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THE MAJOR PARTIES ARE DINOSAURS1
Peter Bearse, Ph.D.
Chapter 5 of my new book, A NEW AMERICAN ®EVOLUTION: How “We the People” can truly “take back” our government (Amazon, ebook), asks the question “Are the major political parties for “We the People?” The concluding answer is NO. The conclusion is based in part on the author’s more than 40 years of experience working in the trenches of major party politics – 20 years as a Democrat and 25 years as a Republican. This article is adapted from Chapter 5. The details of my personal experience are not recounted here, but the lessons drawn from it should be noted.
For the ability of the major parties to serve as advocates for “We the People” has been severely compromised by their:
Increasing dependence upon big money and big media for campaigns -- money from major donors, both individually and as “bundlers” of contributions from wealthy friends, relatives, colleagues and associates -- to fund expensive advertising, primarily TV, and rely less on volunteers.
Neglect of their “local political infrastructure” (in part because of the above focus on big-money fundraising). The local party committee foundations of both parties have suffered from this neglect. Many such committees in many states do not exist or serve as committees in name only.
No welcome mats to new people and party-independent influences, including newcomers, challengers, innovation, science, and open debate on controversial issues. Case in point: The negative reception accorded my resolutions before the NH GOP Platform Committee. Why is such aversion adverse to people’s empowerment? -- Because the two major parties are not providing reliable or sufficient information to people on key issues such as economic inequality, global warming and criminal justice. More generally, the parties provide no home for people who say that “the system is broke.” It took Ross Perot and the Tea Party, for instance, to bring federal budget and deficit issues to the fore; and OWS to bring to our attention issues of economic inequality, the corruption of our politics and government by big corporations, banks and money; and the fact that “the 99%” have been losing out.
Slow adoption and underutilization of the new IT social media. For example, I have advocated for years that the major parties equip their canvassers with handheld IT data-entry devices. Failure on this front has had obvious consequences. Instead of voter data-bases being built from the bottom up, they’re having to be accessed from the top down by both local and state party committees.
Inability or unwillingness to provide any significant support to state and local candidates; i.e., shortcomings in building party “farm teams.” I received significant party support only when I became a party nominee for Congress in 1984. Such lack of party support is most adverse to potential candidates of lesser means.
Aversion to competition: Both parties fight independent, libertarian, constitutional and other challenges to their “duopoly.” Given major parties’ command of big-money for major media advertising, this lack of competition means that people are exposed to a relatively narrow range of ideas in the “marketplace of ideas” that political campaigns are supposed to represent.
Sorry if this set of highlights does not do justice to either of our major political parties. I know that there are others who have spent decades “laboring in the vineyards” of politics on their behalf and yet who, like myself, have also found themselves expressing dissenting views only to get little or no encouragement. Unfortunately, there was not enough time to survey such folks while rushing to write my book between political years and the demands of other commitments. If any reader is aware of studies on the themes of innovation, dissension or political entrepreneurship within the major parties, please share them with me by way of firstname.lastname@example.org.
In light of my experience, I am brought to a reluctant conclusion: The major parties are like dinosaurs. Neither party provides a home for innovative or independent voices, especially those who say “the system is broke.” They have failed to evolve in response to epochal changes that have already degraded and are very like to continue to degrade, the quality of life of the great American majority. Neither party seeks systematic, basic, fundamental or structural changes to the radically disruptive forces of globalization, global warming or climate change, economic inequality; and the corruption of our politics and government by big money, big government, big business, big media, and political non-involvement by most Americans. Recall the question we began to confront in Chapters 2 & 3 -- that of the role of parties to help empower “us” rather than “them.” Now, seven years after WE THE PEOPLE was published including a section entitled: “Political Parties: Not over yet”, we have reason to conclude otherwise.2 Perhaps they should be “over”, indeed, unless they can transform themselves – made over -- into something they are not.
Similar conclusions were drawn by Alvin Toffler over 30 years ago. Toffler saw political parties as “2nd Wave” institutions, ill-suited to help us face the “3rd Wave” now breaking over us with a vengeance. He questioned much that parties considered to be sacred, including “majority rule.” He wrote: “Majority rule is increasingly obsolete. It is not majorities but minorities that count.”3 Like many of his statements, however, this is either overreach or outrage for the sake of argument. He went on to state:
“Elites…cannot by themselves build a new civilization. The energies of whole peoples will be required…the public itself…to generate the broadest array of imaginative proposals for political restructuring.”
