Political Parties

Much has been made this election cycle of the influence of the “political establishment.”

On the Democratic side, some are arguing that unpledged delegates – “super delegates” – are polluting the democracy of the system. On the Republican side, at least one candidate has been crying foul over party rules, and it certainly does seem like there’s been a concerted effort by the Republican establishment to prevent the nomination of the current party frontrunner.

My impression is that most people’s opinion on this topic is driven largely by how a party is treating their favored candidate. A reasonable reaction, I think – as a general rule, things seem fair when you’re winning and unfair when you’re not.

But, this debate introduces a more broadly interesting question: what should the role of parties be in a democratic society?

While the role of a political party in determining its candidates is arguably less than democratic, there’s simultaneously something laughable about outrage over their influence. That is – this is exactly the way U.S. political parties are supposed to work.

Our political parties are not unbiased voices of the the people – they are organizations, designed to advance a given platform.

Again, one may still have qualms with the democratic nature of this system – there’s no democracy in system where the only choices are Pepsi and Coke – but this is the way our system is designed to work.

And that’s not inherently a bad thing. Representative democracy is more than a practical alternative to pure democracy – there are, in fact, some benefits to a system which (thoughtfully) aggregates the breadth of public views.

It strikes me that, as much as the party infrastructure is decried as unjust, the real problem here is that – in the United States – we are deeply entrenched in a two-party system. No doubt Parliamentary systems have their own challenges – but this is a big challenge of the U.S. system.

The problem, that is, isn’t that political parties have too much power over who their nominees are – it’s that a dramatically sparse field of political parties have too much power over our system.


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