THE DEMOCRATIC AND REPUBLIC PARTIES
Let's Fix This Mess: Part 2
The Democratic Party was formed in the 1820’s and is the oldest political party in the United States and is, in fact, probably the oldest continuous party in the world. The Republican Party emerged in the 1850’s and is possibly the second oldest party in the world. Timelines depend on what dates are used to mark parties’ beginnings.
So, the two major American political parties have been competing with each other for power since the 1850’s. For many years this system provided stability for our country since we knew one of the two parties would be in power, and the differences between the two were fairly-well established, although their positions shifted over time. In my opinion, they no longer provide stability. The two parties are entrenched, and this has led to stagnation and a lack of creativity.
You might find it interesting that our Founders wanted ZERO political parties. George Washington said a political party:
“…serves always to distract the public councils and enfeeble the public administration. It agitates the community with ill-founded jealousies and false alarms, kindles the animosity of one part against another, foments occasionally riot and insurrection.”
Thomas Jefferson was a little more straightforward:
"If I could not go to heaven but with a party, I would not go at all."
But, as we know, political parties emerged for a couple of reasons.
Americans were divided over the role of the national government; some folks wanted the states to be most powerful but others supported a strong national government.
The first Congress was divided over a number of issues. Some representatives were from agrarian areas and others from urban areas, for example. Some wanted tariffs, others didn’t. Some had supported the new Constitution, but others opposed it. Etc.
And the parties have survived because of divisions over issues. Some Americans wanted to retain slavery, others did not. Some Americans favor gun control, others oppose it. Some favor abortion rights, others do not. Some still want states to be more powerful, others prefer national power. The number of issues over which we are divided is endless, but the two political parties have historically represented those divided interests.
This system worked fairly well for a long time. Not so much any longer, because today, Americans REALLY do not trust their elected officials, almost all of whom are Republicans or Democrats.
65% of Americans believe political candidates run for office out of personal interest.
Only 6% believe government is “careful with taxpayer money.”
About 8% believe the government takes care of the needs of ordinary citizens.
61% believe government favors the needs of high-income citizens. About 69% believe government does too little for middle-income citizens and 66% believe too little is done for low-income folks.
65% believe too little is done for retired Americans and 54% believe too little is done for those who are disabled.
For perspective, During the Eisenhower administration (1953-1961) 79% of Republicans and 71% of Democrats trusted the government “to do what is right just about always/most of the time”, but today only 9% of Republicans and 29% of Democrats believe that (see Pew Research Center chart below).
[Source: “Americans’ Views of Government: decades of Distrust, Enduring Support for Its Role.” Pew Research Center, Washington, DC (June 6, 2022). https://www.pewresearch.org/politics/2022/06/06/americans-views-of-government-decades-of-distrust-enduring-support-for-its-role/ ]
I have a theory about why people’s trust in government has steadily declined. I can’t prove it, but I doubt you can disprove it. It might be because of:
The Vietnam War
The Gulf War
Bill Clinton’s magic zipper and the Monica Lewinsky affair
The Keating Five
Federal judges convicted of accepting bribes
The Bush Whitehouse Email Scandal and the Hillary Clinton Email Controversy
Countless members of Congress and other governmental officials being found guilty of accepting bribes, perjury, campaign law violations, DUI, conspiracy, paying salaries to folks who did no work, soliciting sex, sexual misconduct, accepting illegal gifts, obstruction of justice, and on and on.
The list of scandals could consume several pages, but you get the idea. And Democrats and Republicans were responsible for every single one. Yes, I know our government has always been plagued by scandal, but improprieties are now broadcast on TV, radio, and the internet for all to see. It’s pretty easy to understand why Americans have lost faith in their government and, therefore, in the political parties that control that government.
I will address my concerns with the Republican and Democratic parties in a future post (spoiler alert: directionless hypocrisy), but I truly believe alternative party choices are necessary for America to move forward.
Ideologically, about 36% of Americans identify as “conservatives”, 37% as “moderates”, and 25% as “liberal”. The liberals and conservatives are at least theoretically being represented by the current parties (liberals-Democratic Party, conservatives-Republican Party), so what we need is a moderate/common sense alternative. At the very least we need parties that actually fight for the things they say they believe. Research has found that the folks on the extremes, those who are MORE liberal or MORE conservative, are the most politically active. Consequently, those Americans who see value in both liberal AND conservative ideology tend to be the least active, and they need a political home. A moderate party could provide that.
How do we break the political stranglehold of the Democratic and Republican Parties?
Eliminate single-member legislative districts. I mentioned this in a previous post. The current districting system almost guarantees the Democrats and Republicans hold every legislative seat at both the state and federal level, and even on the local level to some extent.
Consider adopting rank-choice voting so that voters actually rank candidate choices rather than being forced to choose only one. I also mentioned this option previously. This could open the door for minor party candidates as well as for more female and minority candidates.
Change the rule requiring a majority of votes (50%+1) to win offices, a system that rewards only winners and eliminates other candidates and parties regardless of the number of votes they received. Consider only requiring a plurality, so the candidate receiving the MOST votes (but not necessarily a majority) wins.
Eliminate the electoral college to help minor party candidates have an opportunity to win the presidency.
Change the campaign finance laws. Under the current system the Democratic and Republican presidential candidates (and the parties themselves) receive funding from the federal government. Sure, minor parties are eligible to receive such funding, but the rules make it virtually impossible for them to qualify.
Consider adopting a system referred to as “proportional representation” which allows citizens to vote for a political party rather than a candidate, and the seats in the legislature are allocated based on the percentage of votes a party receives. If the Republicans win 35% of the vote, they get 35% of the seats. This would give minor parties the opportunity to wins at least a few seats in legislatures (if the Fed-Up Party wins 15% of the votes it receives 15% of the seats). Germany has a unique model combining single-member districts and proportional representation that I really like.
There are other options, but these are probably the best. As I’ve said previously, however, making these changes would require the two current parties to voluntarily change a system that almost guarantees they control the government. I’m sure they will jump right on it.
I hope you have had a wonderful week. Thank you so much for reading Fiercely Independent!
Both parties are now so entrenched that such a solution is not possible. If the constitutional amendment that placed the drawing of maps with the state demographer would have stayed in place, it is possible we could have seen a lessening of this vitriol between parties. I was pleased when the Gov in his state of the state asked our legislators to move beyond the culture wars and enact legislation to benefit the public.
But this did not happen because culture wars get votes. And these debates are not based on discovery and understanding but rather grandstanding for votes. I want bipartisan politics of the 80's and 90's where they work together.
It has been interesting to observe the Lincoln Project which I thought would be a new party but has turned into an "Anti Republican" club. A state Senator in Arkansas has resigned from the Republican Party and formed a group called Common Ground which seeks to develop legislation base on compromise. I think a number of people are thinking "third party."