, and unable to cooperate in government with office-holders of the other major party.

It is true that Democratic and Republican members of Congress and many state legislatures deserve that criticism. But it does not follow logically that just because office-holders from the Democratic and Republican Parties behave badly, therefore all political parties should be condemned.

The world contains 196 independent nations. Except for a handful with populations below 100,000, all countries in the world, whether they have free elections or not, have political parties.

In some unfree nations, the governing party outlaws all other political parties, but even in those nations, people still form opposition parties, which must be underground and which subject their activists to a threat of persecution.

Legislative bodies representing large populations need parties. In 1914 Minnesota converted its legislative elections to non-partisan elections, but the state soon learned that it was impossible to organize the legislature without informal parties. Within the legislature, the Conservative Party and the Liberal Party arose.

Finally, by 1972, Minnesotans demanded an end to non-partisan legislative elections, because they were aware that the legislature, in fact, was still operating with parties, and felt that it would be better to bring the parties out into the open, and include party labels on the ballot for the benefit of voters.

It is true that Nebraska has had a non-partisan legislature since 1936, but Nebraska newspapers regularly keep readers informed of the party registration of various members of the legislature.

And Nebraska has always had partisan elections for state and county executive offices.

Commentators frequently say that George Washington did not approve of political parties, and they cite his Farewell Address. But the speech does not condemn political parties.

It only condemns “the spirit of party,” not parties themselves. In other words, Washington was worried about extreme partisanship, in which individuals become so attached to one party, they irrationally and emotionally reject good ideas from other parties, and cannot work with members of other parties.

The Address says about partisanship, “A fire not to be quenched, it demands a uniform vigilance to prevent its bursting into a flame, lest instead of warming, it should consume.”

Washington borrowed this analogy from Federalist Paper #10, in which James Madison wrote about faction. Madison said that factionalism is bad, but that trying to outlaw it would do more harm than factionalism itself.

Like Washington, he also compared partisanship to a fire. Madison said that fire is dangerous, but we still need fire, and eliminating all the air, just to avoid fire, would obviously be far worse. Madison said the best way to deal with factionalism is to have multiple “factions” (i.e., parties), instead of just two. Washington put members of both parties into his cabinet, a policy followed by other Presidents since then.

Richard Winger
San Francisco
(Winger is editor of Ballot Access News, where a version of this letter originally appeared.)

Republican Rainmakers

So far all we have seen from Republican influence politically and economically is cutting — rights, jobs, wealth for most people/more people, stirring up of hatreds, harshness, nit-picking legalisms, punitive, militaristic “solutions” to social problems.

After eight years of Bush II and Republican Everything the result couldn’t be clearer: The End of Prosperity. Banks and Wall Street had their way — and they took everything away.

No matter how Republicans talk about anything now, how could anyone — even themselves — believe them.

When all the water goes up into the clouds but it doesn’t rain, that’s a drought. And if it does come down all at once, that’s usually a flood. Texas should know about that by now.

Nothing “good” happens without the right conditions — not even a trickle down. Republican policies and personalities have not created the right conditions for even trickles. And yet they keep claiming that they will produce what they clearly haven’t produced.

I guess their only “reason for being” now is to be as annoying as possible to give the illusion that rain — of some sort — is coming. It’s way past time for anyone to still be believing in illusions.

Especially when they’re perishing from believing them.

One would think that simply doing the opposite of what (most) Republicans say/believe at this point would be our sure path to getting everything we want! Why not try it? Republicanism hasn’t done much good for us so far.

Cutting our way to “a better economy” of no debt and more jobs amounts to, if you find yourself in a condition similar to our national one, sitting in your locked house, starving to death until and unless money comes from “somewhere” to change your situation.

Until Republicans have real plans on how to turn things around, they should, in their shame, just forgo all the worthless criticizing of helpful proposals.

And Ralph Nader’s idea (“Debating Tabooes,” 8/1/11 TPP) of fining people for not voting is up there with fining couples for not having babies or for people being single after age 18.

Cheryl Lovely
Presque Isle, Maine

Real Liberals Revisited

Ted [Rall]. No doubt when it comes to bashing our glorious führer, we don’t need the rest of the TPP crew. Man, you’re a standalone.

But in all fairness, let’s have a closer look at two facts which you may have failed to consider in your chagrin of the debt deal.

First, and most importantly: For absolutely no justifiable reason WE LOST THE- HOUSE! Which one of these four words are liberals having a problem understanding?

The way that most left-wing pundits in this journal lecture from one essay to the next, it might seem to an uninformed reader that the 111th Congress somehow continued into 2011, completely unchanged. Do you really believe that our Great Black Father would have had to dance the Tea Party Limbo with a Democratic majority? 

Consider this. In many other democracies, the 2010 midterm results could be compared to a motion of no confidence. Therefore, only for the unique structure of our constitution is the target of your frustrations presently not assembling his library. Second, and this is what few people are catching onto: In the most completely illustrated dictionary of the English language, you would find a photograph of Barack Obama, right next to the word “realist.” He understands that in this world there are things to be had, and things not to be had, and he’s not going to worry about 2012.

If we elect him on a message of hope and then insult him with a House full of stooges, the only liberal thing he will give us is a liberal dose of stooge tonic.

