The qualifying period for the general election in Louisiana ended last week, and the slate of candidates that will appear on the October 24 ballot next month has been set. However, there’s an ocean of difference between the candidates who “qualified” for the election this fall by simply signing-up, and those who are the best candidates for the position because they can solve the problems facing our community – instead of just complaining about them, or stating the obvious with more speeches and empty promises.
And over the next 30 days or so, there will be lots of news reports, billboards, yard signs, radio and television commercials, and door-to-door canvassing of neighborhoods to inform the voters, so that “we the people” can elect the best candidate for each office, and not merely a qualified one.
But that means that “we the people” must show up. Did you know that only about a third of Louisiana’s voters voted in the last gubernatorial election in 2011? It’s estimated that only 1 million of Louisiana’s 2.8 million registered voters went to the polls. This was the fewest number of voters to cast ballots in a governor’s race since 1975.
There’s probably a lot of folks out there right now who would just as soon stay at home on election day. In fact, that’s what happened in the 2012 presidential election. For Republicans, it is estimated that 3-4 million conservative voters stayed home. They just didn’t show up on election day.
And the Democrats, too, have less engaged, fewer motivated members than at any time in their history. As President Obama’s former campaign manager described the Democrat Party, “We have a turnout issue.”
And perhaps this is why 42% of Americans, on average, are estimated to identify themselves as political independents or “no party”. This is the highest percentage of political independents in more than 75 years of public opinion polling.
You see, here’s what’s going on, and I hope you are sitting down: Our political party system is dying, and sadly, it is perhaps the last, best defense we have in guarding our freedom.
Here’s why: The special interests and the media have already virtually replaced the people’s interests, for all intents and purposes, because we’ve allowed them to take the place of our political parties. We’ve abandoned the power of the people for so long, the special interests and the media feel entitled to it now.
But large-scale democracies need an institution, like political parties, to educate the electorate and organize public opinion. Edmund Burke deemed it impossible for legislative bodies to make policy without forming coalitions. In fact, he believed that parties are wholly necessary to the performance of this public duty.
This is because strong parties represent the people – not the special interests – regardless of whether you are Republican or Democrat. And when the parties compete with each other for membership, the parties must appeal to all voters regardless of wealth or status, color or creed, etc. and this encourages (or inspires) each citizen to participate in decision-making, and makes them feel like their vote matters, which is something today so many feel the exact opposite.
PACs and special interest groups, on the other hand, have the effect of widening the disparity in political equality. The importance of money in politics gives wealthy groups disproportionate influence and this means that politicians tend to appeal to the pressure groups and their narrow interests, rather than a majority of the voters, which is why the middle class feels forgotten (the silent majority), and why so many feel that their political party has left them behind.
Strong political parties can check the abuse of power by elites and keep the government more accountable. The law is ineffective at holding officials responsible, and we’ve already seen this, with executive order after executive order in Washington.
At least the Democrats and Republicans must go before the voters each election to face criticism and take responsibility for their actions. What is the analogous mechanism to force the media and special interest groups to take responsibility for their actions, or the abuse of the people’s trust?
As long as we allow the media and the special interest groups to take the place of the political party system in our country, more and more voters will register as “no party”, democratic representation of the majority will decline, our government will continue doing what it’s doing and we’ll continue to get what we’ve been getting.
And to the 25% of Louisiana voters registering as “no party”, I say this: Whether you feel that your party’s leadership in Congress, or in Baton Rouge, has abandoned you, you have not abandoned what you believe, in your heart of hearts. And if you value democracy, it’s time to renew our political party system, and take back the power of the people. It can start with you – whether you feel “qualified” or not.