Thursday, July 13, 2006

No political parties?

I responded at length on Where I Stand to the idea that candidates should be made to run without partisan label as contrary to both history and human nature. I thought what I said was worth publishing here:

It is a lovely and a novel notion, but it is about as realistic as a cold day in Hell. The reason is because if we do not have political parties de jure, we will see them develop de facto within about ninety days of going to this partyless system. I once had this discussion in the late 90's with a fellow who was heavily involved in the Reform Party at that time, and he complained as you do about the nature of political parties and grumbled about the need to abolish them.

I reminded him of history (something so many people who raise this issue seem to forget), namely the fact that when the United States came into being as a federal government, we at first had no party affiliation. George Washington would have preferred that there be none at all. However, within about three months of the first administration being sworn in, two distinct factions began to emerge. The first was a group rallied around Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton, and the second rallied around Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson. Very soon, each side had press outless that were supporting it, (the Hamiltonians had, for example, the Gazette of the United States, while the Jeffersonians had The Pennsylvania Evening Post, which had been founded by Benjamin Franklin and was first called The Pennsylvania Gazette-it would soon become forever known as The Saturday Evening Post) members of Congress, Governors, and members of State legislatures began to identify in some fashion or form with one faction or the other. The press for both sides began to refer to the Hamilton side as "Federalists" as the opposing side as "Republicans." The arrangement became more formalized when Jefferson officially acknowledged in his 1801 Inaugural Address what people in politics at all levels in America at that time had already publicly admitted: the two parties existed and had for some time been at odds. Eventually the Federalists would destroy themselves because of the refusal of the party as a whole (though not all Federalists agreed) to accept Western expansion. The Republicans of Jefferson and Madison became our only viable national party from 1812-1828.

The Election of 1828 gave us the Democratic Party for the first time (from a split in Republican ranks), and a split within both the Whig and Democratic Parties would produce the second Republican Party.

If we "abolished" party affiliation, people would gather around figures and ideas, factions would form, and the press would take sides. The Left would likely have The New York Times, The Washington Post, CNN, Air America, and the various leftist satellite radio channels. The Right would have The Washington Times, The Examiner, Fox News, syndicated radio, and the various rightist sattelite radio channels. People would "rally 'round the flag" of those who supported their views and then the President would be forced to acknowledge "we are all do-da-ists, we are are all la-la-ists," and we will have parties again.

Even as he warned against the dangers of factions, James Madison also reminded us that "liberty is to faction as air is to fire." If we try and prevent party affiliation, we are really denying candidates and interested individual citizens their right of free association. If we prevent candidates from labeling themselves a member of this party, that party, or a third party, we are really limiting their freedom of speech. Doing away with party affiliation sounds great in theory, but it is unworkable in fact becuase in a free society, we are all partisans of some kind by nature. Of course we can choose not to be a part of any party at all-but everyone should have the choice. Being a part of a political party is just like being a part of any other group or association-a lot of people are a part, but associating with it is completely voluntary.


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