We have been told for decades that we need well informed, professional politicians to direct this great ship of state we call the United States of America. We have had professional politicians in charge consistently for over 100 years. During that time, we have seen liberties eroded and power concentrated. We have seen the Constitution ignored and pop-culture deified. Perhaps that explains the wholesale rejection of professional politicians in the now concluding Republican Presidential primary. All the professionals were rejected by the voters, even the good ones. It is time for Americans from both parties to admit that the professionals have completely lost touch with the people. Democrats are still reeling at the idea that their base (created by their policies) is far more radical than they had imagined. Hence the popularity of Democratic Socialist Bernie Sanders. Republicans are facing the reality that their voters are far angrier than they thought.
Does this spell the end of either or both of the major political parties? Not necessarily. The two party system was not developed by the professionals, it is a product of the people. Joseph Ellis reminds us that “The attempt to create a just Indian policy failed despite the best efforts of America’s most prominent political leaders to make it happen. The creation of a two-party system succeeded despite an entrenched resistance by virtually all the founders to its very existence.” In other words, when it comes to actually getting things done, the professional politicians are usually on the wrong side of history. Edmund Burke- 1770- argued that political parties not only were unavoidable products of representative government, but also performed valuable functions in orchestrating debate, much in the way that the adversarial system worked in legal trials.
Political parties should be viewed as a tool of debate and not allowed to make the voters the tools of the party. Our devotion must be to principle, not party. The two major parties in America have both done great harm to the Republic by using their power to stifle debate. As Patrick Henry exhorted his audience in the famous Liberty or Death speech, “in proportion to the magnitude of the subject ought to be the freedom of the debate.”
Someone once quipped that there are three kinds of people in the world. Those who make things happen, those who let things happen, and those who wonder what happened. Perhaps we now have an opportunity while both Parties are in group three to open up some real debate on important issues. Recovery of the Constitution requires an efficient use of political debate, and the two party system needs to return to that function.
Citation: Ellis, Joseph J. American Creation: Triumphs and Tragedies at the Founding of the Republic. New York, Alfred A Knopf. 2007.