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.


  1. One correction: Ron Paul is not a member of the Senate.

    But yes, freedom and independence today begins with freedom and independence from the Democratic and Republican parties.

  2. *facepalm* Yup, that was supposed to be "most principled members of Congress". I'll go fix it now, thanks for pointing it out =D

    A multiparty system is obviously a more viable idea than a no-party system, but honestly, I would take either if it meant we could free from our current system.

  3. Well said. Any attempt to eliminate parties directly would be denounced as an attack on the freedom of association, but the utility of partisanship could be undermined by election law reform. The simplest thing for starters would be to do away with party lines on election ballots, listing candidates for each office in alphabetical order instead. You could also try doing away with party symbols on ballots. Parties could still exist, but election law would be under no obligation to recognize their existence. Would it make a difference and reduce party-line voting? We won't know until we try.