Many years ago, I read George Washington's Farewell Address, and I was immediately struck by the prophecy of his words.
All obstructions to the execution of the Laws, all combinations and associations, under whatever plausible character, with the real design to direct, control, counteract, or awe the regular deliberation and action of the constituted authorities, are destructive of this fundamental principle, and of fatal tendency. They serve to organize faction, to give it an artificial and extraordinary force; to put, in the place of the delegated will of the nation, the will of a party, often a small but artful and enterprising minority of the community; and, according to the alternate triumphs of different parties, to make the public administration the mirror of the ill-concerted and incongruous projects of faction, rather than the organ of consistent and wholesome plans digested by common counsels, and modified by mutual interests.
However combinations or associations of the above description may now and then answer popular ends, they are likely, in the course of time and things, to become potent engines, by which cunning, ambitious, and unprincipled men will be enabled to subvert the power of the people, and to usurp for themselves the reins of government; destroying afterwards the very engines, which have lifted them to unjust dominion.
By the time I read this long ago, I had already left the Democratic Party (I've been a Republican at one time as well).
Washington's warning cemented within me a an already hardening distaste for political parties, which serve not even an ideological end, let alone more noble aims, but rather are purely filled with avarice. Cunning, ambitious and unprincipled indeed. Pick for me any Republican or Democrat of any real power in Washington or Albany today and you will have selected just such a man or woman. Their care is far more for the fate of the party than the fate of you or me.
The sole goal of the political party to which its insiders swear faithful allegiance is to preserve the party, to ensure party members win elections and gather unto themselves more power, money and influence to help others within the same party win more elections, and thus the cycle is perpetuated. Political parties are about winning elections, not serving the people.
It is indeed fortunate that our two party system has thus far prevented either party from gaining a despotic claim on the government, but it is equally true that the blind ambition of party loyalty has prevented many reforms and improvements, and it has also led to much corruption and dishonesty.
To help break the strangle hold today's political partisans have on our government, there are two basic reforms that should take place.
First, as a matter of privacy, bar the state registrar from asking for party affiliation. People must register to vote, but it should not be a matter of public record which party a person chooses to join. It is, in fact, an invasion of privacy to even ask the question. Stop asking the question.
The result, political parties will need to find private means to identify, retain and motivate party members. This will be harder work for the party bosses, and a good number of people will find it too much bother to associate with any party. This will be a good thing for democracy.
As for your right to be a member of a political party, why should it be any different from your right to be a Mason, or a Rotarian or a Methodist? When you join a political party, it should be a matter of joining that party -- signing a membership card, paying dues and attending meetings. Otherwise, stay home and watch TV. This would actually tend to make party membership more meaningful and lead to more active and diverse parties with greater participation, because members would actually feel like members, and those who opted out would not matter.
When political parties must actually compete in the open market place for members, then parties will need to better define their agendas, what they stand for and against and how they plan to get things done. Parties will need to better differentiate themselves, and third parties will have a greater chance to make their case with voters.
The second reform has to do with political primaries. Political parties are private organizations, so why do taxpayers fund their political primaries? The parties should hold their own caucuses and elections at their own expense and according to their own rules. It is neither the public's nor the government's business as to how and when parties select their standard bearers, so long as they have qualified candidates to represent them in general elections. We should stop wasting tax payer money on helping political parties select their candidates.
The end of publicly funded primaries would lessen the public attention on the two primaries, which will mean the leading candidates will have less publicity come time of the general election. This will mean that what we now call third party candidates -- who've already be given greater access to new party members by voter registration changes -- will have a better chance of getting their message before the voters.
Isn't it time we the people take power back from the political party elite?