In other words, the urinary match with Moe, Larry and Curly that would have allowed S&P to drop us to A minus, just wasn’t meant to be.

Finally, allow me to define the term “real liberals.” Real liberals are those of us who are talented enough to fly on the trapeze of life with no safety net, even in a circus run by Ron Paul.

Despite this, we selflessly continue to demand the safety net for the benefit of all of those little fools who are somehow above the duty of voting, and all of those big fools who vote — “Self-Destruct-Push Here.” Kind of makes you wonder who the “real fools” are.

Ron DiGiovanni
Easton, Pa.

Hillary No Change

In Froma Harrop’s article (9/1/11 TPP), she begs Hillary to “launch a primary challenge” against Obama in 2012 so that Dems can back a “leader” as their presidential candidate.

Does she actually think Hillary’s leadership would be in a different direction from Obama? Many of his cabinet and closest advisers are leftovers of the Clinton administration.

Ms. Harrop’s only other suggestion for a Democratic “leader” is Ed Rendell, former governor of Pennsylvania. He supported Hillary in her 2008 campaign, congratulating Fox News for having “done the fairest job” in their coverage and remaining “the most objective of all the cable networks.”

A few pages later in September’s TPP, Sen. Bernie Sanders defends the working class against the corporatocracy with a moving declaration of “enough is enough!” He rallies us to join his fight to take the power away from Wall Street and give it to Main Street.

Sanders’ political career began in 1971 when he joined the anti-Vietnam War Party in Vermont. Neither Republican nor Democrat, he has praised European social democracy. Bernie’s words, actions, and votes have always represented the ideal progressive candidate. Someone should investigate whether or not he would be willing to run for President in 2012; I know it would be more than worthwhile to support him.

Kendra Jo Dudley
Rochester, Minn.

Editor’s Note: Sanders has said he is running for re-election to the Senate in Vermont and is not running for president.

GOP Posture

The cartoon on page 20 [“The Texas Miracle,” 9/15/11 TPP, showing Rick Parry walking on top of the water, held up by schoolchildren, uninsured and minimum-wage workers underwater] says it all: just put “ GOP” in place of “Perry” and we have a picture of the current Republican posture.

The Republican Congress has not done one single thing to create jobs, even though they talk about jobs all the time. And as long as Mr. Obama fails to challenge Wall Street, the big banks and refuses to hit back at the radical right and their distorted vision of America, we will continue to decline and the Middle Class — now fading like a jet in free fall — will never again be what it was post WWII until just recently when, as Michael Moore points out, Ronald Reagan started the downward slide of this great nation. I continue to hope the average American will wake up to the dire straits we are in. The only question for me is: Will it be too late to reverse the damage?

Rev. John C. Karrer
Sharonville, Ohio

GOP Insensitive

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) has advocated a policy requiring that federal assistance should not be provided to victims of natural disasters such as the Joplin tornado and hurricane Irene unless Congress cuts funding for other federal programs.

Based on the Cantor policy, if a future earthquake of a huge 8.0 magnitude struck Washington, D.C., rather than the recent 5.8 magnitude quake, and destroyed or badly damaged the Capitol, the Supreme Court Building, and the White House, these important government structures could not be repaired or rebuilt with federal funds unless Congress cut funding for other federal programs.

The Cantor policy is insensitive, unconscionable, inhumane, and inconsistent with the values of any decent civilized modern society.

Edward L. Koren
Highland Park, Ill.

Where Obama is Coming From

I don’t know who sent me The Progressive Populist, but I’d like to thank whoever it was. That person, if it was a person, probably knows I’m a compulsive letter writer and thinks that’s okay, and I don’t want to disappoint him or her, so here comes my first missive to that publication. In the issue I received, lots of people were saying that Barack Obama seems to be a weak-willed pushover and they can’t figure out why.

Well, please allow me to point out something very obvious: He is a mixed race person, and all his life he has had to ride the rails between those two sides of himself and I’m sure that wasn’t easy.

Plus he had three parent figures in his life and he grew up with his grandparents, so that must have added to his confusion. And maybe he adopted a peace-maker role just to get along. A role many folks who have grown up in families where divorces took place and had stepparents and step-brothers and sisters can identify with.

Also, his parents were of different nationalities and spoke different languages, and that was hound to make a difference, and we who voted for him should have recognized some of that before we made our choice.

But he is a bright fellow, and given a chance surely will compensate for some-of:that, and will understand that trying to get along with the current crop of Republicans who have no real goal other than to destroy him—and with him us progressive-types — is like trying to get along with an abusive marital partner. (After awhile a sensible person realizes it is not possible and not worth it.)

But what do I know? I’m so old and out of it that as you can see still using a typewriter, and I never was a good typist.

I would like to add a postscript though, to say that I wish everyone wasn’t encouraged to vote if they have no idea what or whom they are voting for.

What I would rather they be told is to first educate themselves before they vote. And if they can’t be bothered to do that, then for pity’s sake stay home and don’t vote, because the world doesn’t need your two and a half cents worth to mess it up even worse than it is already.

M.E. Johnson
Eckert. Colo.

From The Progressive Populist, October 1, 2011


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