Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Leaving the Party System

Increasingly, I have become disillusioned with our two-party system. As early as 1797, John Adams predicted that party members would become more loyal to the party than the greater good of the country. I think that day ahs been here for some time, but now it is truer than ever. George W. Bush has never been interested in the greater good; it seems his interest has been in doing what it takes to keep 51% of the population behind him so he can stay in power.

Now as we enter into another election cycle, I am not really seeing much hope. Other than possibly Obama, most of the major candidates seem to be promoting status quo politics - big money rules. Yes, there are some differences in policy, but not much offered in the way of process, and pretty much a "divide and conquer" mentality.

John Farmer, a political columnist for The Newark Star Ledger, wrote a column this week that speaks to this. Some excerpts (to see the whole column, go to

"Until recently, our major parties, Democrat and Republican, enjoyed a presumption that they represented not only the best in modern political thinking but also the interests of individual Americans and the nation. It's been hogwash for some time.

They've been conning us. And as the number who proclaim themselves Republican or Democrat declines, it's clear the public is catching wise. There is, in fact, no evidence either party can be trusted to serve the interest of ordinary people or the nation. In other words, the only wise way to regard them is agnosti cally, no longer on faith or ancient allegiance.

There was a time when the two parties competed by seeking to expand their ranks, a strategy that required compromise, a bit of bipartisanship, even the inclusion of members of the rival party in the presidential cabinet. All that changed with the new "base" politics, premised on the belief that the country is irreconcilably divided between liberal and conservative interests and the party that best ral lies its "base" wins.

The strategy appealed particularly to Republicans who believed, correctly I think, that most Americans lean right of center, and was exploited masterfully by George W. Bush's political consigliere, Karl Rove. This easy division of the U.S. electorate has been a gold mine for the new class of political consultants -- liberal as well as conservative -- who came to prominence as party machines declined.

They transported the same oversimplified campaign lingo and tactics -- demonizing the opposi tion in 30-second TV commercials -- from campaign to campaign. The "base" is always receptive, and the money's good.

When I talk to groups, I like to ask if there any "rock-ribbed Republicans" or any "yellow dog Democrats" (they'd rather vote for a yellow dog than a Republican) in the audience. If there are, I suggest they get together later for a drink because they have so much in common. They're both dupes if they be lieve their party has their interest at heart.

The sorry truth is the Republican and Democratic parties are wholly owned subsidiaries of vast and powerful economic interests that don't give a damn about you and me. Blame it on the power of money in politics and the inability of either party to get its message across without millions that only huge economic interests can provide. "

So, while I see Roskam as perhaps one who most epitomizes what is wrong with the system (he demonizes people like Nancy Pelosi; he places blame on pork spending and earmarks on the Democrats, despite the no-bid contracts and "bridges to nowhere" that are as much, if not more so, practices of Republicans, especially from 2001 to 2006, when his party pretty much ran everything), I must confess that the suggestion to simply vote for a Democrat as the solution is not enough for me. I'll be looking for someone who see both and multiple sides of an issue, and engage those sides towards real and lasting solutions.

In my next posting, I'll write about the HIV-testing clinics we have started to do in Wheaton as part of my work with The Mosaic Initiative ( It's an example of bringing people together despite differences, and exposes where the real fault lines are in our society. I know this much - the fault lines of division are no where near where our political leaders would like us to think they are, and if we don't speak up about this when our candidates are running for office, we have no one to blame but ourselves.