Political Parties 101

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Political Commentary

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.

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  1. Pingback: Political Ideology Spectrum « Wesley Gant

  2. enemyoftheparties says

    Acknowledging that Parties are inevitable is a bit like acknowledging the inevitability of Malaria; it doesn’t mean we don’t fight it. In particular the two-party system, while it does support owning a majority, has polarized our country and destroyed our governing institutions.

    When running against a single opponent, one need only be better than the alternative; a head-to-head between Stalin and Hitler would still return a winner. The Democrats and Republicans have been running the football down the field together, passing it back and forth, always with a reasonable chance of getting it back at the next election. They don’t need to be effective, they don’t need to come up with solutions, as long as the other guy sucks more or less just as much.

    A larger field would also to some extent castrate the negative campaigning, since casting aspersions against an opponent would not necessarily benefit you; the votes might go to your opponent.
    Better still, undercut the parties lock on power by eliminating the use of public property for their “primary elections.” While we’re at it, why dont we eliminate that term, which implies an offical civic event. I suspect most Americans would be shocked to learn that these events, paid at least partly from public funds, are actually benefiting two PRIVATE ORGANIZATIONS, namely the parties.

    If someone suggested that we start a couple of organizations dedicating to controlling governments, silencing all other political opinion, labelling/ pidgeonholing/ manipulating voters and officeholders, and, above all, staying in power, I cannot imagine average Americans thinking this would be a good idea. So why do we tolerate such a cabal just because all lesser statesmen than Washington joined them?

    • wesley says

      What polarizes our country is the fact that people have different opinions. Of course you can work to reduce the tensions of political division, but you’re not going to rid the world of parties.

      The two-party system has always existed in America for a reason, and that is simply because a majority is needed in the House of Representatives to get anything done. Majority means 50 per cent plus one. You can’t have more than 2 parties vying for over 50 per cent. By the way, we do have more parties. Feel free to vote with them.

      You’re right that the parties are private organizations, which is quite the way it ought to be, so I’m not sure what your beef is there. If you truly have such a problem with this whole idea of private political parties collecting funds, organizing and influencing national politics you should take your concerns straight to the man who organized the first true American political party–Thomas Jefferson.

  3. You could definitely see your euhsnsiatm within the work you write. The world hopes for more passionate writers like you who aren\’t afraid to say how they believe. At all times follow your heart.

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