Will Rogers famously said, “I am not a member of any organized political party, I’m a Democrat.” Hahaha… what a laugh, but no one’s laughing. Would that the American political system was dominated by disorganized party coalitions, shifting and moving election to election, constantly responsive to the needs of the electorate. That is of course what political parties used to be, back in the dark ages when we lived in a representative democratic republic. And it is of course what the founders intended.
Early in the republic, political parties came and went, rising and falling and being reincarnated as their pet issues or signature concerns faded away. Who can tell what the Whig party stood for? Or the Know-Nothings? And even after the coalescence of the Democratic and Republican parties, those parties were actual coalitions. And political party conventions were actual conventions and not just theater for the coronation of the presumptive nominee. After all the 1968 Democratic Convention is famous for the protests that surrounded it, the 1980 Democratic Convention featured a serious floor fight, and the Republicans that same year chose their Vice Presidential candidate at their convention.
Political parties serve a purpose, an important purpose of providing organizational strength and “strength in numbers” for ideological commitments. At least that’s what they should do. And none of this is supposed to interfere with the primary responsibility of Congress to represent their constituents. However more and more, political parties are failing miserably. Mickey Edwards writes convincingly:
Loyalty to party undermines the very essence of representative government, which depends on entrusting members of one’s community to act in one’s stead as an evaluator of legislative policy…
Parties choose which candidates can be on the November ballot, and do so in primaries and conventions that cater to the extremes. Parties reward fealty and discourage independence.
It is because of this fealty that Congress has such low approval ratings and why Congressmen are increasingly avoiding meeting with their actual constituents. It is a sad and scary thing when representatives are afraid to represent. More importantly, it is a danger to the republic and an indication that what was the most glorious experiment in large scale representative democratic and republican government is rapidly on the decline.
The fact is, Congress should be passionate in defending its prerogatives against the encroaches of the Executive Branch, regardless of who the president is. The division of powers is meant to provide natural checks and balances against the formation of a ruling aristocracy that enforces its will on the populace, but unfortunately the two party system has devolved to the point that our legislators see themselves as lords and ladies and the president fancies himself some sort of benevolent monarch, ruling not by divine right, but rather by media anointment. They do not respect and they do not fear the people they are meant to represent; rather they despise them. They pass legislation they have not read, vote for health care plans to which they themselves are not subject, vote pay raises for themselves, gerrymander legislative districts to ensure their continued dominance and write legislation effectively restricting the competition to which they are subject.
The American political system is NOT a two party system. It is increasingly a system of aristocratic governance; a royal court complete with salons, sinecures, and purchased ambassadorships. And Obama? He is merely the latest incarnation of a presidency that sees itself as inseparable from the state