The Party System Is Here To Stay

Over at Forbes, Paul Johnson is talking down the whole party system:

“What we in the West should be considering is to what extent we can get along without highly organized and all-powerful political parties or, at the least, how we can reduce their influence. Why shouldn’t we encourage more independent individuals to run for election? What role do independents have to play in parliaments and congresses in the 21st century? For the last two centuries political parties have increasingly dominated our legislatures, formed our governments and shaped our societies. But if they are such successful and indispensable institutions, why are they so corrupt? Is it wise to seek to export this party tradition to the fledgling democracies we’re trying to set up in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere? After all, in Israel–which is a genuine democracy–the overfragmented party system is an obstacle to good and stable government.

These and related questions ought to be taken up and debated in the media, think tanks and university political science departments. We should not take the defeatist line that we’re stuck with the old party system for all eternity.”

Of course, “we’re stuck with the old party system for all eternity,” because except in very rare cases, independent candidates just can’t be competitive.

The two big parties have loyal blocks of voters, the ability to generate massive amounts of cash and publicity, and they’ve proven over and over again that they can compete. It’s almost impossible for independents to have any sort of chance unless they’re rich enough to self-finance their own campaigns and have also somehow acquired huge name recognition.

Once they get beyond those problems, which would probably screen out 99.9% of the independent candidates, then they have to be able to tell the voters where they stand on a vast array of issues while simultaneously explaining why their stances make more sense than those of the Democratic and Republican candidates. That would be no easy feat, since the voters they’d have the best chance at bringing on board en masse, independents, tend be all over the map with their political views.

That’s why the same thing would happen with independent candidates that has happened with third party candidates. If the candidates make an impact at all, what they end up doing is drawing off support from one side or the other, which leads to the candidate who has the least in common with them winning the election. In short, their candidacies almost always end up either being completely irrelevant or counterproductive.

So, unless some major changes are made to the way we conduct elections in this country, very, very, few independent candidates will have a chance to be viable…and that’s probably a good thing.

The party system may not be perfect, but it’s not bad. It’s like that old Winston Churchill quote about democracy:

“Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except all those others that have been tried from time to time.”

Same goes for the party system. It probably is the worst way of coming up with candidates for office, except for all the others.

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