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Political Parties (a Political Issue)


Introduction

In the United States, the candidates for our first elections ran as individuals (independents). For some offices, there were often dozens of candidates, which made it difficult for some people to decide who to vote for. In addition, with so many candidates, several similar candidates would split the vote in such a way that a single fringe candidate would sometimes end up with the most votes.

Then, in the 1790’s, the first political parties were organized. The idea behind having a political party was that likeminded people could combine and concentrate their resources to select and then to elect a candidate who was on their side of the issues and who would work towards their goals. Those political parties that had more members and more resources were better able to get their candidates elected.

Over the years, many political parties have come and gone, but due to the advantages of size, the political landscape has generally been dominated by two large political parties. Today, these happen to be the Republican Party and the Democratic Party.

On the other hand, the more members a political party has, the less likely that they will agree on all the issues or on a single candidate. For the most part, the benefits of size have won out over the disagreements that party members have had over the issues. For the members of the political parties, the general feeling may be that it is better to get someone elected who is at least close to their views on the major issues than to risk letting someone else get elected.

Today, unless you are independently wealthy or already well known, it is difficult to get elected to a political office without the resources of a political party. Therefore, most individuals, who run for political office, belong to a political party.

When it comes to getting involved in the political process, the political parties have left many people with limited choices. They can go with whichever one of the two large political parties that most closely agrees with their views, go with a third party where they may have little chance of winning, or try to influence things from the sidelines as independents or as members of one or more special interest groups.

Is there a way to improve the current situation or is there a better alternative? Yes, but in order to see what we can do, we should first look at the current state of affairs a little closer.

Special Interest Groups

A special interest group (also called an advocacy group, lobbying group, or pressure group) is made up of likeminded individuals who combine and concentrate their resources in order to influence and to steer public policy and legislative action on some issue towards their point of view. Since it is often difficult for an individual to get his or her opinions heard, special interest groups can help to provide some people with a voice.

On the other hand, some special interest groups create problems for our political system, since they will often resort to buying influence, to pressuring our representatives or to using misleading or false advertising instead of really discussing the issues.

Interestingly, political parties and special interest groups have a lot in common. They only seem to have a couple of real differences between them. In addition, their differences only seem to have any real significance when we talk about the larger political parties.

The first important difference is that a special interest group is usually set up only to deal with a single or a few related issues, whereas the large political parties must deal with a wide range of issues. Even so, the political parties often try to steer the debate towards those few issues where they feel that their views are most popular with the voters and to downplay or even to ignore many of the others issues.

The other important difference is that the members of special interest groups separate from the government, but often try to control members of the government, whereas the members of a political party can try to take over control of the government from within it. For the larger political parties, one of their main goals seems to be to become the ruling party, so, theoretically, they will be in a position to more easily enact legislation that furthers their agenda.

Party Loyalty

Ideally, we want our elected officials to represent us, to listen to our problems, complaints and ideas, and to work in our best interests irrespective of whether or not we voted for them or belong to their political party. In some cases, our elected officials do try to represent all of us, but more often than not, they will show preference and loyalty to their political party and to its members. Which means, they may not really work in all of our best interests the way they should.

In most cases, when an individual is elected to office, the office holder will want to be reelected. In order to get reelected, the office holder will need the continued help of his or her political party, so the office holder will try to keep in the good graces of their party. Therefore, the office holder will often work with and go along with the agenda of their party leadership and their fellow party members, even if it is not what is best. As a result, our representatives may not feel the need to listen to someone outside of their party who probably did not or will not vote for them. This is especially true if this person wants something done that the majority of their party would not want done, even when it would be a really good idea to do.

This is not to say that our representatives will never listen or help, but it may be harder when you belong to a different political party. One way around this problem is to be an independent voter. As long as your district is not completely dominated by the political party that is in office, candidates will be looking to win over the swing votes. Therefore, independent voters may find an easier time getting heard than members of another political party.

Majority Rule

In most societies, when the majority of the people get to choose how their government works and what it does, it is more likely that more people will be happy with the way things are going than when a minority or even a single person decides everything.

However, as I have already talked about in the subsection on democracy, majority rule may not protect everyone. All that majority rule does is to provide a better way to protect those people in the majority. What we really need are procedures, and the checks and balances that would ensure that everyone and all living things could be protected, and given the chance to live their lives as they want, to the extent that they do not needlessly harm others.