Indeed -- another way of stating this book’s basic premise and conclusion. Toffler’s statement, however, runs contrary to his own, contrarian opinion of majority rule. If “whole peoples” and “the public itself” are not a “majority,” then what is?
But to Toffler it was already apparent 40 years ago that parties were “losing their drawing power…(as) the number of “independents” unaffiliated with any party…shot up 400%...” So, he stated that “We shall…have to discard our obsolete party structures…and invent…plug-in / plug-out parties of the future…We could…keep our elected representatives, allowing them…to cast only 50% of the votes on any issue while turning the other 50% of the votes over to a random sample of the public.”4
In fact, many Americans over many years have been heard saying “There’s not a dime’s worth of difference between the parties.” The late, great Republican political consultant Lee Atwater remarked: “…the Republican Party has been elitist…the Democratic Party has become a party of [rival] elites.”5 Kevin Phillips, Republican political commentator at the time, added: “In the United States, ’circulating elites’ are a reality, and electoral politics is an important traffic controller.”6
The two party houses are vacant of new ideas sufficient to address the challenges we face. Vacant houses are subject to foreclosure or demolition. Yet, “We the People”, the “99%”, occupy the big house which is (or should be) our country. We do time here, unlike the “1%” who can flee or immigrate to wealthy enclaves and gated communities abroad. Many of us have been forced out of our political party homes due to foreclosures that result from the fact that the two major parties’ houses are not only vacant of ideas that can work to make things better; they are homes of ideas that have helped to create the problems that we face.
The major parties’ home values have been depreciated, in part, because they are situated in a bad neighborhood, Washington, D.C.7 This neighborhood not only exudes the smell of corruption and decline, it also supports (and is supported by) the worst influences of the country at-large, such as:
Closed mindedness, especially, too much closed group-mindedness;
Providing too little latitude, space or tolerance for individualism, especially iconoclasts, dissenters, whistleblowers and other presumed misfits who speak their minds as they see fit, without bowing to conventional wisdom;
Framing and stereotyping rather than talking- or thinking-through;
Media- and celebrity manias;
Inability to distinguish reality from illusion;
Focus on consumption rather than savings and investment;8
Antipathy towards politics and distrust of government in a democratic republic that is supposed to be governed by “We the People”;
Too little recognition or support of people’s desire and power to build and/or maintain their own self-governing communities;9
Ad-hoc-ism and short-term-itis rather than a devotion to the long-term future of our republic;
Devotion to individual and family advancement, to the neglect of larger communities at any level (local, state or national);
Too much of a “Let George do it“ and/or a “something for nothing” attitude among too many;
Blithe ignorance and/or “don’t care” attitudes as to the so-called “externalities” of the “free” market system, such as financial crashes, global warming & climate change, exploitation of labor-as-a-commodity, rising inequalities of income and wealth, etc.
To the extent we buy into or bow down to these influences, we become, as we heard in the ’60’s, part of the problem rather than part of the solution. It doesn’t have to be so. We can thank Tea Party and OWS activists for their wake up calls. They have been like the proverbial “canaries in the coal mine” -- harbingers of possible disaster. Better to join them and/or a growing independents’ movement, rather than follow into the coal mine of Washington, D.C. the two bankrupt exploiters of the political capital of our country, the Democratic and Republican parties.
1 This article has benefited from review and comment received from Dr. Carmine Gorga.
2 Bearse,, Peter J. (2004), WE THE PEOPLE: A Conservative Populism. Lafayette, LA: Alpha Publishing, pp. 358-59 and 351-52.
3 Toffler, Alvin (1980), THE THIRD WAVE. New York: William Morrow & Company, p.435.
4 Toffler, op.cit., pp. 337-442.
5 A remark made by Lee in 1986. In 1988, he was Republican Presidential Campaign Manager.
6 Phillips, op.cit., p. 33.
7 As described in detail by Milbank, op. cit., to include not only power-hungry people but corrupt cultures. A leading “Free State” activist in NH, Tim Condon, set forth “need to resist and defeat the malignant, cancerous, corrupt political culture of Washington, D.C.” (in the blog www.granitegrok.com (Jan. 5, 2012).
8 Except for “crony capitalism” investments by the “permanent political class” as reported by Schweizer, op.cit..
9 A desire and power exhibited even in extreme situations, like prisons. See, for example, Alarcon, Daniel (2012), “All Politics Is Local,” a story of an inmates’ self-governing prison in Peru, in HARPERS MAGAZINE (February).