Monday, May 16, 2005

The future of parties

I was thinking today a lot about my recent postings on the Top Two primary, and the efforts of the parties to get rid of it, and the entire thought process crystalized for me when I read this from Andrew Rasiej, who is running for Public Advocate in NYC, and who spoke at the Personal Democracy Forum this morning:
We techno-politicos should instead be focusing on how we can restore health to our civic life — and in particular, how we can get more people connected to each other and their government to raise issues, share ideas and solve problems.

After all, there are lots of good reasons that most Americans hate politics. It’s been taken away from them and turned into a cynical game that is more focused on winning elections than getting things done, where tearing the other side down matters more than lifting ideas up, where people are treated as commodities, and the only ones who get any attention are the people who can pay to play.

Just replace "techno-politicos" with Democrats, and that is my point. Democrats should be all about getting people involved in civic life.

If you accept the theory (I got this from Bowling Alone) that because political involvement for most people has been reduced to check writing and voting, and that parties have been taken over by career proffesionals, then this passage from the NW Progressive Institute, arguing against the Top Two:
Voters should bear in mind that political parties provide important services to the democratic process (and that's why all democracies have them). Some of these services include organization, fundraising, candidate recruitment and training, and the development of stands on issues (a party platform) and the ability to help voters identify candidates with a particular set of positions.

If the parties wither away, other institutions will step in to fill the void.
It is true that parties play an important part in politics, democracy and civic life in general. But, if parties continue to push people out, that, not a type of primary voting, will kill them. What we need to do is not keep closing our doors, but take this opportunity to engage and move our party back into the public. The NWPI answers the question of what kind of institution will step in to fill the void of the parties:
...elections will degenerate into personality contests. Candidates who already have, or have the money to buy name recognition will enjoy a much greater advantage. Incumbents, celebrity candidates, and wealthy individuals will become more powerful. And the media would be in an even stronger position to promote their favorite candidates.
Forget Arnold, the future of campaigns won't be celebrity beauty contests. That would be true if the parties died off during the tv age, but the party-less campaign for the next age has already happened, and it work for a few months in 2003. People Powered Howard was a well funded example of how opening a campaign, and I would suggest an entire political party, would actually help that party.

No opposing the Top Two primary, or just opening up the nominating process and accepting the non-partisanship of Washington elections, is a step in that direction.

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