The American Family Gazette
Volume I, 0905
The answer to the question is, NO. But the question itself, Are we ungovernable, is the wrong one. The correct question should be, is either of our two major parties able to effectively govern on our behalf in today’s political environment?
Norman alludes to this in his response to Warren on 9/25: “. . .But it seems to me that today’s political configuration makes this sort of thing [deal making] harder than it used to be.” In truth, it is impossible and, as he points out, ideological purity, or conformity, is a principle reason why not.
So, ideological opposition is an obstacle to governing. But as Norman pointed out, this has been with us since the founding of the Republic. It is something we have lived with and governed in spite of; in some eras better than others. But in recent times, ideology has narrowed the “big tent” concept in both parties considerably. My conclusion is, as the result of this, governmental stasis and . . . political Independents; lots and lots of political Independents who are, in my analysis, dissatisfied with how their traditional ideological political representatives—the parties— are representing them. This may be summed up by saying that the parties ask for your trust—your vote— but they are failing in returning it with their loyalty—delivering good (effective) government. Nevertheless, just look at the incumbent reelection rate. It’s unbelievable, but explainable by considering just who the parties are governing for.
Who are the parties governing for, or at least trying to govern for? Ideology has an impact here as does two other considerations: Money and power. Today, politics needs money, huge quantities of money, to acquire and/or stay in power. Power is necessary to achieve political objectives (the biggest of which is to stay in office). The result is that parties govern to a large extent (a) for those who can best contribute to this objective of getting or staying in power, and then, (b) for themselves. Anything beyond that seems to be a collateral benefit.
Both these two conclusions, i.e., ideology and money & power, may seem like overly simple generalizations but they aren’t. They are the facts in the matter. They represent the root causes why neither party can effectively govern on our behalf in today’s political environment. They have long been impediments to good governing, but currently they are producing an impasse. I just might mention that in David Broder’s piece, “Mr. Policy Hits a Wall” I do not subscribe to Bill Schambra’s hypothesis that a comprehensive approach to government fits poorly because the Constitution apportions power among so many different players. That’s where we may be today, but I don’t believe you can’t blame that on the Constitution.
John paraphrased the basis in my book of a good, effective government: It is a philosophy of producing the greatest good for the greatest number, manifest in a policy of governing for (at least) most of the people all of the time and for all of the people at least most of the time. Think of this in the context of either of our major parties and the comments above. Are they able—or even interested in— governing in such a manner? Unless you dismiss my arguments here, it seems unlikely in either case. So, if this is the situation, the answer given at the beginning here, “NO” to the question, “are either of our two major parties able to effectively govern on our behalf in today’s political environment” seems conclusive.
Now admittedly, these few lines (for me!) do not do justice to my arguments put forth in sixteen chapter of a book about exactly this issue of can they or can’t they govern as I describe in the above paragraph and if they can’t, what are we to do? The short answer is we aren’t about to change our electoral system, so any changes (improvements) will have to do with the parties competing for “power.” This will also have to consider how they compete for power today which should have a significant impact on just who the parties govern for. My conclusion is they should try to govern for all of the people at least most of the time. Hence, we must rethink the means ($$$) to their ends (power).
Most of you will no doubt recognize the governing philosophy I stated as (classical) utilitarian in nature. To a large degree it is. Does this propose to make it non ideological? Yes and no. It proposes to take it off (as far as is possible) from the bipolar liberal to conservative spectrum. My examination of this whole issue suggests this is possible, and within our existing electoral and party system. It would mean mobilizing political independents into something they aren’t today—and which neither party wants to see! Today, political independents are the elephant in the room that neither party want to acknowledge as at least potentially a political force. But, come on: 35% to 40% of the electorate??? How long can or should you ignore it? Their answer: as long as the only practical alternative when voting is either Democratic or Republican. Hence the sub-title of the book:” An Independent political Option for America.”
Norman further opined in his 9/25 missive that, “. . .we—even we old men— may live to see the
Republican Party become nothing more than a regional faction frozen into a permanent minority.” I suggest, Norm, that you not hold your breath, even if you live long(er) and prosper, to quote Mr. Spock (sp?). Truth is our electoral system just naturally won’t tolerate such a situation, over time. What you might live to see is one or the other of our present parties “morph” into something else, as when the Republican party replaced the Whig party in the 1860’s. You might check Duverger’s law here if you want more info about this.
A word about capitalism and democracy: Let me just say here that I am basically a big booster of capitalism and free (as I define them) markets. None the less there are significant, even contradictory differences between the ideologies of capitalism and those of democracy. It is essential to recognize that democracy and capitalism, which we expect to coexist in mutual support of each other, have very different theoretical beliefs about the proper distribution of power.(in this sense, political parties fit more comfortably with capitalism than they do with democracy). To state it in its starkest form, capitalism is perfectly compatible with slavery, while Democracy, normatively, is not. The issue then becomes, how do we keep capitalism as democracy’s servant rather than its master? The financial power and breadth of capitalism’s ability to “influence” politics, and hence interfere with democracy, as established, is significant. Further, its significant inroads in acquired “rights” threatens to provide it with the power to both define and manage individual democratic procedures, if we are not more careful. The final chapter in the book, which some may find somewhat apocalyptic, deals with this issue in a way that I trust most can comprehend. Messrs. De Tocqueville, Marx, Hayek, Fried, Beckett and a band of wild pigs assist me in this endeavor.
Let me end this sermon with what I consider a critical point, or at least a potentially critical point: I make a big thing of the existence of political Independents, and especially of their growth to a significant part of the electorate over the past twenty or so years. We have had independents for decades, but we have more today and the proportion to the electorate as a whole is growing. Why? Why is this happening? Is it possible that this phenomenon is simply happening for no reason? The book delves into this issue in depth and again the long and short of it is that while there may be several reasons for it, it is not unreasonable to conclude that it represents—even if unconsciously—dissatisfaction with how the parties end up governing. But, how do these dissatisfied partisans express their dissatisfaction, aside from refusing to register as a supporter of the party? Currently, they have little or no alternative, if they want to see their vote count for something aside from an impotent protest. They vote one party or the other (the so-called leaners) and, for many, very probably because they have no Independent political option.
But, what if they did?