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.
GEORGE WASHINGTON, Farewell Address, Sep. 17, 1796.
We previously talked about the idea of limiting elections by allowing a person to serve in an office only one term of seven years. To make sure I’m clear, I’m talking only about federal positions at this point.
In addition to the one term of seven years, I’d also propose we eliminate political parties, especially the two-party system.
Although I believe the idea has great merit, I also recognize it has a lot of difficulties. First, our entire system currently is predicated on the two-party system. But, much like an operating system that needs a complete overhaul, we need to install Election 2.1 and move away from version 1.1. Nonetheless, I recognize how entrenched we are in the current system.
Next, even if parties are banned, there will still be alliances and groups organized around a set of similar principles. But this would be different in the very real sense that these groups would not have nearly as much power and influence as under the current system. I believe we’d also see a number of these groups spring up, spreading power and influence among a number of them rather than centralizing it in the two primary parties.
Third, without the party machines, election campaigning becomes more difficult. I’d argue the good news here is that labeling also becomes more difficult; again, forcing an actual review of the candidate rather than marking one box for all elections.
Fourth, fundraising becomes difficult without the support and work of “party” leaders. Stay tuned, a future proposal deals with campaign financing.
There are many other problems we could see by abolishing the parties, but I really think they are outweighed by the negatives of keeping the parties. Why am I so negative about parties?
IMO, the parties have become symbolic of all that is bad with American politics. They are self-interested. Rather than serving the public interest, they seek to perpetuate (or create) power within their own circle. The argument used to be that the party had to stay in power in order to serve the public good, but – as they say – power corrupts.
As a result of attempts to maintain power, everything meaningful in Washington is done by way of compromise. One thing I know about leadership is that compromise – although necessary at times – is overrated in general. Leadership is about leading rather than capitulating. There are times when you simply have to fight for what is right rather than strike an accord that benefits no one. But, since the parties are locked in a constant power struggle with one another, they compromise in order to hold on. It’s not about doing good. It’s about maintaining the structure.
Also, political dialogue falls by the wayside. Rather than real debates, we have sound bites and demonization. Is this really a realistic way to govern?
Non-partisan elections have gained popularity in judicial races over the past couple of decades. Clearly, we, as a people, have decided there is some merit to the idea of shedding the party labels in certain types of elections. I think the next necessary step is to shed those labels in all elections.
Again, I see a country that is sliding in the wrong direction. I see disaster on our horizon. I believe the words of President Washington now ring prophetic. My goal here is to point out how serious the problems are and offer ideas to try to avert the coming fall.
Some of those ideas may seem radical, but radical is sometimes necessary. You don’t treat cancer with bandaids and aspirin. I believe our nation has a cancer that is slowly killing it. And I believe a “party-ectomy” is part of the necessary care. What do you think?