JimWes Thinks

November 18, 2015

Get the Parties Over

Filed under: Uncategorized — jimwes @ 11:32 pm

 

Political parties undermine and corrupt democracy

George Washington detested political parties.

This is his warning to the nation from his Farewell Address of September 17, 1796:

“In contemplating the causes which may disturb our Union, it occurs as matter of serious concern that any ground should have been furnished for characterizing parties by geographical discriminations, Northern and Southern, Atlantic and Western; whence designing men may endeavor to excite a belief that there is a real difference of local interests and views. One of the expedients of party to acquire influence within particular districts is to misrepresent the opinions and aims of other districts. You cannot shield yourselves too much against the jealousies and heartburnings which spring from these misrepresentations; they tend to render alien to each other those who ought to be bound together by fraternal affection…

 All obstructions to the execution of the laws, all combinations and associations, under whatever plausible character, with the real design to direct, control, counteract, or awe the regular deliberation and action of the constituted authorities, are destructive of this fundamental principle, and of fatal tendency. They serve to organize faction, to give it an artificial and extraordinary force; to put, in the place of the delegated will of the nation the will of a party, often a small but artful and enterprising minority of the community; and, according to the alternate triumphs of different parties, to make the public administration the mirror of the ill-concerted and incongruous projects of faction, rather than the organ of consistent and wholesome plans digested by common counsels and modified by mutual interests.

 However combinations or associations of the above description may now and then answer popular ends, they are likely, in the course of time and things, to become potent engines, by which cunning, ambitious, and unprincipled men will be enabled to subvert the power of the people and to usurp for themselves the reins of government, destroying afterwards the very engines which have lifted them to unjust dominion…

 I have already intimated to you the danger of parties in the State, with particular reference to the founding of them on geographical discriminations. Let me now take a more comprehensive view, and warn you in the most solemn manner against the baneful effects of the spirit of party generally.

This spirit, unfortunately, is inseparable from our nature, having its root in the strongest passions of the human mind. It exists under different shapes in all governments, more or less stifled, controlled, or repressed; but, in those of the popular form, it is seen in its greatest rankness, and is truly their worst enemy.

The alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge, natural to party dissension, which in different ages and countries has perpetrated the most horrid enormities, is itself a frightful despotism. But this leads at length to a more formal and permanent despotism. The disorders and miseries which result gradually incline the minds of men to seek security and repose in the absolute power of an individual; and sooner or later the chief of some prevailing faction, more able or more fortunate than his competitors, turns this disposition to the purposes of his own elevation, on the ruins of public liberty…

Without looking forward to an extremity of this kind (which nevertheless ought not to be entirely out of sight), the common and continual mischiefs of the spirit of party are sufficient to make it the interest and duty of a wise people to discourage and restrain it.

It 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. It opens the door to foreign influence and corruption, which finds a facilitated access to the government itself through the channels of party passions. Thus the policy and the will of one country are subjected to the policy and will of another.

There is an opinion that parties in free countries are useful checks upon the administration of the government and serve to keep alive the spirit of liberty. This within certain limits is probably true; and in governments of a monarchical cast, patriotism may look with indulgence, if not with favor, upon the spirit of party. But in those of the popular character, in governments purely elective, it is a spirit not to be encouraged. From their natural tendency, it is certain there will always be enough of that spirit for every salutary purpose. And there being constant danger of excess, the effort ought to be by force of public opinion, to mitigate and assuage it. A fire not to be quenched, it demands a uniform vigilance to prevent its bursting into a flame, lest, instead of warming, it should consume.

 Recently a new research study from the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law, a nonpartisan law and policy institute that seeks to improve systems of democracy and justice has concluded that “targeted measures to strengthen political parties, including public financing and a relaxing of certain campaign finance regulations, could help produce a more inclusive and transparent politics.” This paper is primarily and rightfully concerned with one of the Achilles heels of democratic governance – the financing of political campaigns. Such financing is usually done directly or indirectly through established and recognized political parties and organizations (“pacts”, non-profits, etc.), that function in parallel to the parties. The Brennan Center paper is just one of hundreds of papers, articles and suggestions advocating strengthening of political parties to help in uplifting democracies from their current precipitous decline.

Nothing could be further from the truth. The fact is the only hope of saving the collapsing democracies across the world is to abolish political parties.

Historically every political party that has ever achieved power on Earth has become corrupted, notwithstanding that many were originally founded with good intentions. Strengthening political parties as frequently suggested would strengthen political corruption. Political parties are creatures without morals. There is no way any political party can resist the temptation to achieve and retain power.

The politically correct misconception harbored by almost everyone (as indicated by the first sentence of the paper cited) is that “Political parties are a core ingredient of representative democracy.” This is a total falsehood. They are the worst enemy of representative democracy!

Not only Washington, but many of the founders of the USA feared that political parties, if created, would destroy the “democracy within a republic” that they were creating.

John Adams said: “There is nothing which I dread so much as a division of the republic into two great parties, each arranged under its leader, and concerting measures in opposition to each other. This, in my humble apprehension, is to be dreaded as the greatest political evil under our Constitution.”

Thomas Jefferson said: “I never submitted the whole system of my opinions to the creed of any party of men whatever, in religion, in philosophy, in politics, or in anything else, where I was capable of thinking for myself. Such an addiction is the last degradation of a free and moral agent. If I could not go to heaven but with a party, I would not go there at all.” 

The Founders apparently intentionally did not mention political parties in the Constitution. Notwithstanding they used many mechanisms to hopefully avert the creation of political parties knowing they would become corrupt and thus corrupt the nation.

The country’s second President John Adams, signed into law the Alien and Sedition Acts, making it a federal crime to criticize the president or his administration’s policies, an apparent attempt, among other things, to avoid the creation of an opposition party. This was not an appropriate way to solve the problem of political parties but it demonstrates the fear of them by the Founders.

