Several years ago, a woman, who would later become the first female governor of Oregon, snapped at my observation that politics would be better off without political parties. People should vote directly for candidates without needing approval from an “old boy” network, I said. She and I had always been on good terms, so I didn’t take her apoplexy personally. I simply ignored her wisdom.
Two writers, Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt, have put forward a defense of the party system that has opened my eyes. “How A Democracy Dies by Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt. (The New Republic, pgs. 18-23.) According to them, the parties of old acted as a filter for our democracy, vetting candidates based on background and experience, as well as ideology. Overtime, some people thought the process smelled too much of smoky, back rooms and demanded greater transparency. In response, both Republicans and Democrats turned to open primaries. But, transparency had its cost. A candidate no longer needed a record of service and loyalty to a party. One simply declared an affiliation prior to a primary. Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders took that route in 2016. Once on the ballot, a candidate was free to follow his or her predilections. Donald Trump certainly did, to the horror of the Republican leadership.
As my prescient friend, the one who would be governor, foresaw, open primaries weakened the system. By the time 2016 rolled around, she and I witnessed an election like no other.
Having been proved wrong, I still had hope. I’ve held fast to my belief our Constitution would save our democracy. But, Levitsky and Ziblatt wish to disabuse me of that hope. Many democracies began with constitutions fashioned on ours, they point out. The Philippines is one example. Yet, President Rodrigo Duterte, like Marcos before him, uses the democratic process to corrupt freedom. Nor will he be the last, I fear, to declare himself King of Kings through the ballot box.
Let’s be honest. No human system is fail proof. Look how Republicans reacted when Donald Trump placed his name on the ballot as a Republican. Many laughed. Yet, when the leadership feared he might be unstoppable, did they fall on their swords? No. They fell into line, accepted his profile as a gilt-edged tyrant because it was better to feed from his trough than from none at all. Had they been patriots, they would have put their country above politics and done the unthinkable. They would have backed Hillary Clinton. (Ibid, pg. 21) (Click for related story)
If the Congress can’t come to its sense, the voters must demand they do. Let us begin by insisting upon civility in governance. No more “call to arms” or rumblings about “political wars.” No more “contracts with America,” when it applies to only half the country. Let the redeyed men and women of the extreme right and left be gone. They have perverted politics into a religion of absolutes and the faithful are incapable of the simplest task: keeping the government open for business.