Blogs > HNN > Our weak political parties

Mar 12, 2007 7:01 pm

Our weak political parties

We live in a paradoxical age. This is simultaneously a period of high partisanship and weak political parties.

The NYT reports today that the Democratic Party has lost its bid to control the primary schedule for '08. Some 23 states are now considering holding elections on February 5. The Party would prefer them to wait until later in the season.

The Party issued threats, saying it might refuse to seat the delegations of any states that held unauthorized early contests. The states have ignored the Party.

Whether the Party is right or wrong in thinking that an early virtual national primary is good or not (the arguments on both sides are compelling), the weakness of the Party is distressing.

Parties are supposed to mediate between the government and the voter. If they're weak they can't. The upshot is that the voters are increasingly on their own, unguided by their political leaders.

Political parties were an American invention. We are watching their inexorable decline.

I know that voters like to think that it's more democratic for them to exercise more power. And they're right. It is more democratic. But is that necessarily a good thing?

We should be debating that question. We aren't. That's a bad thing.

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HNN - 3/13/2007

You just said in a paragraph what it takes me a book to say. (The book comes out next fall.)

Adam Carman - 3/13/2007

My own view is that the decline of political parties since the Progressive Era made everything candidate-centered is a bad thing. On the surface it sounds like a noble effort--to have voters decide between two candidates instead of political parties, and let's face it, it has become a bragging right to say you're not tied down to either party. But the parties were a way of keeping elections focused on issues--if you saw the world a certain way you were a Republican; if you saw it the other way you were a Democrat and you supported your party's candidates even if they weren't all that impressive-looking or charismatic. Since Wilson, all presidential candidates with a prayer of succeeding must be skinny, well-built men with no facial hair whatsoever. The emphasis in presidential elections in particular has become who looks the best or sounds the best on TV,with no regard to the issues. What this has done is return us to the pre-political parties days when people chose their President based on personality and what section of the country he was from, which is why all our latest contests have devolved into name-calling debacles more suited to the 1820s than the 21st-century. Unfortunately, I do not see any hope that our political parties will revive because it is now too much a part of our culture to stand aloof from political allegiance and choose the candidate one likes better.