Monday, December 27, 2010

The Death of Parties?

And every good argument deserves an equally good counter-argument. Not that I could aptly debate Anya's very good points, but for the sake of argument, and a balanced opinion, I will try to do so.
To understand the importance of political parties, we first have to look at why they originally came about (at least in the United States). In Federalist No.10, Madison basically says that "factions" are a necessary evil. Madison states, "As long as the reason of man continues fallible, and he is at liberty to exercise it, different opinions will be formed...The latent causes of faction are thus sown into the nature of man; and we see them everywhere...a zeal for different opinions concerning religion, concerning government, and many other points, as well as speculation as of practice; an attachment to different leaders ambitiously contending for pre-eminence and power; or to persons of other descriptions whose fortunes have been interesting to the human passions, have, in turn, divided mankind into parties, inflamed them with mutual animosity, and rendered them much more disposed to vex and oppress each other than co-operate for their common good." He goes on to say the development of factions is inevitable though because, "The inference to which we are brought is that the causes of faction cannot be removed and that relief is only to be sought in the means of controlling its effects".
And Madison believed that the Constitution was the means to control the effects. Madison is essentially telling us that yes, these factions cause problems, but they are a necessary evil in that we, as humans, naturally develop these factions in a democratic form of government. He says that eliminating democracy to eliminate the factions is absurd, and to make everybody think the same way and hold the same beliefs is also equally absurd. So, he proposes we don't eliminate the factions at all, we just deal with the effects of them. He thought the Constitution would handle the effects, and for the most part I agree with him. I also agree that it is in our human nature to form the factions, or political parties, because we like to form groups, we like having a consistent platform and having unwavering ideals. Anya mentions Bernie Sanders, and although I don't like his politics, he does have unwavering ideals. I think parties strengthen these ideals, not weaken them. What better way to stick to your ideals if you have other people backing you up? We like having a sense of safety and consistency because everything else in the world is wacky. On a psychological level, I think abolishing parties would be harmful for people's well-being and we would somehow find a way to drift back to a party system; it's just in our nature like Madison suggests.
We also have a long history of political parties in this country. Our political parties were developed very early on, one could stay it's essence started with the Federalists and Anti-Federalists. The Federalists being supporters of the Constitution and the Anti-Federalists being the people who didn't want the Constitution. These, however, weren't official parties. Then came the Federalist party and the Jeffersonian Democrats, or Democratic-Republicans. And why is having this history important? We know it works pretty well. Our political system was copied by many other countries, people are dying to live here, and we do get things done. Now, I don't always advocate complacency, but there's something to be said for, "if it ain't broke, don't fix it". Anya seems to believe our government is "broke" and I happen to disagree with this. Also, the reliance on history to keep a decision is a common legal argument. The Supreme Court very often relies on stare decisis, or adhesion to past decisions, when deciding cases. It takes a lot for them to overturn their decisions. Just like it would take a lot for us to overturn our party system in exchange for something that would be perceived as chaotic as well as uncharted territory. But, if anything could make a no party system work, it would definitely be the fighting spirit and lion's heart of the people of the United States.
For the most part I think we, as humans, like a party system. That combined with the fact it has been with us since the early inception of our government, makes it very unlikely we will have a no party system. But, who knows what the future holds for us?
Oh, and also we are happy to say this is our 50th blog post! We are so glad to have made it to 50, now on to 100!

Sunday, December 26, 2010

The Death of Parties

A while ago, I blogged about the benefits of a multiparty system, something most Americans would never think of applying to their country.  Well, now I'm here arguing for something even more radical: The abolishment of all political parties.

Right now, political parties seem to be the bane of America's existence.  They are causing endless gridlock in Congress, enraging voters, and bringing some truly frightening people (Sharron Angle, Joe Miller, et al) out of the woodwork as people fight to be the "most" Democratic or "most" Republican on the ballot.  Intelligents and moderates are being shoved aside, normal citizens are being ignored, and radical and harmful views are being covered as viable alternatives by the media, allowing them to become popularized and widespread.  So what's the solution?  How about something really radical, something that's never been considered.  How about doing away with political parties?

