One of the signs some people point to as evidence that our society is going the wrong way is the polarization in politics, particularly at the federal and state level. Almost everything seems to go on straight, or nearly straight, party-line votes. Rarely is any legislation bipartisan.
There are probably several reasons for this phenomenon and it may not be further evidence of the degeneracy of our society. An article that appeared in the Review section of the Wall Street Journal for the weekend of April 22 and 23 mentioned one plausible reason.
This writer suggested that it is due to the decline in political party power.
Personally, I am not a fan of political parties, and I think I am in good company. George Washington didn’t like them either. He called them “factions.” When he was elected president he picked men from both political parties, that were forming at the time, for his cabinet. This resulted in some men on his cabinet who hated each other, but Washington was a strong enough leader to herd cats.
The writer of this article suggested that the weakening of the two major political parties has allowed the most extreme voices on both sides of the isle to rise to the top. Much as I don’t like political parties, he convinced me that he may be right.
He cites the rise of the primary system as the principal driver of political party decline. Back before there were primaries, party leaders chose the candidates their particular parties were going to run. There was plenty of political pushing and shoving, but getting the nomination meant you had a majority of party stalwarts on your side. Actual Democrats and Republicans chose who would be the Democrat and Republican nominees.
That changed after the election on 1968. Hubert Humphrey was chosen as the Democrats’ nominee via the standard smoke-filled room process. Party activists, who were not in these smoke-filled rooms were livid and that led to the Democrats going to a primary system. Republicans ended up doing the same.
The primary system, according to this writer, boosted each party’s extremists. They, not party leaders, choose the nominees. Candidates from the parties’ extreme fringes often get nominated and those that get elected are tend to be careful to please the fringe out of fear of facing a primary challenge before the next election. This is why Arizona’s Senator Kyrsten Sinema bolted from the “Democratic” Party and became an independent. The extreme left was angry at her for joining Senator Joe Manchin, of West Virginia to oppose some of Joe’s spending blowouts. For this, she knew she was going to face the wrath of her party’s extremists and a primary challenge from the left. So, she became an independent so she could run without first facing a primary.
Another thing, according to this writer, is that candidates are less dependent on their respective parties for campaign financing. Political action committees (PACs) and very deep pocketed donors, like billionaire George Soros have made party financing of secondary importance. These folks usually represent extremes of the left and right, so they will be financing like-minded candidates.
The writer believes that lots of small donations generated by the Internet also favors people who favor extreme positions.
The result is that the people who get nominated and elected tend to represent their parties’ extremes, not their middle. These are also folks that are more likely to just scream at each other.
Ah, this kind of makes me nostalgic for the days of smoke-filled rooms.