The Detrimental Effects of Political Parties on American Democracy
“If I could not go to heaven but with a party, I would not go there at all.”
– Thomas Jefferson (Letter to Francis Hopkinson, 1789)
Multiple fundamental flaws are incorporated in the American Constitution. Many—States’ rights, the legality of slavery, the American tendency toward isolation—have been resolved through legislation, conflict and or political evolution. However, the dominance of two political parties—or the presence of any political parties at all—is an issue of utmost importance that must be considered by the American people. James Madison, in his The Federalist, No. 10, wrote: “A zeal for different opinions … an attachment to different leaders … or to persons of other descriptions … have, in turn, divided mankind into parties, inflamed them with mutual animosity, and rendered them much more disposed to vex and oppress each other than to co-operate [sp] for their common good.” The American political tendency toward partisan alignment must be revolutionized; without such an improvement to our political fabric, democracy itself is at risk.
George Washington, in his famous Farewell Address, also considered the topic of political parties. “The common and continual mischiefs of the spirit of party are sufficient to make it the interest and duty of a wise people to discourage and restrain it,” he said. He, Madison and Jefferson vehemently objected to the divisions caused by parties. However, parties have taken a firm grip on American politics, threatening to unravel the threads of our political tapestry. But why? The answer lies in the machinations of modern politicians. While the American people are disgusted with partisan politics, as evidenced by the growing support of third-party candidates in recent Presidential elections, restrictions such as the 15% Barrier and the lack of funding to lesser-known candidates results in little, if any, public exposure for candidates outside Washington’s inner circle. Indeed, it is virtually impossible for a third-party candidate to win major political office. The last viable Presidential candidate from either major party was Theodore Roosevelt in 1912. Since, only Ross Perot has truly competed in a Presidential race, winning 18.9% of the popular vote in the election of 1992.
The two major American political parties hold our citizenry hostage. Jean-Jacques Rousseau, in his Social Contract, wrote: “[W]hen factions arise … the will of each of these associations becomes general in relation to its members … it may then be said that there are no longer as many votes as there are men, but only as many as there are associations. The differences become less numerous and give a less general result … in this case there is no longer a general will…” Rousseau’s most important point throughout the work is the importance of the general will as determined by the votes of each citizen. He notes, however, that factions—political parties—destroy the validity of the general will. If the essence of the body politic is contaminated, how, then, is the government valid? In short, it is not. The government is controlled not by the people, but instead by the dominating whims of political parties formed by the alliances of our elected officials. The people are forced to choose between one of two feasible candidates for President, and most other elected offices. Indeed, the Democratic and Republican Parties have eliminated the citizens’ right to choose. Election reform must be instituted to rein in our two political parties, a system that has proven detrimental to the political climate of our nation. The stains on our political tapestry must be cleansed before bipartisan politics tears it asunder.
We must change nearly every aspect of American politics, from the nature of modern debates—most minor candidates are barred from participation as a result of the 15% Barrier—to campaign funding—due to the incredibly high cost of television ads, travel and other political expenses, low funding prevents candidates from spreading their message—and everything in between. These policies of the modern political machine prevent many potential candidates from bidding for public office, a policy that is contrary to the law of the Constitution itself. This machine must be dismantled—otherwise its tendency to smolder might burst into flame and devour the tapestry that is our political cloth.
Political parties are no longer necessary in America. While the Democratic Party threw most of its weight behind Hillary Clinton in the 2008 Primary Election, Barack Obama won the contest, in part due to his use of the Internet. This illustrates that in the Information Age, parties are no longer integral in the education of our people. All the information we need to educate ourselves is at our fingertips, proving that the political party is no longer necessary for the citizenry to properly select a candidate. Indeed, with this function nullified, parties have no purpose in modern America, and therefore should logically be removed from the political system. While detractors may allege that a multiparty system will not work here, the governments of Japan and India, where multiple parties have contributed to a rich political climate, are a perfect example of successful governments without the detrimental effects of limited political choice.
The party is unnecessary to the modern political climate of the United States. Furthermore, it is detrimental to the American people, in that it limits the political freedoms of the citizens. The political party has been criticized since the dawn of Democracy, and, while marginally beneficial on the surface, in the end, causes deeper harm to the American political system. Because of this, we must abolish political parties—we must return political freedom to the hands of the People. As Jefferson wrote in his Letter to John Dickinson, “The greatest good we can do our country is to heal its party divisions and make them one people.”
Jefferson, Thomas. Letter to Francis Hopkinson. 1789. Paris, France.
Madison, James. “Federalist No. 10.” Daily Advertiser [New York City] 22 Nov. 1787.
Washington, George. Washington’s Farewell Address. Comp. Charles W. Eliot. American Historical Documents. Vol. 43. The Harvard Classics. New York: P.F. Collier & Son, 1909-1914.
“1992 Presidential General Election Results.” Atlas of U.S. Presidential Elections. Ed. David Leip. 2005. 8 Jan. 2009 <http://www.uselectionatlas.org/>.
Rousseau, Jean-Jacques. The Social Contract. Trans. Maurice Cranston. New York: Penguin Classics, 1969.
Jefferson, Thomas. Letter to John Dickinson. 23 July 1801. The Writings of Thomas Jefferson. New York: Paul Leicester Ford, 1892-99.