Political Parties Are No Longer Engines Of Democracy
Yaël Ossowski - Tue 10:26 AM 09/11/2012
Twice now, visible to all on national television, Americans have witnessed a democratic process snuffed by inner political party elites.
First came the complaints of grassroots conservative activists in Tampa, Fla., at the Republican National Convention, upset by the national committee’s maneuvering granting future presumptive nominees the prerogative to choose their own slate of delegates to attend conventions and support their nomination.
Detractors used every parliamentary action possible, even bringing up a vote, but eventually had their voice quashed by Republican House Speaker John Boehner, who refused to recognize the opposition to the rule changes later adopted to the party’s platform. It was labeled an ultimate “power grab” by critics.
Then on Wednesday night at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., delegates witnessed their own power grab when asked to consider two motions packaged together as one amendment to the party’s platform.
The first stipulated that the city Jerusalem be the recognized capital of Israel, even though practically all international embassies are housed in Tel Aviv. This is often a point of contention with Palestinians, who intend to claim the city as their own for a future state, as agreed upon in ongoing negotiations between Arab and Israeli leaders. Observers claim the issue was brought forth to appease Jewish voters.
The second motion reinserted references to God in the national platform, which had been previously striped by Democratic delegates on the platform drafting committee.
Much like the RNC vote chaired by Boehner, the DNC head, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, refused to cede the win to those opposing the changes after three consecutive voice votes, which Villaraigosa awkwardly demanded after each undesired result. “You’re gonna have to let them do what they do,” said one Democratic Party secretary, as captured by the onstage microphone.
Villaraigosa eventually ruled to adopt the amendment despite the obvious opposition by the voting delegates.
Georgetown University law professor Jonathan Turley described it well.
“The message was clear that the delegates are just a backdrop to be used by party leaders to celebrate their reign,” Turley wrote on his blog, decrying the party’s “illusion of democracy.”
After 223 years of political experimentation, the average U.S. citizen finds himself presented every four years with only two dominant parties for the nation’s highest office. These two parties control the debate and monopolize the political process, often barring smaller parties from ever receiving significant exposure or ballot access.
In fact, the last American president to be elected to office without the Democratic or Republican label was Zachary Taylor of the Whig Party in 1849, when only 30 states made up the union and the biggest political issue was carving up free or slave territories that had been annexed as a result of the Mexican-American War.
Since that time, these two political parties have been the only vehicles for power and democracy, now openly preferring the former over the latter, as evidenced by both political conventions in Tampa and Charlotte.
And this is not a concern newly forged in the 21st century.
“There is nothing which I dread so much as a division of the republic into two great parties, each arranged under its leader, and concerting measures in opposition to each other,” wrote future President John Adams in 1780. “This, in my humble apprehension, is to be dreaded as the greatest political evil under our Constitution.”
It seems that he may have been before his time.
“The alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge, natural to party dissension, which in different ages and countries has perpetrated the most horrid enormities, is itself a frightful despotism,” wrote President George Washington in his 1796 farewell speech.
In this presidential election, I urge my fellow citizens to inform themselves of all candidates running, not just those presented on the nightly news and seen on the front page of the national newspapers. Tuning out all other views and candidates only serves to limit the political discussion.
The future of the republic, and democracy itself, may be at stake.
Yaël Ossowski is the Florida Bureau Chief for Watchdog.org. Watchdog.org is a collection of independent journalists covering state-specific and local government activity. The program began in September 2009, a project of Franklin Center for Government & Public Integrity, a 501(c)3 non-profit organization dedicated to promoting new media journalism.