I wrote once before in support of a multiparty system, like many European governments have.  I still believe that is much better than our current system.  But might a party-less system be even better?  Might it eliminate the "I support most of that bill, but I can't vote for it because I'm a Democrat/Republican" mentality that so many moderates are forced into?

Oftentimes, the main difference between the two major parties in this country is rhetorical.  No matter how much the Democrats pledge that they’ll turn the country around, they’ll stop the corporate welfare and secrecy and fiscal irresponsibility and gutting of social security that occurs under Republican administrations, the changes that happen are miniscule.  Often, the choice between Republican and Democrat boils down to the choice between evil and slightly less evil.  Look at the choice in Nevada during the midterms: on the one side, the racist let’s-let-preachers-endorse-candidates-from-the-pulpit-and-dismantle-the-department-of-education Sharron Angle, and on the other hand, the bumbling, compromising, bored and boring Harry Reid.  

The most principled members of Congress are Ron Paul, a Libertarian, and Bernie Sanders, a Socialist.  While they might caucus with the Republicans and Democrats respectively, they break with their caucus when they support something that runs contrary to their beliefs (look at Sanders’ vote against the tax cut “compromise” bill).  The few senators who are willing to break party line on important issues (McCaskill with earmark bans, Snowe and Voinovich with DADT) are either lame ducks or far enough from their next election that they feel that they won’t unduly upset their base.

With no political parties, there would be no nebulously defined “base” that politicians are beholden to simply because of their party affiliation.  They would have the satisfaction of knowing that they were elected based on their views, rather than disinterested voters voting party line and then becoming upset because of one or two votes.  Current Democrats who, say, support gay rights but oppose the START treaty would be able to run on a platform including both those points of view and the public would know exactly what they’re getting.  There would be fewer unpleasant surprises for constituents and Senate leaders.

This would also eliminate party line votes.  Often, members of Congress are forced to compromise their beliefs because they’re afraid of losing their party’s backing.  Whether it means losing a chairmanship or losing financial backing in the election cycle, you can bet that most of your Senators and Representatives are far more interested in that job security than they are in voting their conscience.

A lack of parties would also throw the electoral system wide open to more involvement by the citizens.  It would eliminate many of the issues that have kept third party candidates (such as Greens, Libertarians, Peace & Freedom party members) who usually have new, viable suggestions from even being considered.

There are, of course issues with this system, mostly with what would happen to Congress.  For instance, how would the Speaker of the House and the President Pro Tempore of the Senate positions be filled? (Majority/Minority Leader and Majority/Minority Whip positions would be obsolete.)  The position of President Pro Tem would simply fall to the most senior senator, rather than the most senior senator from the majority.  Since the Speaker of the House is elected directly by the House, choosing a speaker is not dependent on the existence of political parties (although since the Speaker is the person who receives the most votes,  How would committee chairmanships be designated, and how would members be assigned to committees?  Currently, members request assignments, which are approved by a party committee in charge of committee assignments (I mean ... what? No that’s actually what they are). The assignments slates are then sent to the full Chamber for approval.  But this has not always been the case, political parties have not always had say in committee assignments.  Until 1911, the Speaker of the House handled all committee appointments.  Reverting back to this practice would not be overly difficult.  Until 1846, committee assignments were handled by the vice president, the president pro tem, or party leaders.  Probably the simplest thing to do would be to let the president pro tem handle assignments, since party leaders wouldn’t exist and letting the vice president make assignments - even though he or she is technically the president of the Senate - seems to be mixing the two branches of government more than they should be.

All of this, of course, is simply procedural.  There is little possibility that the abolition of political parties would ever gain any traction in the hearts and minds of anyone, be it Congressmen or the American public

Would our country even function like this? I think it's possible. But it is also entirely possible the answer is "no".  Then again, you might say that our country doesn't function now, with two parties (the only goal of the Republican Party, according to Mitch McConnell, is to defeat Obama), so a lack of political parties couldn't do that much more harm.

