Political parties are a huge mistake.
Though it was their constant squabbling and political power struggles that gave way to the party system in the first place, they also were incredibly vocal about the errors they, themselves, were committing.
Thomas Jefferson and James Madison preferred state power that would protect southern interests including slave-holding. George Washington, John Adams and Alexander Hamilton favored federal authority that would benefit the north and manufacturing.
But in taking sides to protect their own power, they split into the very factions they knew would poison the newborn Republic.
At his farewell address in 1796, Washington put it this way:
“However [political parties] may now and then answer popular ends, they are likely in the course of time and things, to become potent engines, by which cunning, ambitious, and unprincipled men will be enabled to subvert the power of the people and to usurp for themselves the reins of government, destroying afterwards the very engines which have lifted them to unjust dominion.”
His successor, Adams wrote:
“There is nothing which I dread so much as a division of the republic into two great parties, each arranged under its leader, and concerting measures in opposition to each other. This, in my humble apprehension, is to be dreaded as the greatest political evil under our Constitution.”
In 1789, Jefferson put it more succinctly:
“If I could not go to heaven but with a party, I would not go there at all.”
So why do we today enshrine political parties in our system of government?
In short, it keeps the wealthy in power.
Nothing robs democracy of its populism so much as the party system.
Backward legislation and regressive court decisions equating money with speech only make this worse. But they are simply exacerbating a sickness that’s already there.
Political parties condense the world of advertising and commerce to that of government.
Political ideas are sorted and processed until they can become tasty sound bites – one accorded to one group and the corresponding response to another.
Federalism vs. States.
Taxation vs. Business
Guns vs. Regulations
It’s all bullshit.
No one really cares whether rules are made by an aggregation of the entire nation or merely an aggregation from each individual state. We only care that laws are fair and just.
No one really wants businesses to be taxed to death, nor do they want individuals to be unfairly burdened. They want a just system of taxation where everyone pays their fair share and supports an equitable distribution of the wealth.
No one really wants to unilaterally prohibit individual freedoms – including the freedom to own a gun. They want sane regulations so that killers and maniacs can’t as easily destroy innocent lives.
But political parties obscure these simple truths and sort us all into one of two teams. Yet both sides support the same unchangeable status quo.
As writer Gore Vidal put it:
“Officially we have two parties which are in fact wings of a common party of property with two right wings. Corporate wealth finances each. Since the property party controls every aspect of media they have had decades to create a false reality for a citizenry largely uneducated by public schools that teach conformity with an occasional advanced degree in consumerism.”
Part of this is due to our insistence that the party system be limited to two groups – Republicans and Democrats. We make it incredibly difficult – nearly impossible – for any third party candidate to appear on the ballot less than win a major election.
But increasing the party system would only minimize the damage. It wouldn’t stop it.
When issues are divided into political camps, they obscure basic similarities about voters.
Fairness and justice are not political. They are human.
By making them political, we obscure basic truths to convince subsections of the populace onto our side.
And these are rarely legitimate differences of opinion. They are often a matter of truth or falsity.
For instance, take trickle down economics. Either it is a fair and just distribution of wealth or it is not. Either it provides both rich and poor with a means of equitable economic advancement or it does not.
To understand this, one need not have an advanced degree in political science. A simple understanding of mathematics will suffice.
If there were no political parties, this would be self-evident. But the rich have used both parties to obscure this fact and make it a game of policy football. You support whichever team you’ve signed up for regardless of how doing so impacts you, personally.
It is the victory of tribalism over common sense.
The same goes for almost every issue facing the nation.
Should schools be public or private?
Should LGBT people be allowed the same rights as cis citizens?
Should we spend the majority of our federal budget on the military?
Should there be a path to citizenship for those wishing to immigrate?
Each and every one of these questions could be decided on facts. Instead evidence is hardly mentioned at all. We use the issues to elect the legislators who then can’t do anything about them for fear that action one way or another would upset the political power struggle against them.
Some economists suggest that the principle behind Democrats and Republicans, the principle behind liberals and conservatives, really comes down to economics.
It is an innate psychological reaction to scarcity and abundance.
In times of little food or resources, conservative tendencies are ascendant because they help us survive the lean times. However, in an era where there is enough for all, liberal tendencies flourish because they help the growing population thrive.
Even if this were true, it is a factual question of whether we live in times of abundance or scarcity.
In the 21st Century United States, we have more wealth than we have ever had. There is enough food for everyone. We grow more than we can eat and end up throwing much of it away. Yet a tremendous amount of us live in abject poverty. More than half of public school students live below the poverty line.
This is not because we live in a time of scarcity. We live in a time of abundance where we keep much of that surplus away from the majority in order to create a false sense of scarcity so that the richest among us can horde as much as they possibly can.
That is the ugly truth hidden behind the party system.
It is a truth that could not be maintained without the easy marketing and tribalism of political parties – Republicans, Democrats, Whigs, the Judean Peoples Front or the People’s Front of Judea.
Until we remove the stranglehold of political parties, until we set up a government that makes factionalism difficult, until we establish a government that welcomes candidates regardless of party – our politics will be forever immobilized by wealth, sectarianism and voter apathy.
This could mean holding nonpartisan primaries where all candidates irrespective of party who meet a certain signature threshold are welcome, followed by a general election of the two highest vote-getters. Or it could mean something radically different like not voting at all but filling government with ordinary citizens randomly drafted into public service.
The point is that we can do better than party politics.
If we’re to survive as a nation, we’ll need to find a more just way.
Or as Hamilton put it:
“Nothing could be more ill-judged than that intolerant spirit which has, at all times, characterized political parties.”