The Parties Over

I can’t keep myself from wondering whether the current American (and German) political woes aren’t caused by party systems and if those systems aren’t starting to crumble.

You have the various headlines about how independents are moving away from the current government. The New York Times has an article about independents in the Southwest, the LA Times explains that minority churches, once Democrat, now Republican are shifting back yet again and finally the Washington Post is headlining the fact that independents will play a key role in the upcoming elections with Republicans increasingly losing ground.

Two weeks before the midterm elections, Republicans are losing the battle for independent voters, who now strongly favor Democrats on Iraq and other major issues facing the country and overwhelmingly prefer to see them take over the House in November, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.

The new poll underscores how much of a drag the war threatens to be on Republican candidates in competitive races. With debate underway in Washington about possible course changes in Iraq, Americans cite the war as the most important issue in determining their vote next month more often than any other issue, and those who do favor Democrats over Republicans by 76 percent to 21 percent.

Independents are poised to play a pivotal role in next month’s elections because Democrats and Republicans are basically united behind candidates of their own parties. Ninety-five percent of Democrats said they will support Democratic candidates for the House, while slightly fewer Republicans, 88 percent, said they plan to vote for their party’s candidates.

The problem isn’t that the parties can’t appeal to a large segment of the population, but rather that the population and interest groups can’t be divided into two segments. The world far more complex than a political bioptic focus supports. With the availability of information on the internet, voters are becoming increasingly discontented with political promises along party lines not being turned into realities. This can be seen on all sides of the election.

According to the graphic accompanying today’s New York Times article, 58% of voters would prefer elections without party labels, the number of independents registered to vote in Arizona (the focus of the article) has doubled since 1994.

Closer elections and more balanced war chests, meanwhile, in races across the nation are elevating the role of independents regardless of their numbers — and changing as well the strategies of how to reach them, even as they turn their noses up at what the two-party system has become.

“The first message they’re sending to us in the political world, and to general public, is ‘Don’t assume anything,’ ” said Michael J. Frias, director of campaigns for the Arizona Democratic Party.

The number of candidates running without visible party affiliation is increasing.

I would say I am an independent and always have been. Even though I’d rate myself semi-liberal I do so only because the average of my opinions end up on the liberal side of the fence. I am pro-defense (if not pro-war); I agree with  gun ownership even if I would prefer a world without weapons; I can’t stand groups like Greenpeace simply because they put a coat of green paint on what is still standard activist lobbying (get the headlines – the facts, even better solutions, aren’t important). On the other hand I believe in social spending, limiting corporations and government supervision in areas like ecology and health. Evolution and global warming are real and HIV causes AIDS. I’d love to see universal healthcare in America if someone could figure out how to finance it (lowering medication costs, only funding proven solutions and changing what people define as healthy perhaps?).

My entire life has been spend voting against what I often consider the greater evil and not voting for the greater good. I have never been able to accept the speeches and promises made during political campaigns. I truly believe most people enter politics with a supportable goal – but that goal changes. The politician goes from trying to change the system or accomplish something specific to someone trying to keep their job. This is a natural and human progression. You do what you know and what you are good at; for politicians – politics. It is the goal of the political parties to make sure their ‘company’ is more successful every election cycle but not necessarily to serve the voters. Just as it is McDonald’s goal to earn money and not serve customers. (If McDonalds could earn money without serving people, I’m sure they would. )

I’d prefer to vote for an individual’s patchwork platform and not a party’s generic program. Perhaps PACs and an increasingly independent electorate will lead to a completely different system. A system where legislators receive funds and support, not from a central pot – but from the interest groups supporting their ideas. A move away from centralized party control and discipline to a more flexible and agile system.

The move would be good but probably isn’t realistic. People love labels – Republican, Democrat, American, Tigers fan. Important or not, realistic or not, it is often the label people cling to, not the platform. So, despite my optimism, perhaps my observation that the party system is dysfunctional – neither working nor popular – while true doesn’t mean much.

Maybe the parties’ parties aren’t over yet.

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