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Understanding American Political Parties

Written by Bill Kendall

 

On the whole, Americans don’t appear to understand their country’s political system. This ignorance extends into the role of political parties and the election process itself. Consider just one aspect of the recent Presidential election; Hillary Clinton calling foul because she was not made President in spite of winning the popular vote. “Po, po pitiful me” she sang, calling for an end to the Electoral College. People who haven’t read and don’t understand the intent of the writer of the Constitution might sincerely believe that Clinton was screwed, all the more if she was their candidate. On the Democrat side, the candidate who got screwed was Bernie Sanders, that by collusion of Hillary Clinton and D.N.C chairwoman Debbie Wasserman-Schulz.

You can be certain that Clinton would have had no complaints if Donald Trump had won the popular vote and then lost the Electoral College vote. You can also be sure that she planned her campaign appearances with an eye on which states would land her the votes needed to win in the Electoral College, popular vote be damned. The Presidential election process is described in Article II, Section 1 of the U.S. Constitution. Don’t worry, it wasn’t written by the shysters who came up with the two thousand + pages of Obamacare. About one page long. Another popular misconception that may as well be cleared away now is the idea that the United States is designed to be a democracy a form of government in which “the majority rules.” In a pure democracy, the population would gather in the public square and promptly settle the issue of the day by a vote. Instead we live in a republic, the operation of which is described in the Constitution. More precisely, we live in a representative republic in which the minority retains certain rights and liberties regardless of what the majority wants. Elected representatives deliberate on the issues of the day and hopefully arrive at better decisions than a crowd of hotheads might reach in a moment of passion.

The Framers of the Constitution, well acquainted with the tendencies of humans to abuse power once they have it, designed a form of government which would divide power among competing interest in the hope that no individual or group would gain too much power and thus endanger or take away the rights and liberties of other individuals or groups. A proposed law which is passed by the House of Representatives may be rejected by the Senate or, even if both houses of Congress pass it, The President veto may be overridden however, by a prescribed process. (See article 1 Section 7). The Bill of Rights, i.e. the first ten Amendments to the Constitution reveal the Founders fear of those in government who would be pleased to trample the rights of individuals.

See for example Article IV of the Bill of Rights written to protect individuals against unlawful searches and seizures. Likewise, in the case of the aforementioned Electoral College, the interests of states having small populations are protected from dominance by states having large populations. Electors are assigned to each state in a number which corresponds to the number of Representatives (by population) plus the number of Senators, i.e. always two. Thus, the power of less populous states is enhanced lest they be steamrolled by the more populous states.

Just as Americans have been barraged with assertions that the United States was establishes as a democracy and that the Electoral College is hopelessly antiquated and unfair they are also given to believing that their country runs on a two-party system. The best we can hope for is that some rare marginally useful idea of a third party may be incorporated into the party platform of one of the two major parties. You may have also been told this whopper: The Democrats are the party of the working-class people and the Republicans are the party of the rich.

If you have been led to believe any of the aforementioned assertions you may be stunned to learn that the Constitution makes no mention of political parties; nothing chiseled in stone or written on parchment or discovered in the penumbra of methane emissions found under the robe of Supreme Court Justice by way of spectroscopic analysis. Nor has it been impossible for a third party to gain powers.

The obvious example is the brand new Republican Party which got Abraham Lincoln elected in 1860. Since then, no third party candidate has been elected President but several third party Presidential candidates have garnered noteworthy voter support when one considers the huge campaign war chests of their opposition in the Democrat and Republican parties: Theodore Roosevelt running as the Bull Moose Party candidate, Eugene McCarthy of the Peace and Freedom Party, George Wallace running on the American Independent ticket, Ralph Nader as the Green Party candidate and Ron Paul of the Libertarian Party.  Third party candidates have had more success running for offices below that of President and Vice President. Former Minnesota Governor Jesse Ventura achieved office as an independent as did the current Alaska Governor, Bill Walker.

From that we can deduce that Americans, on average don’t find themselves much better represented by one party or the other. Or we could just as well say that we can count on being screwed equally well by either party. Case in point: Illegal immigration. Flooding the country with huge populations of illegal immigrants displaces working Americans with people who are willing to take their job at lower wages. Since illegal immigrants are happy to take advantage of a very generous social welfare system Americans must pay higher taxes to cover the cost of those benefits. President Trump’s attempts to stem the flow of illegal immigration have been viciously opposed by both Republicans and Democrats. Which party serves American workers or for that matter American employers who would prefer to hire their fellow Americans.? Neither.

Let us now consider that tired cliché: “Democrats are the party of the working class and Republicans are the party of the rich.” Public school children are frequently fed this line by their teachers who happen to be members of the American Federation of Teachers or the National Education Association, i.e., union members. Adults will often hear this assertion from members of a public employees’ union or a member of a trade union. “Working class” people hugely outnumber the “rich” so that we would expect that elected Democrats would vastly outnumber elected Republicans if the cliché was true. In reality the numbers of elected Democrats and Republicans run more or less neck and neck.

Consider another case in point: Trade Treaties such as NAFTA (The North American Free Trade Agreement). NAFTA, CAFTA, SHAFTA and DEWEY-HAFTA are well supported by both the Democratic and Republican parties. Americans have figured out that these treaties invariably result in American jobs being shipped to other countries which, also seem adept at blocking American products so that the promised benefits to this country fail to materialize. The worst of the trading partners is China which feels the most free to steal technology from the American manufactures they lure into moving to their country and the most free to ship goods tainted with toxic substances i.e. lead in glazed pottery.

Past Administrations and Congresses have shown a lack of will to require the Chinese to play fair in order to enjoy the benefits of “free trade.” The Clinton Administration allowed Loral (a space technology corporation) to sell missile guidance technology to China. Whether directly from China, or through an intermediary such as Pakistan or Iran, the technology is in the hands of the North Koreans who now are threatening South Korea, Japan, Guam, Hawaii and the U.S. West Coast with their nukes. How smart is that? Don’t blame just Demo on this. The trail of treason goes back to at least Richard Nixon who reopened trade with China in the 1970’s.

You may be surprised to know that some of the Founding Fathers feared the damage that political parties might do to the new nation. Alexander Hamilton, James Madison (called the Father of the Constitution) and John Jay wrote a series of essays to promote the Constitution. These essays known collectively as “the Federalist Papers” also addressed potential problems with the new Constitution and objections to it. Hamilton, in Federalist #1 expresses a fear off the spirit of intolerance shown by political parties, the habit of imparting wrong motives to the opposition and that a desire to become popular as defenders of the peoples’ rights provides a mask for demagogues who are apt to become tyrants.

In Federalist #10 expresses the concern that a party is motivated by the self-interest of its members and not necessarily by the overall good of society.

With the election of Donald Trump, we see the worst of party spirit in effect in that both parties are intent on defeating him (even though he ran as a Republican).  Every demagogue in either party is out to take a cheap shot at him with no concern to the best interest of the public at large. The possible exception is Rand Paul who is the architect of the “buy whatever medical insurance you like wherever you can find it” cure to Obamacare.

About the author

Bill Kendall

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