28 November 2011

Antiparty sentiment in Houston (and Albany?)

The Albany Times Union has picked up for its op-ed page an opinion column Bill King wrote for the Houston Chronicle damning the American party system for failing either to compromise on deficit reduction or enact the presumed will of the American majority. The majority, King claims, wants deficit reduction through some tax increases and many budget cuts. We don't get that, he contends, because "The minority of Americans who believe that the deficit should be solved either by solely cutting expenses or raising taxes are the voters who dominate the primaries of the Democratic and Republican parties. It is these voters who continue to give us nothing but ideologues, incapable of compromise, from which to choose in the November elections."

While King appears to blame the current primary system and the resulting dependence of the major parties on "base" voters, he goes further to damn the entire party system and the very concept of partisanship. He goes all the way back to George Washington's Farewell Address to give his new viewpoint a historic pedigree, while ignoring the reservations of Sean Wilentz and other historians who see the address as a partisan document in its own right. King goes somewhat too far in describing an infamy that once supposedly attached itself to party affiliation. Once upon a time, he writes, "Any hint that a candidate was associated with a political party could cause that candidate to lose an election." But he seems to be confusing the stigma that was long attached to active campaigning by a candidate with a presumed stigma of partisanship. If anything, the party stood in for the man, its spokesmen and "spellbinders" making speeches when it would have seemed unbecoming for a candidate to do so. Antipartyism is an enduring strain in American history, but it was usually exploited best by partisan candidates who pretended not to be something they were.

Whatever the flaws of King's compact history lesson, it's harder to dispute his diagnosis of the present.

It is past time for the American people to rise up and end this tyranny of the politically extreme minorities. We need reform that breaks the political parties' hold on the election process. We need to make it easier for candidates to run for office without being affiliated with a political party and we need more people who are willing to stand up and run as independent candidates. We need office-holders to show us they love this country more than they love their political party and if not, we need to be prepared to fire them....To get any meaningful change in the current system, we are going to have to return to the founders' view of political parties and start thinking differently about them. Instead of being proud to be associated with a political party, it should be an embarrassment.

All I can add is a necessary clarification: ordinary Americans will have to feel far more embarrassed about their own partisanship before politicians start feeling that way.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Can ordinary Americans actually feel embarrassment about anything?