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Party Politics in the United States

By Sam Blumenfeld
Printed in Practical Homeschooling #83, 2008.

Although George Washington tried to discourage the creation of “party spirit” (meaning political factions), it was inevitable that politicians would line up against one another along ideological lines.
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Sam Blumenfeld

If you want to become politically active or run for office, you will have to join a political party. True, you can run as an Independent, but you will not get many votes unless you have high recognition nationally and in your community. Also, some states place great obstacles to independent candidacies. State legislatures are run by political parties, and they don’t like competition from independents.

The two-party system has been an American political fixture virtually from the very beginning of our political life. Although George Washington tried to discourage the creation of “party spirit” (meaning political factions), it was inevitable that politicians would line up against one another along ideological lines.

Our two dominant parties generally represent the opposing tendencies of our fundamental political philosophy: between those who believe that the government that governs best adheres to the principles of a Constitutional republic by governing least, and those who believe that government should actively do more to advance the welfare of the people, such as in a European-style Social Democracy. In short, the battle is basically between those who want less government in our lives, and those who like government power and want a lot more of it.

The Founding Fathers were so concerned with preserving individual freedom in America that they crafted a form of government with checks and balances to prevent any despot from becoming a dictator. Added to the Constitution was a Bill of Rights to make sure that politicians could not legislate beyond the limits set by our fundamental law.

The result is that we have a Constitution that George Bernard Shaw characterized as a “Charter of Anarchism.” He said in a lecture in 1933 that we had “a political party machinery of legislatures and senates, which was so wonderfully devised that when you sent in one body of men to govern the country, you sent in another body of men along with them to prevent their doing it.”

Today, we call that situation “gridlock.” Gridlock currently is the main recourse the American people have to prevent laws being passed that go beyond what is acceptable to any large segment of our population.

Today, party politics has been intensified by the extensive use of the electronic media. Radio, television, and the Internet have transformed politics into an ongoing debate between candidates and party policies. The media must fill their time with entertainment of all kinds, and politics has become a kind of intellectual entertainment. The Sunday morning talk-shows are supposed to educate the viewers, but they’ve actually become showcases for political personalities and panelists.

Journalists appearing on television are now celebrities with views we all take seriously. Because politics has been transformed into a kind of entertainment, even Hollywood stars have been putting their two cents into the political fray, though their input has been generally pretty superficial.

In any case, an organized political party is the best way to get involved in politics. Every community has its Democratic or Republican town committee. An aspiring homeschooled politician will want to get to know these individuals. You must start locally before you can become known to the state party officials. If they like you, they will back your candidacy.

If you don’t like what the two major parties stand for, there are always the smaller third parties. Some of these third parties can have a strong influence on the major parties. For example, the Socialist Party, which offered the never successful candidate Norman Thomas for many decades, eventually influenced the ideology of the Democratic Party. Today, the Democrat Party espouses many programs originally suggested by the Socialist Party.

Likewise, the Libertarian Party and the U.S. Taxpayer’s Party have had a strong influence on the Republican Party by emphasizing individual rights, low taxes, and smaller government.

Then, there are the spoiler parties, such as Theodore Roosevelt’s Bull Moose Party and Ross Perot’s Reform Party. In both cases, by dividing the Republican vote they permitted the Democrats to gain the Presidency. Thus, the Bull Moose Party, which in 1912 split the Republican party and prevented Howard Taft from winning a second term, gave us liberal Woodrow Wilson, the Income Tax, and the Federal Reserve System. Ross Perot’s candidacy prevented Republican George H.W. Bush from winning a second term and gave us liberal Democrat Bill Clinton.

The reason why these smaller parties do not succeed in replacing any of the major parties is that they cannot raise the kind of funds that the major parties can. Big donors to political parties give money because they want access to political power in Washington.

So if you want to get involved in politics, you’ll have to make some important choices, and the earlier you start, the better.

Education expert Same Blumenfeld’s Alpha-Phonics reading program is available Here. His latest book, The Marlowe-Shakespeare Connection, is about the Shakespeare authorship mystery.

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