Thursday, August 11, 2016

Time to Abolish Political Parties

So here we are, America, less than four months from the general election for the President of the United States, and our political system is a disgrace. The recent WikiLeaks exposure of Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton campaign emails has unleashed an online outrage against both – and against the mainstream media that colluded with them to manipulate our electoral system and defeat Bernie Sanders in the primaries.
Those same emails display the contempt with which both hold the American people, particularly dismissive of and prejudiced against the Latino and LGBTQ communities. Sunday’s resignation of Debbie Wasserman Schultz hours before the Dems’ national convention began was inevitable. What was shocking to many was that Clinton promptly hired her as “an honorary chair” of her campaign – thereby demonstrating how out of touch Clinton is with the American public. As I write this, thousands of people have taken to the streets in Philadelphia to protest, and the DNC is literally constructing a fence to protect delegates from the protesters.
Meanwhile, Republican nominee Donald Trump has been handed the keys to the Oval Office on a silver platter, while Libertarian candidate, former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson and Green Party nominee Jill Stein are stuck on the fringes of the election, without access to the media (who all apparently are being monitored and coached by the DNC) and not even invited to participate in the presidential debates, where the United States will be offered a choice between the embattled Clinton and her corrupt party and campaign and Trump, who may be the only presidential candidate in history who is more unlikable. Normally, neither of these candidates would be electable. Now we are confronted with a choice that frankly should never have existed.
Full disclosure: I’ve been extremely critical of the party system for a long, long time. I’ve voted for a major party candidate once since 1996. I’ve listened to countless harangues about how I’m “wasting my vote” or how my voting priorities “gives the election” to an undesirable candidate. For years, my opinion that the party system is inherently malignant to American interests has been laughed off as some sort of radical position.
And yet, here we are with undeniably the two worst major nominees for President in history, and suddenly Americans are wondering how we got here. How is it possible that Donald Trump managed to gain the GOP nomination when a year ago everyone thought his candidacy was a joke? And how is it possible that Hillary Clinton’s nomination was secured through a collusion between the Democratic National Committee and the mainstream media to rig the state primaries and caucuses in her favor?
How did either of these candidates gain the backing of major political parties when their history is peppered with disdain and condescension for the citizens they purport to represent?
You have to go back to 1828, and the horrific presidential campaign between Andrew Jackson and incumbent John Quincy Adams, to find anelection as divisive and corrupt as the one we face now. Interestingly, that election led to the creation of what became the two political parties we have now. And with an American political system already renowned for mudslinging, that campaign sank both parties into a cringe-worthy morass of scandal and corruption.
But this election bids fair to eclipse the 1828 campaign twice over.
America is, primarily, a nation of moderates. But our elected representation isn’t. Our country is governed by an explosive blend of far-left and far-right politicians, whose representation of their constituents is compromised before they ever even take office. In their drive to be elected, candidates require the financial and organizational support of a party. In exchange for that support, they are compelled to run on the principles and party stances as set forth in their party platform. The Republican Party platform can be found here, and the Democratic Party platform here. Take a look at them: As a voter it’s essential that you know what you’re voting for.
Because you aren’t voting for people. you aren’t voting for someone you feel will represent you best. You’re voting for that party platform, and anyone you elect is bound to follow those principles. Oh sure, your local Representative may tack on some funding for a new bridge in the pork attached to major legislation. The platforms don’t cover things like bridges or road repair.
Technically, the U.S. has a multi-party political system, but there have only been a couple of viable third-party candidates for anything since the end of the Civil War. In fact, in our current Congress, there are only two independents – and they caucus with the Democrats. That’s it. There are no members of the House who are independents. Statistically, that’s kind of horrifying. Our representation on the national level is comprised almost entirely of people bound to those platforms: 248 Republicans and 192 Democrats in the House of Representatives, and 54 Republicans, 44 Democrats, and the two independents in the Senate. Our legislature is ripped in half with direct opposite goals and priorities, and there is very little crossover.
