With the debacle that our federal government has become (yes, the entire government appears to be a debacle at the moment), I’ve been trying to figure out how government can be improved down to its core. I put forth 9 ideas for revamping U.S. elections in October 2016. Now I’m rethinking one of those suggestions.
One of the biggest problems (if not THE biggest problem) with our government at both the federal and state levels is partisanship. It might not be so bad if there were more than 2 parties represented in our government. As it sits, the parties have worked themselves into pitched ideological battles that are short on nuance and complexity and long on, “We’re not doing that if the other party wants it.”
It’s ridiculous, childish, and recently, it’s become dangerous. When party opposition led to gridlock in Congress, it was intensely frustrating because legislators were not acting in the best interests of citizens … simply because they weren’t acting at all. This partisanship has taken a turn for the potentially disastrous since the 2016 election.
In reading “What Calling Congress Achieves” in The New Yorker yesterday, the following statement regarding voicing an opinion with legislators caught me off-guard, but isn’t actually that surprising: “If, however, you want a member of Congress to vote your way on a matter of intense partisan fervor—immigration, education, entitlement programs, health insurance, climate change, gun control, abortion—your odds of success are, to understate matters, considerably slimmer.”
Voters are led to believe that politicians will listen fairly and with an open mind to all of their constituents once they are in office, regardless of whether a constituent is of the same party as the politician. According to the article, it is rare for politicians to change their partisan positions, which means they favor party ideology over citizen input. When a party’s ideology aligns with the rights and protections of most citizens, including those who have very little power, this can work. However, it becomes dangerous when a party’s ideology actively works against citizens in favor of the party’s principles.
As I’ve been noodling over all of this, an idea hit me: What if we didn’t have any political parties?
We could require that our government operate with 3, 4, or 5 parties in order to ensure a broader range of thoughts and party principles (as I suggested in my 9 ideas article). Politicians would be forced to build coalitions and compromise in a multi-party system. But might that eventually lead to parties consistently aligning with each other, once again reducing the government to 2 parties?
Why not eschew parties altogether? Let each individual politician articulate his or her own ideas and values? If we publicly funded campaigns, we wouldn’t need the party structure for fundraising.
We have examples of nonpartisan political races at the city and township level, so this can work.
What benefits do parties provide that I might be overlooking? Could those benefits be provided to candidates somehow without the necessity for parties?
Since examining the possibility of a government with no political parties, I discovered that President George Washington was no fan of political parties because he could see their inherent dangers. He foresaw a day when fighting between opposing parties cleaving strongly to their narrow interests could destabilize this democracy to such an extent that an authoritarian ruler would rise to the top. (Read Politico’s “George Washington’s Farewell Warning” for more analysis on Washington’s views regarding political parties.)
Does that sound eerily familiar? That Washington was one wise guy.