“The alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge, natural to party dissension, which in different ages and countries has perpetrated the most horrid enormities, is itself a frightful despotism. But this leads at length to a more formal and permanent despotism. The disorders and miseries which result gradually incline the minds of men to seek security and repose in the absolute power of an individual; and sooner or later the chief of some prevailing faction, more able or more fortunate than his competitors, turns this disposition to the purposes of his own elevation, on the ruins of public liberty.”
Who am I quoting, you ask?
The man who could have been king.
Washington warned us against the rise of political parties, of the inevitable dysfunction they would bring to our government. We, of course, in our infinite wisdom, not only ignored that warning, but have over time established a system that encourages that dysfunction.
The closed primary is the method of choice for selection of candidates for general elections. When competing solely against other politicians of the same party, would-be officials must demonstrate something that sets them apart from their peers, something to draw attention to them and cement the rank and file of the party behind them.
Typically, that something is not composed of little concepts like “moderation” and “compromise” Rather, the closed primary rewards extremist rhetoric, drawing party support to the candidate that promises the most hard-line versions of the party platform. Politicians are caught in a synergistic loop, marching forth to do battle with their ideological opponents, while all the while that hard-fought war simply deepens the trenches without ever moving the lines, creating a conflict without resolution that serves only to fuel further division and extremism.
The source of the oft-reviled “flip-flop” is often found here: candidates make promises, take positions, that they know will not pass muster in the real world, but serve to cement their place in the general election. Whereupon they promptly find themselves attempting to win over a group of moderate voters who aren’t necessarily interested in extremist candidates.
To complicate matters, those moderate voters have begun to disengage from the political process, fueled by a mix of disgust and depression, failing to realize that without their voice, the situation will only deteriorate further.
The truly horrifying part is that the two major parties have conspired with each other to craft a system that not only makes it incredibly difficult for independent candidates to succeed without their blessing, but increasingly locks voters into gerrymandered districts overwhelmingly supporting one party or another, eliminating the need for politicians to even consider the needs of the opposition.
Incumbency rates of 90% (such as those seen in the 2012 election) are downright disturbing, particularly when Congressional approval ratings were as low as 10%. Contemplate that. In a year where 90% of Americans felt Congress was doing a poor job, 90% of Americans reelected their Congressman.
Why then should politicians compromise? The system is rigged in their favor, their position as secure as they can make it, and they needn’t worry about negotiation or compromise. They simply need to keep their own party happy, after all, and once you shift the rhetoric to that of a war, compromise becomes synonymous with surrender.
This situation will continue, and indeed can only worsen, until we the people act out against it. Realize that if Congress isn’t doing its job, your representative is part of the problem. Realize that in selecting candidates who promise to fight for you, you’re selecting candidates who only know how to fight.
War begets famine, begets pestilence, begets death.
Feeling hungry yet?