A Constituency for Change
How do you feel about the idea of a constituency for change rather than multiple parties?
by The Cross-Partisan Action Network | 2.20.19
In Rob Stein's recent conversation on the American ideals of E Pluribus Unum and cross-partisanship you—the readers—shared provocative questions and opinions. Now, we're continuing the conversation with some of the top themes that emerged. Check out the original piece here, and click above to take action!
Why Are Multiple Parties Not a Better Solution than a Cross-Partisan Constituency?
By Rob Stein
Several commentators who agreed that the two-party political industrial complex is broken suggested that it is time for Americans to establish additional parties or some system of proportional representation (e.g., a parliamentary type system).
These certainly are options and efforts to develop a new party or strengthen the existing Libertarian or Green Parties are currently underway. However, I believe there are several reasons why “political parties” increasingly are ineffective vehicles for promoting country and evidence-based policies over ideology, or for electing a new generation of effective, results-oriented political leaders.
First, Structural Weakness. Political parties exist pursuant to federal statutes that require a legal structure and internal management that is ill-suited to meaningful governance. Each of the two major national parties has become a hotbed of competing special interests that subjects its respective candidates to restrictive litmus tests, breeds internal party hyper-partisanship and muddles its brand. Moreover, parties confound good governance by practicing a rigid oppositional politics that promotes scorched earth strategies. Imagine, if you will, the depth of political dysfunction that would ensue if we created more parties as hobbled, hyper-partisan and ineffective as our two existing parties.
Second, Financial Weakness. Existing campaign finance and tax laws are enabling non-party organizations – i.e., SuperPacs and so-called 501c3 and 501c4 non-profits – to raise far more money, in the aggregate, than parties can raise and spend. These laws have greatly diluted party strength and influence by empowering super wealthy donors and armies of single purpose non-profit organizations aligned with each party. Thus, parties as currently constituted operate at a significant financial competitive disadvantage to non-party, non-profit electoral organizations.
Third, Inherent Strife. Our earliest leaders – including, George Washington and John Adams - were vehemently opposed to organized, structured political parties because they believed they would become permanent institutions with tentacles committed to sewing division and incivility throughout the body politic. They believed that this would not only create endless and increasingly vicious hyper-partisanship, but would undermine constructive governance.
Voila! Political parties are now a permanent fixture in American politics and platforms for ideological purity and special interests. And yet, with all of their limitations and faults, political parties are an inevitable, and arguably necessary, feature of our representative form of governance.
But they no longer are sufficient vehicles to represent millions of open-minded, cross-partisans who are devoted to country over party, ideology and special interests, and who are skilled at working across ideological divides and committed to evidence-based problem-solving.
Accordingly, the creation of a sustainable, well-organized activist alliance of Republicans, Democrats and Independents – a force or constituency for change – has the greatest chance at this time for positive influence on good governance and more civil, productive politics. Someday, in the future, such a constituency might decide it is in the interests of the country to reform the outmoded statutory requirements for political parties, change our tax and campaign finance laws regarding political contributions, strengthen the governance and operations of existing parties, and perhaps create one or more new parties.
However, these are decisions for others in the longer-term. For now, the great need in America, and for democracies around the world, is for those who are not hyper-partisans to align, organize and mobilize. We need first to build a constituency of millions of cross-partisan activists who can challenge the grip that the existing political party industrial complex has on our national dialogue and political processes.
Rob Stein is a former Senior Strategist, Democratic National Committee (1989-1992); Founder, Democracy Alliance (2005); Co-founder, Committee On States (2007); and currently committed to building an enduring cross-partisan constituency to chart the track back to the ideals of E Pluribus Unum.
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