Our founders hoped we would not have political parties in America, but they also knew it was inevitable–the first parties developed just in time for the the second election. We can no more easily rid the world of political parties than we can of war among nations or yelling fits between the cast members of “The Real World”. And for the same reason: people desire different things for their lives, and when we put them together we are bound to have conflict.
How do we organize this conflict into an effective–and somewhat peaceful–political process? We form groups of like-minded people who are seeking the same general goals, or who find themselves fighting the same “enemy,” whatever form that may take. Because values change, the objectives of the parties gradually and continually change as well, and so does the make up of the group. So while political parties may have a stated list of things it supports at any given time, things are added and subtracted from official party platforms all the time, and there can be significant variations in particular candidates within the same party.
Why do we only have 2 major parties?
Britain has many parties, and whichever party has the most people elects the Prime Minister, so a party can have control with only 30% of the seats. In America, we prefer majorities. It doesn’t take calculus to see why you can’t have more than two groups trying to achieve 51 percent. Thus, we are always left with a choice between two.
The downside of parties is division. They fight, call each other names, distort truths to make their points, and so on. It’s an ugly and brutal process, but it also has some positive effects:
1. They help narrow down our choices and make them more reliable. We can listen to one, then the other, and make a decision, knowing that those within the party will be held accountable by their peers.
2. They raise money and organize campaigns. From local communities all the way up to the Federal Government, parties gather people to work together towards achieving common ends.
And there are specific benefits to the two-party system:
1. Two parties tend to have a stabilizing effect. They make it difficult for hard-left, hard-right or dead-center candidates to gain much power. When people must compete within a two-party system they must offer distinctly opposing views, but they must also be relatively moderate.
2. Politicians have to answer for a broad range of issues, instead of just campaigning on their particular interest. How would the “Green Energy” party, for instance, vote on health care or financial reform?
The important thing to understand about political parties is that they are never the ends themselves, but only a means toward an end. People decide what they want in society and find other people who agree, at least enough to throw their support behind it. These groups then find people that represent these views and endorse their campaigns for office. It’s that simple. Each party is essentially trying to achieve the same thing—justice.
Every person has some idea of what justice is and how to bring more of it into our world. One person may say justice is making sure no one is poor, while another might say justice is allowing people to keep what they earn. The first person may support the Democrat Party and the latter may support Republicans. You don’t have to label yourself by either of these names, but I would encourage you to know what you believe, and more importantly why you believe it. Once you know where you stand you can go to the voting booth knowing that you’re not just voting for a person – you’re voting for principles, and that makes the political process much more fulfilling.