The way our democracy was envisioned to work, we would be ruled by the majority. Although this is not the best option, it would still be better than a monarchy or some other form of minority rule. However, given our current political climate, we do not even have majority rule.

Based on our current political and electoral processes, most of our elected officials are members of either the Democratic or Republican party, which has led to many, if not most, of our governments being dominated by one or the other of these political parties. As of 2010, 31% of Americans indented themselves as Democrats, 29% as Republicans, and 38% as independents. Since our political parties only represent a minority of the voters, this means that most of our governments would end up being controlled by just a minority of the voters.

In addition, each political party has a platform that lists their member’s positions on the issues and the goals that they hope to accomplish. These positions and goals (planks) on their platform are decided by the party leadership or, at best, by a majority of the party membership. In addition, the positions and goals on the platform of one party may often end up as being the polar opposite of those of another party just so they can differentiate themselves from their opponents.

When people vote for a candidate, they may be voting for the individual, for the party, or against the other individual or party. Some people may completely agree with a party platform, but most people may just prefer it over the other party’s platform. I have often found that I liked some things and disliked other things on each political party’s platform.

When we vote for a member of a political party, our only choice is to vote for or against the complete platform. The problem is that there is no way for a candidate to know which planks on the platform we are for or against. After the election, if the majority party leadership pushes hard enough, it can often pass legislation for one of its positions or goals that is not supported by the majority of the voters or even the majority of the political party’s members. This means that just the majority of a ruling party's leadership may be able to control the government.

What can we do?

Obviously, there are problems with the way our government is working with our two major political parties. From what I can see, I do not believe that we can fix this two party system. The question becomes, can we find something else that does work?

A Third Party?

One idea would be to create a viable third political party that could moderate and balance out the influence of the other parties, and provide a middle ground on many issues. With three or more political parties, where none of them could dominate the political landscape, the parties would have to cooperate in order to get anything done. Like in a number of other countries, the political parties would need to form alliances in order to form a majority government.

Third parties have been tried many times in the past and most recently with the Reform Party. Although a third party may sound like a good idea, it has never really worked. It seems like there are just too many things that can go wrong.

To begin with, a third political party would need to become large enough to get enough of its members elected, but not so large that it simply replaces one of the existing two large political parties. Then, without one party having a clear majority, there would be times when none of the parties could agree on something and the government could not get anything done. At other times, two minority parties could cooperate in passing each other’s legislation even if the majority did not agree with any of it.

As we can see, having a third party could simply open up a whole bunch of new problems without really solving the underlying issues. However, there is a way a third political party can work to create a better political system. I will talk about that in just a bit.

A Single Party?

If three or more parties could cause more problems than just having two dominant ones, what about a single political party? On the surface, it looks like it would have many good points, like your party would always be in power, your elected officials would represent your party and therefore you, and there could not be any party rivalries or partisan politics.

Unfortunately, all that would happen is that the divisions between parties would shift to factions within the party. Of course, the large political parties already have many factions that are fighting for control.

In reality, if our country had just a single political party, we might not even have a democracy any more. For one thing, instead of the people electing our representatives, the party leadership might just select them, which is what is often done in other countries with single party rule.

No Political Parties!

What if we looked at the process more as hiring people to represent us in government instead of electing our leaders? If we need a CEO for our company, would we ask just a couple of placement firms to send us only a single candidate and then we would have to make a selection from whomever they sent us? No, we would gather as many resumes as possible, whittle them down to the top few candidates, put the finalists through an intensive interview process, and then make our selection based on who would do the most for our company.

Therefore, I would completely remove the political parties from the electoral process. (The political parties could transform themselves into special interest groups, which is what they really are anyway.) Then we could elect independent representatives who would work for us, and who would have more of an incentive to represent all of us equally.

Of course, it will take a lot more than just eliminating the Political Parties, since the candidates would still need a way to campaign for office, which means the original problems that led to the creation of political parties in the first place would need to be solved. What we would need is a New Electoral Process, which I will talk about in the next subsection.

Unfortunately, it may be very difficult, if not impossible, to get the existing major political parties to change the system to one where they would no longer have the power they currently have. Therefore, we may need to create a third political party that would have the goal of getting enough people elected in order to make the needed changes. Therefore, one of the most important planks of this party's platform would be the reform of our political process so that political parties would be eliminated.

Next Section

New Electoral Process - A New Electoral Process that will help us elect better representation.

Last Updated:
Thursday, December 28, 2017
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