Friday, November 12, 2010

Why Party Matters

Just found this fantastic post by Kel Munger explaining what I feel very strongly about: despite idealistic dreams to the contrary, the political party matters way more than the individual candidate.

Her original post is:
Why the party matters in elections

Why the party matters in elections

I’ve got a lot of friends who are insistently independent. It’s one of the things I love about them–the way they demand the right to make up their own minds, first and foremost. But when that “independence,” including their identity as “independent voters,” is tied to an election, well, I kinda want to give a civics lesson.

So for all you dear friends who "vote for the person, not the party,” here’s why I think that’s a much more idealistic (and possibly harmful) position than you seem to realize.

First—and while they’re teaching about the three branches of government and the electoral college in civic class, they rarely mention this—we have a two-party system. These days, it’s the Democratic Party and the Republican Party. We’ve had Whigs, too, and we started with the Federalists and the Anti-Federalists. You can read all about it here.

But since much of the business of government is conducted by elected officials, and elected officials represent the parties on whose tickets they ran as much as they do the voters who elected them, we also have things like caucuses. The ones we need to be concerned with here are the “informal meetings” that all the members of a party, or a sub-group of that party, attend—at which they decide their strategy for legislation.

And that, my friends, is why it makes a difference which party you vote for: We have a winner-take-all two-party system, and the party in the majority is the one that sets the agenda and makes the rules. The minority party can only force compromise by blocking the agenda of the majority party, and this has been the rule in the last three decades, since the Reagan Revolution.

Yeah, we’ve always been a partisan nation, but the neo-conservative movement, especially the politics of people like Grover NorquistLee Atwater and Karl Rove, has been as bad as anything since the Civil War. The first thing you’ll notice about those guys is that none of them was a candidate or elected official. They have been, instead, the political operatives. And, while they have their counterparts on the Democratic side of the aisle—James CarvilleDavid Axelrod—the Dems have never been as successful at staying on-message and fighting hard and dirty. And yes, the Dems take a lot of money from the same people who fund the Republicans; it’s just that the Republicans take nine times more of it (and that’s from the Independent Voters Network).

So let’s say the two candidates in your Congressional district are, hypothetically speaking, a  jackass idiot of a Democrat who can’t tie his shoelaces by himself and never worked a day in his life and a very nice, small businessman, moderate Republican. Who are you going to vote for?

Well, if you’re one of my friends, you’ll vote for the man, not the party—and that man happens to be a Republican.

The trouble is, it might be the wrong choice. Because that moderate Republican is going to be a junior Congressman in a system that is run by the parties. No matter what he thinks or cares about, he will either bow to the party’s agenda or he will get no support for re-election and he’ll face a primary contest from the right.

And that asshat Democrat? He, too, will be in a Congress that is run by the parties. Because he’s a Democrat, he’ll have some friends—the Blue Dog Democrats—and while he’ll get a chance to speak his mind, he will also be fairly quickly brought into line with the party’s agenda.

That’s why they call ‘em whips, folks.

And that’s why party matters. The party that’s in control of Congress also controls the agenda.

So what agenda are you voting for? It pays to know. You can read the party’s official platforms, Democratic and Republican.

In my perfect world, we’d have public campaign financing and limits on campaign spending; a limited campaign season; a return to the Fairness Doctrine; Instant Runoff Voting; and a multi-party system that required coalition building to form governments.

Under those circumstances, I’d probably be a Green or a Democratic Socialist. But that’s not the world we live in.

In the world I actually live in, it makes a great deal of difference to me which party is in power. Do I want the party that has consistently at least given lip service to equality for LGBT people; that has defended women’s access to reproductive health care, including abortion when necessary; that at least tries to restrict corporate power and that supports some modicum of environmental legislation?

Or do I want the party that has expressed, as its main goal, to make sure that President Obama only gets one term?

Yeah, go ahead; start screaming about how liberal I am. No one is surprised. Just don’t pretend that you’re an independent if you always vote for the same party’s candidates, and don’t pretend that it makes no difference. There is a big difference between the two parties. One of them is organized, on-message, and out to roll the clock back to the McKinley Administration. (Curious about what that means? I’ve attached a  .pdf copy of William Greider’s article on this subject to the post.)

The other is the Democratic Party. I don’t always like ‘em. I think they’re too damn timid and they don’t know how to stand up for themselves and for cryin’ out loud, can’t they communicate? I criticize ‘em a lot. But in the races where party counts—state and federal offices and legislatures—that’s how I’m voting.

Attached document: William Greider's article "Rolling Back the 20th Centruy" from The Nation, May 2003:

::posted by Kel Munger @ 2010-11-01 5:10 PM

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