In the United States political parties and elections are the basis for forming our democratic way of life. A party is a group of people that share common ideas and direction within the government. Generally a party nominates a candidate whom they feel will do the best to ensure the principles and values of their party are reflected in government. Political parties are then responsible for campaigning their candidate and then voting him/her into position of power. In his book Why Parties? John Aldrich explores the history, formation, and importance of political parties to democracies.
One of his main arguments is that democracies are unable to work unless they have some type of political party system in place. Aldrich argues that parties are essential for accountability. There is no way to hold one single person accountable for the actions taken by the president, House, and Senate. Blame or praise cannot be given to a single person based on actions that were implemented as a whole. Therefore political parties are the sole institution to accept accountability for events that were a collective effort.
Aldrich also states his observation that political parties are a product of “the politician”. He claims that parties are simply vehicles used by politicians to obtain their own goals and ambitions. He also states that some politicians are only using the partisan goals of the party to put them in a position to accomplish their more fundamental goals. Politicians can only achieve their goals when their political party is efficient at solving problems that would take longer through other means. Aldrich makes the point that technology is one of the major forces that sculpt the nature of parties.
For example campaigns have changed drastically over the past few decades as means of communication change drastically. In the past the only way to organize mass elections was through political parties. In today’s technologically advanced society individuals are able to campaign for themselves through television, internet, phone, radio, and many other ways. This leads us to ask the question how will campaigns and political parties continue to change and reshape themselves with the further advancement of technology?
In his article Aldrich also points out that in a heterogeneous republic a major threat to its survival is not how to stop a majority but how to create any majority strong enough to come together and solve problems. This is where political parties come in to play. Parties form a cohesive entity that connects the individual to the government as well as recognizing the diverse interests of its members. Aldrich suggests that each elected official serves as a “nucleus” of the party. In order to form a strong party each of the “nuclei” must be connected by supporting each other’s ambitions and partisan efforts.
He also states that if a party is weakened then it is due to the current elected officials not supporting each other’s objectives. Thus being said then how can we elect officials with differing ideas within the same party and expect the party to remain strong even if politicians of the same party do not support each other? Aldrich attempts to explain the purpose of parties by saying that they are constructed to solve problems that have been either overlooked or thrown out by current politicians. They help achieve the parties big picture goals and attempt to maintain or build a policy majority in the government.
However, problems arise that hinder seekers of office from getting elected and so politicians turn to their political parties to ameliorate these road blocks in their campaigns. Responsible party government is somewhat of a joke to voters and political scientists. However in his article “Responsible Party Government in America” White says that many academics argue saying that responsible party government is indeed possible. He claims that the main barricade hindering responsible party government is the voter.
The voter has historically had a dislike for political parties wanting a more responsible government without the internal power struggles that come with parties. In the article by White it explains that the American Political Science Association stated that the Committee on Political Parties “should center its attention on the conditions and improvement of national party organization”. By doing this White feels that we will be headed to a more responsible party government. Although this report was written over 50 years ago political scientists feel that it shows insights that are as important now as ever.
In order to accomplish this goal the Committee on Political Parties suggested implementing and promoting party conventions and selecting national committee members at these conventions. They also suggested strengthening the Republican and Democratic Parties by basing their conventions and committee selection to reflect party strength and on population. The committee would also like to see the two major parties update their headquarters and operations. Also they hope that congress will stop relying on the seniority system to choose committee chairman in an effort to find the best person for the position rather than longest on the job.
In the article white also argues that in order for a party system to be effective responsibility is equivalent to accountability. In order for the party to be a success it must not only propose programs but party members must commit to the programs themselves before advocating them. Also the parties must have enough internal unity to put the programs into action. White claims that when these things are not shown by parties elections become “devoid of meaning”. The article states that the Committee views elections as vague promises of the future and voters evaluations of the candidate at the time with their opinions based on the close past.
In light of these facts how do we as Americans change or adapt our party systems to ensure elections are not meaningless? Over the years there have been numerous polls asking Americans whether or not they approve of divided party government. The poll statistics vary which White says is caused by the voters’ contradictory feelings towards the government. The appeal of a divided party government has strengthened over time. White claims that divided government results in parties acting differently than expected. The Committee on Political Parties says that the majority power is braodly responsible for government management.
The future of responsible party government is in our hands to further. White believes that it is crucial to reconsider past arguments that may have more clout in today’s political society. He states that it is not worthwhile to try to sculpt an ideal political world but rather to evaluate it as is and determine if responsible party government is a reasonable idea. White is optimistic about this and feels that it is closer than it was years ago. Is American ready and willing to make these changes to its political party system? If not when will the time come and what needs to happen for it to be put into motion?