Super Tuesday 2008 and the two party system

Today is “Super Tuesday”. The media is out in force to hype the primary and caucus events that will be held today. As they say, it represents a record number of states ever to concurrently hold primary elections. To support their claims, record numbers of voters have registered throughout the country.

As I observe the primary election and nominating process this year, I’m a bit disappointed in the way it has evolved over time. In particular I’m referring to the two party system that emerged early on in American politics. The current nomination and election process likely prevents many qualified and desirable candidates from ever competing nationally due to a lack of affiliation and favor with insiders in either of the two main parties. This lack of affiliation may be just what America needs to check the political process and ensure that career politions really do have the best interests of the American people at heart. George Washington mentioned his concerns with the emergence of a party system in his farewell address.

“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.”

George Washington’s Farewell Address, 1796: Read the full text here

On one hand I understand why it evolved the way it has, but on the other hand I hope for something more. Speaking about the two party system, George Washington mentioned that the “spirit, unfortunately, is inseparable from our nature”, which seems to hold true. People like to have a sense of belonging and people generally like to do things in a crowd, not alone. When so many people support one candidate it can be quite easy to think something similar to “how could so many people be wrong?”. This can become more confusing when almost all the candidates do genuinely have, as they perceive it, the best interests of the people at heart.

What would I hope for instead of our current two party system? While I have always called myself a republican, I have never voted straight republican. I see much merit in some ideals that are identified as “Democratic”, and sometimes the best person for the job has identified himself as a “Democrat”. I have heard positions from independents, green, and other parties that likewise appear very worthwhile.

It seems that the ideal election would be one that could come closer to the people, by letting the masses interact with, live with and observe the candidates in a non-biased way. After sufficient time, the best candidate would emerge, not because the collective resources of large businesses and wealthy friends pushed the idea on us, but instead because the virtue and genuine character of the candidates would become the justification for the trust that would be awarded them by us, the American people.

Unfortunately my sky high ideal isn’t practical in a country with 300 million people and an obsessive focus on money and influence. I suppose the more practical suggestion would be to the citizens of America:

Please let go of your party affiliations and consider all the potential candidates based on their individual character. Try to avoid the “domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge, natural to party dissension” which was forewarned by Washington. Above all, GO TO THE POLLS and make sure that your voice is heard on election day!

God bless America!

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