The trouble with parties is that they tend to replace reasoned discourse with groupthink. What results is a lumping together of disparate issues in a manner that is then offered to voters on a take-it-or-leave-it basis.
Thus, it’s highly unusual to find a Democrat who is in favor of reducing entitlement spending in order to beef up the military. And it’s highly unusual to find a Republican who is in favor of reducing military spending in order to beef up entitlements.
So, if you’re a Democrat, you can’t just talk about the thoughtfulness of your approach to issues. If you plan to gain support in the form of contributions from the Democratic Party, then you’d better be prepared to make promises about protecting the environment, protecting civil rights, embracing immigration, fighting corporate excess, and limiting the growth in military spending. Although I can think of no coherent ideological theme that would embrace all of these (Abraham Lincoln found it necessary to increase military spending greatly in order to protect civil rights), they are, at least in the year 2018, positions that must be embraced as a cluster by the vast majority of Democratic congressional candidates. Your failure to support any one of these positions could be used by a true Democratic believer to paint you as a Republican in sheep’s clothing.
If you’re a Republican, you’d better plan to support the recent tax cuts for business, increased spending for the military, construction of a border wall, and cuts to entitlement spending. Your failure to support any of those positions could be used by a true Republican believer to paint you as a Democrat in sheep’s clothing.
If you sign up for the Democratic party, but happen to believe that entitlement programs could be managed more efficiently, you’re likely to be hounded out of the party, because, to faithful Democrats, you appear to be calling for reduced entitlement spending. You’re not allowed to tinker with the cluster. All Democratic issues must be embraced.
And if you sign up for the Republican party, but happen to believe that military programs could be managed more efficiently, you’re likely to be hounded out of the party, because, to the faithful Republicans, you appear to be calling for reduced military spending. You’re not allowed to tinker with the cluster. All Republican issues must be embraced.
Okay. Maybe I’m exaggerating when I say that you’ll be hounded out of either party, but your pragmatic focus would make it unlikely that the hierarchy of either party would support your candidacy, if you chose to run for office.
So there’s no room in either party for reflection and rational thought. Once the cluster of issues has been adopted, you have to support them all.
Trouble is, it seems to take a party to win an election. How, then, do we move on to something better?
We do it as individuals: We the People. We say to each other, one individual at a time, that we will only support candidates who refuse to belong to parties. Instead, we look for candidates who promise to examine each issue in a manner aimed at serving their respective districts and the nation as a whole. These Spirited Reasoners are willing to state publicly that the party system will defeat those ends, since loyalty to one’s party may result in serving neither one’s district nor the nation as a whole.
This is something we can only change in the form of a movement. But I’m not advocating massive demonstrations. I’m talking about the kind of movement that caused this nation to shift from being a nation of smokers to a nation of non-smokers, from a nation of one-room schoolhouses to a nation of free public education for all. I believe we have the power to hold our politicians to a (much) higher standard.
A few members of Congress have already been elected without having to resort to party labels. It’s up to us to expand those numbers.