As a people, we all have differing points of view. I am an independent moderate. I tend to be more liberal on social issues, moderate on foreign affairs, and conservative on fiscal issues. With third-party candidates rarely able to garner enough support on the state level to get onto the ballot, those other points of view rarely make it to the Senate or House floor. In the presidential race, America is handicapped by an electoral system that’s literally winner-take-all. American presidents have to have only a plurality of votes, and there is no consolation prize. Originally, the candidate with the second-most number of votes was elected Vice President, but all it took was a couple of contested elections between John Adams and Thomas Jefferson to inspire the Twelfth Amendment to the Constitution, which gives us the system we have today. The election of 1800 was particularly horrible, with Jefferson and Aaron Burr both receiving the same number of electoral votes. The Twelfth Amendment worked fine for a time – a time in which fewer than 10% of the American population was permitted to vote.
But that’s no longer the case. In a nation of some 320,000,000, the system no longer works. The choices no longer represent the cross-section of the population, and during this election cycle that fact has been hammered home with a hydraulic jackhammer. As a country, we can no longer afford the restrictions inherent in party politics. We can no longer afford a system in which better candidates are repressed by an all-powerful political entity that is not elected by the people. We can no longer afford a system that disqualifies candidates from major political office because of their stance on a single hot-topic issue. We can no longer afford for single-issue PACs and lobbying organizations to dictate American policy that runs contrary to the will of the American people.
Last week, we watched the circus that was the Republican National Convention. This week, we are witnessing the almost-certain fiasco of the Democratic National Convention. Then, we will emerge into a political season that will only increase the unrest and divisiveness our nation is currently struggling with. And while we struggle with a terrible choice between Clinton and Trump, potentially better candidates will be ignored by the mainstream media, denied invitations to debates where the American people can actually learn about these candidates, and ignored by both the major parties as not worth bothering with.
And those of us who refuse to vote either Democratic or Republican will be the ones who “gave the election” to one or the other.
At this point, it doesn’t matter who’s elected in November. Either candidate will be an unmitigated disaster in the Oval Office. But what we need to start doing now is creating the movement necessary to destroy the absolutism of party politics in this country. Let candidates stand on their own merits and their own principles. Deny mega-lobbies that represent a tiny fraction of the citizenry the ability to fund or interact on a policy level with either candidates or elected officials. Keep corporate money out of politicians’ hands. Give the American people a chance to go to the polls and vote according to their conscience, instead of herding them like sheep toward one side of the aisle or another. 
Because I have to tell you this: The majority of the people I know could give two hoots about creating a national infrastructure bank, but do care about 401k legislation. Those of my associates who are pro-life are usually anti-automatic weapons. The ones who are pro-immigration restrictions believe in equal civil rights for LGBTQ Americans.
But they don’t get to reflect that in their voting choices. They are forced to determine their choice based on the single issue most important to them. So if they’re in favor of stronger gun ownership legislation, they have to compromise their beliefs on abortion rights – and vice versa.
Our system inherently makes citizens settle for ideological beliefs that do not reflect their own.
Abolishing political parties across the board is the only way to stem this destructive tide, and we cannot wait much longer to do so. And since Adams and Jefferson got us into this mess, it seems only fitting to close out with a pair of quotes from them that apply only too well to the political system that evolved as the result of their rivalry.
From John Adams, second President of the United States: “Remember, democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There never was a democracy yet that did not commit suicide.”
And from Thomas Jefferson, the third President: “Our country is now taking so steady a course as to show by what road it will pass to destruction, to wit: by consolidation of power first, and then corruption, its necessary consequence.”
The Founding Fathers were oddly prescient at times. If you think about the system that led Donald Trump to the threshold of the most powerful position in the world, and the corruption that has elevated Hillary Clinton to her party’s nomination, you have to wonder if they weren’t psychic. Because if we don’t do something to resolve this national horror, America will lose everything – including itself.