16 May 2010

Primaries Push Partisan Politics

One of the arguments against the need of a new political party is the assertion that party primaries make a new moderate party unnecessary. As the argument goes, since political parties have primaries, the voters get a say in who a party nominates, thereby removing the need for a new, moderate political party.

Such an argument fails in reality. Political party primaries tend to favor the extremes of each party, as the voters in the primaries are self-selected and do not represent the needs or desires of those in the middle. Party primaries are dominated by activists with an agenda, who prefer purity to the advancement of the common good. This phenomena is present in both the Democratic and Republican parties.

As a result, party primaries tend to push the candidates to the extremes. Combine with gerrymandered districts, and you have removed a majority of Americans from effective political decision-making. Unfortunately for the rest of us, the sensible, pragmatic, common-sense, moderate majority are the ones who are excluded.

Take at look at the results of the primaries so far. Here in Texas, the relatively moderate Hutchinson was defeated by the more conservative Perry. In Connecticut, Lieberman was forced out of the Democratic party by the far left. In Florida, Christ was forced out by the far right. This Tuesday, it is anticipated that the party extremes will triumph in the party primaries.

While these results will please those seeking howling to run out the "DINOs" and "RINOs" of their own parties, the impact is that fewer politicians who seek compromise and the common good are in office. This will have further implications down the road, as like-minded moderates decide to not even bother to run. Self-reinforcing behavior will magnify, and the "conventional wisdom" will determine that the only way to win will be to pander to the extremes.

Must the end result be the transformation of our nation-wide politics to that of California? Politics there has become toxic, with extremely gerrymandered districts ensuring that the only competition occurs in the primaries, where candidates seek support from foaming-at-the-mouth party activists.

Somewhere, I guess, Tom Delay and Howard Dean are smiling, but these developments should give the rest of us no joy.


d.eris said...

And yet, Lieberman still won. And Crist is running as an independent himself, apparently at least partly on Lieberman's advice.

Ironically, considering the fact that so many people council primary challenges over a third party run, it might be the case that the polarizing effects of these primaries leads to successful third party and independent candidates. Ballot Access News recently ran a summary of an analysis showing that thirds and indies tend to do better in times of strict ideological cohesion between the two major parties.

Septimus said...

Right. There is less and less room within the entrenched parties for moderate leaders. Both seem determined to push to the edges, leaving moderates to operate outside of the two-party system.

In the past, one party or the other corrected their course, but that is not happening now. The question is, why not? Why the takeover by the special interests now?

I think the answer lies in a combination of safe seats, the media, and that big business needs a place to put their money, as they have become dependent on big government to protect and fund them.

Dale Sheldon-Hess said...

What do you mean by "corrected their course"? What they did was one of two things: appropriate a populist ground swell (see: People's Party, Silver Democrats), or collapse, die, and get replaced (see: Whig, Republican).

This time, what's happening is the Republican party is appropriating the Tea Party. Same as it ever was.