12 October 2009
Do Parties or People Matter?
Here's a link to an interesting debate taking place between the Poli-Tea Party and Organized Exploitation blogs over the relative merits of independent party building and "infiltration" of the existing parties. Paul of Organized Exploitation argues that an infiltration strategy is more cost-effective than any attempt to build a new party from scratch, while d. eris of Poli-Tea insists that any attempt to infiltrate the major parties will compromise the infiltrators. Paul disagrees, and seems to disagree with the idea that the Bipolarchy (or what Poli-Tea calls the duopoly) is a fundamental structural problem of American political life. His idealistic view is that people of principle can transform either major party into an instrument of principle. My own small intervention in the debate has been to note that history proves the effects of past "infiltrations" to be short-lived. Whether that's structurally predetermined or just a tendency that can be overturned with greater dedication is still open to debate, but I sympathize with Poli-Tea's position that breaking the "duopoly" is an end in itself, if not a national necessity. Where we really need people of principle (and will) is among the general electorate. Parties are built all the time, but the Bipolarchy won't be broken until people disabuse themselves of the notions that they can only entrust power to those who already have it, and that those who don't already have power are self-evidently incompetent to exercise it. No effort to infiltrate a major party will ever dissuade citizens from the prevailing sense of dependence upon the two-party system as the exclusive possessors of governmental expertise. A successful infiltrator may win a personal following of principled voters for a party, but when that person passes from the scene the party remains to exploit his or her memory without necessarily living up to the hero's principles, and people remember the party as the instrument of principled reforms whether it intends to continue them or not. I challenge anyone to argue that this feeling of dependence on the major parties is a good thing. If it isn't, then we should avoid any strategy that will actually perpetuate this dependence.