Monday, December 20, 2010

The Myth of the "Ground Zero Mosque", the Power of Symbolism, and the Failure of the Media

"Ground Zero Mosque"

You've seen the phrase everywhere, haven't you?  In the headlines of Fox News, the Irish Independent, in Abraham Foxman's speeches/articles. Not to mention, of course, the multiple Twitter-fights that Sarah Palin has sparked. Even Salon and Al-Jazeera are using the term, although they, at least, have the decency to put it in quotes.

Because, you see, there's a big problem with the phrase "Ground Zero Mosque": There is no mosque being built at the former site of the Twin Towers, nor will there ever be. The ominous, hateful Ground Zero Mosque does not exist.

The building causing all this hoopla has been used for Muslims to pray for years. The "mosque" is a cultural center and interfaith center that is to be used for outreach and education.  It has a basketball court, a swimming pool, and a primary school, with a floor set aside for Muslims to pray -- and other prayer rooms for people of different faiths.
The real danger of the politicization and fighting that swirls around this issue is that people will start thinking that the war on terror is meant to be, or is best accomplished by, a war on Islam. While that may be the goal of some of the ultraconservatives, that is possibly the worst thing that can happen to this country. What happened to freedom of religion, separation of church and state, government not interfering with private property? Why are all Muslims automatically assumed to be evil terrorists?. People of practically every single religion have killed in the name of said religion countless times.

This is not an issue of "sensitivity" to the families of the people who have died. This is not an issue of Ground Zero being holy ground. Of course it has a high emotional impact for the families of those who were killed, but one would imagine that if the tea partiers really cared about the ground being "holy" they would also raise a ruckus over the fast food joints and strip clubs that are closer to ground zero than Park 51. Besides, what could be more holy than religion?  Muslims died on 9/11 too, and no, those Muslims were not just the hijackers.  As one 9/11 widow said, "How did '9/11 victim' become sloppy shorthand for 'white Christian'?"

This is not a "victory mosque", like so many tea partiers have tried to tell you. This is an open center being built with the best of intentions. Do the world a favor.  Stop saying Ground Zero Mosque.  Call it what it is.  Call it Park 51.

I wrote the beginning of this essay/post in October, when midterm energy was running high and gratuitous mudslinging was common on both sides.  It is fascinating to me how this issue has completely dropped off the map.  Sure, it's still present in the public's mind . . . vaguely . . . but it's not being shoved down our throats, Fox News isn't devoting whole days to screaming about how horrible it is.  And that brings us to a shockingly horrifying, yet unfortunately unsurprising realization: all this controversy was simply a ploy to game the elections.  People's deaths, and people's desires for reconciliation, were diminished, stomped upon, and turned into a political issue simply because the Republicans wanted votes.  And the media played right into it.  There's a lot of really low electoral tactics, but this is one of the worst I've seen.  And no one tried to stop it.  There were a few people who said at the very beginning, "Oh, conservatives are turning this into a political issue", but either they were drowned out or they kept reporting just because. News reporting is supposed to be about truth. But truth is often the first casualty of networks looking to boost ratings.

Anya Just Discovered Six Drafts Hanging Around On Her "Edit Posts" Page

Anya is now done with finals and on winter break, therefore, she will finish these six posts and spam you with them tonight.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

1st Year Anniversary

So, sadly, we missed our first anniversary for this blog. To be fair it is finals week for both Anya and I, so we've been EXTREMELY busy. I just wanted to say thanks to those who read this blog and who (hopefully) get to learn something new. We love writing and will continue to do so, so continue to tune in. Also, it seems fitting to thank the people instrumental in getting this blog started. Thank-you president Obama for providing the idea for a Healthcare Bill that Anya and I got so worked up over we had to debate about it for days, thanks Congress for adding fuel to the fire, and thanks Mr. E (not his real name) for encouraging us to take our love of politics and share it with other people, also thanks for being there to answer our questions and listen to us argue, we loved your class. Thanks everyone. Some new posts to come...