Would Scrapping Political Parties Eliminate America's Political Divide?
A public policy advocate believes partisanship will disappear if parties disappear. A prominent Florida political scientist doesn't share that hope.
In the wake of last month's election, many people are talking about ways to turn down the temperature of America's politics. One of them is Stuart-Sinclair Weeks. He has devoted his life to politics and public policy. You might say it's a mission he was born to.
"My grandfather was the chairman of the finance committee of the Republican National Party. He then became Eisenhower's secretary of commerce and was America's principal business spokesperson, so these are matters that have lain long in my heart."
Weeks is the founder of the Center for American Studies in Concord, Massachusetts. He's also one of the inaugurators of "We The People For President." He described that as an effort to revive public service by essentially doing away with the concept of political parties.
"In Washington's Farewell Address, our first president and father of our nation, offered the American people a dire warning. He spoke of the 'baneful effects of the spirit of party.' The Citizens' Movement to Revive the Spirit of Public Service takes Washington's words to heart. And indeed as independent voters outnumber Republicans and Democrats together, the partisan spirit, the spirit that has divided and would conquer us, has to be laid to rest."
Weeks proposes to abolish political parties altogether. He said this would help open the process of elections to anyone who wants to serve, thereby increasing the number of qualified candidates for office.
"Number one, we encourage people to introduce themselves; why they're stepping forward and to speak of their commitment to public service. Number two, to don the mantle, from dog catcher to president. Whatever. And in the case of a president, to preside."
Weeks asserted there would be no more need to mount expensive media campaigns or to compromise principles to bridge political divides. Because essentially, he insists, those divides would disappear. The best people for the job, he insisted, would naturally be chosen for office. And the others would most likely find other ways to stay involved in the public square.
"As long as one doesn't concern oneself with the final count, with the final vote. And just realizes we've got some catching up to do with Washington and Franklin. This is a work that needs to be done and as long as one gives it one's best, we can't lose."
But are Americans ready to lose the sharp political divide that was so evident in this year's elections? Carol Weissert, LeRoy Collins Eminent Scholar and Chair of Civic Education and Political Science at Florida State University, isn't so sure. She noted Floridians had one change to reduce partisanship during the election and turned it down. It was a proposed constitutional amendment that would let all registered voters cast primary ballots.
"The top-two primary that we didn't accept, but was a lot closer than I thought, was really designed to produce more moderate candidates because NPAs would be able to vote as well."
And while Stuart-Sinclair Weeks contends the idea of partisan strife was alien to the country's founders, Weissert noted vicious partisanship has been around almost since the beginning of the Republic.
"The election of 1800 was one of the meanest and vilest elections in the country and had a lot of misinformation and lies and there were Democratic newspapers and Republican newspapers. Although they weren't that at the time. They were Democratic-Republicans and Federalists."
Although Weissert believed today's politics is impacted by an even more potent force than newspapers; social media.
"With social media, it seems like there's a lot of misinformation that's intentionally put out there. And the studies that I'm seeing indicate that lies travel a lot faster and get a lot more hits on social networks than the truth. And that's a little troubling that we have this mechanism now in the history of this country that it's almost malicious information that's put out there, and that's really troubling."
Also different, thinks Weissert, is the fact that so many people now think of themselves almost exclusively in terms of their political affiliation.
"It's defining, you know. It's almost like, 'I'm a Democrat; therefore I believe in this,' rather than, 'I believe in this and therefore I'm a Democrat or I'm a Republican.' And so we're in these tribes so it's much more than a tribal rather than a party thing."
Can a grass-roots effort like "We The People For President" start bridging the political divide? Perhaps, although Weissert thinks some top-down-leadership might move things along faster in that direction.
"President Trump for whatever reason did not see it as his role to bring people together. It certainly didn't create this mess, but I don't think it helped it, either. So I think (Joe) Biden's on the right track. Whether it's going to succeed or not I don't know. I don't think we're going to turn this around quickly."
Still, Carol Weissert, Stuart-Sinclair Weeks and probably millions of other Americans seem to agree, you've got to start somewhere.