August 3, 2020

The Parties Are No Party

By Stephen Tuttle | July 25, 2020

The Republican Party was born on March 20, 1854, in Ripon, Wisconsin. Their first presidential candidate was John C. Fremont, the first Republican elected president was Abraham Lincoln. Democrats got their start earlier, forming officially in 1828. Andrew Jackson was their first presidential candidate and first to be elected.  

The parties have changed some since then.  

Early Democrats were mostly pro-slavery; most Republicans, abolitionists. Democrats mostly pushed the idea of “manifest destiny,” a term coined by a newspaper writer who believed the United States was endowed by God to expand throughout North America. It was supported by their president at the time, James K. Polk, but some Republicans were on board, too, including Lincoln.

For much of the 20th century, Democrats had strongholds in the South, were the authors of ugly Jim Crow laws and the primary impediments to any and all civil rights legislation. The longest individual filibuster in history, a 24-hour marathon in 1964, was performed by then-Democrat Strom Thurmond in opposition to the Civil Rights Act.

Thurmond and others switched to the Republican Party as Democrats moved to the left and Republicans moved from Dwight Eisenhower to Barry Goldwater. 

Those parties are long gone. Neither William Milliken nor Robert Griffin would even be welcome in the GOP these days. The then-newly minted conservatism of Barry Goldwater and William Buckley — strong military, avoidance of foreign entanglements, limited government, balanced budgets — has gone the way of the dodo bird. It's not even clear Ronald Reagan was far enough right for today's Republican Party because he understood compromise.

Democrats have at least shed the label as the party of racists, but they have drifted, too. The promise of John Kennedy or the pragmatism of Bill Clinton has been replaced by an orthodoxy full of uncompromising litmus tests.

Neither party has been able to work together on much of anything for more than a decade. The most common quote for any vote on legislation is “along party lines.” The days of Tip O'Neil sharing a cocktail with Reagan to work out a problem, or of Orin Hatch and Ted Kennedy working together on legislation, have vanished into the ether.

Both parties claim to stand for noble purposes, but a quick glance at their lengthy party platforms disappoints. Both are full of pseudo-patriotic gibberish, promises that can't be kept, and policies they know will never be enacted. The Republicans still include a balanced federal budget. Seriously.

It's not as if people haven't noticed that parties no longer represent their interests. Some 19 states and the District of Columbia no longer even ask for party affiliation when registering people to vote. According to the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia, in the remaining 31 states, 40 percent of voters register as Democrats, 29 percent as Republicans, and 28 percent as independents or unaffiliated. Pew Research puts the current number of self-described independents nationally as higher than both Democrats or Republicans. In fact, the fastest-growing group of voters belongs to neither party.   

That's probably because neither party does much anymore but beg for money so they can spend it insulting each other. We are already seeing the fog of negativity and misinformation created by both parties in television and online advertising. It will only get worse as volume increases and the sewage flow grows ever denser.

The parties will not talk much about actual issues during the campaign; they rarely do. Unless we consider disinformation and personal attacks to be real issues.

The current party campaign structures are designed to divide the country and isolate voters into political gulags. The partisan chasm they've created and will perpetuate for the next three-plus months will do nothing to help the country, address any issue, or solve any problem.

Both parties having convinced us their opponents are very bad people, it's a wonder we bother to vote at all. 

There is much to criticize about Donald Trump's presidency. And Joe Biden has a 40-year track record to pick at. There is ample room for legitimate policy and decision-making criticisms of both. Performance-based critiques of both are perfectly legitimate. But that's not what we'll get from the political parties. From them we'll get hatred.

We should start asking ourselves what real value there is in either party. What either actually stands for is a mystery and the primary purpose of both seems to be little more than self-perpetuation.

If we really vote for “the person and not the party” like we all claim, there's no purpose to the parties at all. Without party affiliation, and party intrusion, we can vote for the person. A candidate's ideology doesn't change absent an R or D next to their name nor do the issues or challenges. It's time all elections are non-partisan. 


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