Big Political Parties Are A Strong American Necessity
A political party is a group of voters organized to support certain public policies. The aim of political parties is to elect officials who will try to carry out the party’s policies. Political parties offer candidates for public office.
In the United States, we have two parties with federal representation (Republican and Democrat), along with two Independents in the Senate and one unaffiliated House member. There are 9 parties with state representation: Republican, Democrat, Vermont Progressive, Working Families, Conservative Party of New York, Independence Party of New York, Libertarian Party, Independent and Vacant.
Major political parties with independent state organization (on state ballots for national elections) in the country are Democratic, Republican, Libertarian, Green and Constitution. There are 31 other minor political parties in the country. Why do we need them in the United States?
The United States
The United States is a federal republic and a constitutional representative democracy. Federal is one of three basic types of organization of power along with unitary and confederal. Most nations are unitary in nature meaning they have local government with a powerful national government.
A confederation comprises several distinct, sovereign entities conceding some powers to a higher governmental authority. However, in principle, the lower authorities may withdraw at any time and the higher authority’s sovereignty is entirely dependent on the lower authorities.
The only examples we have today are the European Union, whose 27 member-states are sovereign, while the EU government in Brussels is dependent on the recognition of the member-states, and the Iroquois Confederacy. While Switzerland is officially called the Swiss Confederation, it is not actually that. Since at least the 1848 constitution, Switzerland has been a federal republic with the closest form of government to a direct democracy among the nation-states of the world.
Federal systems are common among large nations where several levels of government are needed. Australia, Canada and Brazil are federal as well. Federations do not always work, such as in the case of the United Arab Republic.
Republic implies that we have a strong head of state (the President) and elected officials representing the people. Constitutional Democracy means we have a constitution under which the people elect representatives to take care of legislative matters. Originally, the only part of the government that fit this description was the House of Representatives. Today, the Senate does too, and so does the Electoral College.
Note that a democracy, in the true sense of the word, does not protect the minority, as majority rules. The mere fact that a nation has a constitution, is a federation or is a republic, does not imply that minorities are fairly treated. It is the content of that constitution, and the values of that federation and/or republic that protects the rights of minorities. Amit Goel highlights important functions political parties play in our process.
Political Parties Make Government Possible
Political parties organize our directly-elected representatives based upon their platform. The electorate chooses their representatives on the basis of their candidate’s platform which often has commonality (not uniformity) with the larger party platform.
The party which gets the majority of votes forms the government and runs the state with the other parties acting as opposition all balancing their interests with that of government’s. In the absence of political parties, elected representatives work for themselves and their interests alone making government virtually impossible.
Political parties formulate public policy. Each political party fights in the election to achieve its objectives incorporated in their platform.
After the election, the majority party forming the government seeks to administer government on the basis of the platform. These policies are made with the interest of the general public in mind. It’s assured that the majority party gets the mandate of the electorate to implement its own platform which is why it’s important to vote if you generally agree with a party’s platform even if you disagree with the candidate they put forth.
Informing The Public
Parties in any system of government educate, formulate and organize the shaping of public opinion. They also help in the growth of the level of political consciousness of citizens.
Political parties hold public rallies, meetings, and press conferences on important issues and make their views clear. The parties make the public aware of the economic, social, and political condition of the country as they see it along with their voting rights. People who otherwise have no time to devote to politics immensely benefit, understanding different aspects of basic issues involved in the party platform.
Political parties unite, simplify and stabilize the political process of the country. Localism, regionalism, sectionalism and general “placism” (discrimination and prejudice based on place of residence) are tackled by the parties through absorption of issues into the general party platform thus pacifying the disintegrating forces and inducing cohesion.
Political parties perform the functions of an aggregate of interests. In a federal republic and constitutional democracy like ours, the parties maintain stability just by performing their roles in the legislature. The majority party forms the government and the other party(s) act in opposition.
If the party in power does not conduct itself responsibly or to the public’s satisfaction, the opposition party(s) have the opportunity to take over the reins of administration. Remember, opposition doesn’t just criticize the government, it also provides an alternative program and policies contributing to the stability of the government. Healthy opposition is very important for the success of western democracies.
The essential functionof political parties is to recruit people of integrity, quality, action, and leadership into their fold as members, preparing them for future election. These members of the party propagate the party’s ideology, discussing the important issues and holding meetings and press conferences to mobilize public support.
These leaders contest in elections and form government if elected to power. They are expected to understand the expectations of the public and formulate policy accordingly. Political parties gain popularity and recognition though their leaders.
Stronger Political Parties
People that judge the working of political parties in a more rational manner are less likely to get trapped with false promises. If voters are uneducated, political parties may mislead them to choose the wrong candidate. Political parties behave responsibly where the public in general are educated and politically conscious.
The answer is not to eliminate political parties, but to have more parties or to make the existing parties stronger. Without an organizing apparatus and platform of principles, we would not have any sort of Republic and certainly not any kind of democracy.