These mechanisms worked only for a very short time. Political parties reared their ugly heads almost as soon as the first US elections were held and they have been corrupting the USA ever since.

The only solution to the problem raised is the complete and irrevocable prohibition constitutional and legal of the disastrous monstrosity known as “political parties!”

The “Father of the US Constitution” James Madison, in The Federalist No. 10, defined a faction as a number of citizens, whether a majority or minority, who were united and activated “by some common impulse of passion, or of interest, adverse to the rights of other citizens, or to the permanent and aggregate interests of the community.” He and the “Federalists” believed in a single political structure – a one party or no party system.  But Madison soon changed his mind and abandoned the Federalists to become Thomas Jefferson’s most active lieutenant in organizing, in opposition to the Washington/Hamilton Federalists, a new Democratic-Republican Party, which was strongly Anti-Federalist and took power after 1800. Since then the USA has been cursed with political parties…and the word “adverse” from Madison’s definition understates their relationship from then until now.

While many tend to feel that the adversities of the parties are now worse than ever, a close reading of US history shows that the raging conflicts between the parties (usually two, but occasionally more) have existed from the 19th Century into the 21st. Notwithstanding their incessant turmoil and inherent corruption political parties have been, are, and probably will continue to be considered foundational to politics and democracy in the USA and across the world because no one so far has come up with an antidote to their poison..

In his outstanding book, The End of Power, Moises Naim very optimistically advocates the expansion and adaptation of parties to a more “networked world” with “relatively flat, less hierarchical structures” in imitation of NGO’s, gaining trust by making their members feel successful and even indispensable in making and impact. As a result he suggests that members will then see party leaders as “accountable, transparent and not beholden to dark or unknown interests.”  And, like almost all who write of the subject he insists that increased political participation will improve and strengthen democratic processes. With all due respect to a person I have long admired, Moises Naim is far too optimistic.

Here is how political parties corrupt their own. A young enthusiastic man full of good intentions, but not wealthy, is active in civic and community affairs and becomes interested in government and politics and seeks to become active. He joins a party and after proving himself a hard worker seeks public office eventually getting elected. At first all is well bit sooner or later a question will arise where his own sincere beliefs differ from the position of the party. What does he do?

If his beliefs are strong he will vote contrary to his party’s wishes. He may be able to do this on relatively minor issues but along will come an issue of grave importance to him and his party in which he strongly differs from the party line. His party advises him that should he break “party discipline, he will be punished by losing internal posts, losing financial support, being ostracized and if very serious being denied the future opportunities to seek office through the party or even expelled from it. Now he must choose between his conscience and his party.  The wrong choice may mean the end of his hopes to serve in office.

Most young politicians choose the party. Thus they become corrupted for the first time, perhaps on an issue where they feel less strongly. New issues arise, new choices between conscience and party. Each time the aspiring politician chooses party over conscience he becomes more corrupted within himself. But each time it becomes easier. He rises within the party and within the government. Issues become even more important but now he has lost the guiding compass of conscience and automatically follows the party line no matter where it leads knowing he has no alternative.

Further complicating this trajectory into corruption is today’s geometrically progressive increase in the costs of running for office. The party is first corrupted, then it members. They desperately need financial support to meet the high costs of publicity, polling and at higher levels paid staff. As more money is accepted first from legitimate and friendly sources, all is well. But the needs become incessant even at lower levels and insurmountable at higher levels without accepting financing from more and more questionable sources. Finally the young politician is led by his party into accepting money from just about any source foolishly believing that there are no strings attached. Once successful, the strings turn into ropes and the ropes into chains and the party and its candidates become trapped in every possible form of corrupt activity. Even when the party stoops so low as to steal elections covertly or openly, its candidates must go along and having already been corrupted, they do.

From this sad path into the depths of political corruption we derive two undeniable conclusions:

1.  The longer a political party exists and the more often it is successful, the more corrupt it becomes.

2.  The longer a politician serves in office and the higher he rises, the more corrupt he becomes.

There have been innumerable efforts, laws and mechanisms hoping to counteract the above. None has ever succeeded. Term limits, contribution limits, codes of ethics, public financing, anti-corruption laws have inevitably failed.

The only honest political party is the brand new one that has not yet begun to enter the political thicket.

The only honest politician is the brand new candidate that is seeking his first elective office.

Almost everything that can be conceived by the human mind has been tried to clean up corruption in politics. Nothing has ever succeeded for more than a very short time.

One thing, the abolishment of political parties, has never been tried nationally, though some municipalities successfully hold “nonpartisan” elections.

Gallup says that 43% of people now consider themselves Independent, compared to Democrat (30%) or Republican (26%). Maybe when independents become the clear majority something can be done to get these corrupt parties over and done with.

Somehow, some way, some place some on must find an effective way to kill political parties permanently assuring they do not arise once more if government by the people is to survive.

__________________

NOTE: Here are some references to the pros and cons of this issue:

http://www.consciousnessandculture.com/george-washington-political-parties/

https://www.brennancenter.org/publication/stronger-parties-stronger-democracy-rethinking-reforming

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/monkey-cage/wp/2014/02/06/how-to-fix-our-polarized-politics-strengthen-political-parties/

http://ivn.us/2013/11/26/why-political-parties-control-elections-and-how-to-end-partisanship/

http://www.debate.org/opinions/should-political-parties-be-abolished

https://newrepublic.com/article/119305/simone-weils-abolition-political-parties-nyrb-edition

http://www.cs.toronto.edu/~hehner/Parties.pdf

http://www.irishtimes.com/culture/books/review-on-the-abolition-of-all-political-parties-by-simone-weil-1.2145931

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