Stuff that bugs me: Party Politics

It’s important to remember that party politics are not addressed in the constitution. Reaching decisions by voting tends to create winners and losers, thus dividing people into factions. The parties work to expand their bases so they can be winners, and so coalitions are formed on both sides. What may start as division over one or two issues evolves into competing ideologies. And the more these ideologies compete, the more divergent they become. So we end up with “us” and “them.” (“He says this is true, but because it was he who said it, it cannot be true and I will refuse to believe it, even if I know it is true.”) It becomes harder to find areas of agreement on any issue without eroding the coalitions tied to the larger ideologies.

The primary election processes of the two main political factions in the US (the Republican and Democratic Parties) are designed to expand the bases of their divergent ideologies. Since primaries look a lot like elections, most people think they are processes of government, but in reality they are exercises by the private interest groups overseen by the Democratic and Republican National Committees. The primaries are run and paid for by each state’s government on behalf of the parties. (We pay for them even if we can’t vote by virtue of declaring ourselves independent. Taxation without representation is a core American value that was a direct cause of the Revolutionary War and our separation from English rule.) There is no mention in the constitution about how primaries are to be run or how the votes are used. In fact, the people do not vote for candidates directly, but for party delegates to the respective conventions. (Do you know the name of the delegate who will be voting on your behalf?) Some states have straight vote counts and divide delegates according to the counts, while other states have caucuses to reach consensus and may give all their delegates to one candidate. But the elected delegates are only a part of the voting delegates at the convention. In addition, there are “super delegates” consisting of elected officials and prominent party leaders. The two major parties have different rules concerning super delegates. The Republicans allow only three per state (the state’s party chairman and two district level representatives) while the Democratic Party includes all Democratic members of the House and Senate and sitting Democratic governors, as well as other chosen in the primary process.

This process has nothing to do with the constitution (and even less to do with democracy), and the eventual national candidates for each party may or may not end up having anything much to do with who people voted for in the primaries. The parties are private interest groups who make up their own internal rules to decide who they want to represent them in the general election. Those rules are made up by the party leaders and can be re-written even at the convention itself to respond to conditions the leadership doesn’t like.

Party politics are, by their very nature, divisive and undemocratic. There is no incentive for either side to find common ground because that just weakens their positions generally. It has become more about winning than about serving the good of the nation as a whole. Governmental stalemate is the logical result of putting self interest before national interest and of putting ideologies before ideas.

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