Today is primary day and 3.5 million Flori

Thursday, September 15, 2011

The Pitfalls of Party Loving Political Scientists

Recently two well known political scientists Norman J. Ornstein and Thomas E. Mann have chided columnists Matt Miller and Tom Friedman for calling for a third-party, or independent, candidate for president. The two scholars urge that the American people continue their co-dependent relationship with the two-party system. They acknowledge that this relationship is "dysfunctional," but only offer their "dismay" as to why it is that way.

Their sage advice is that an Independent presidential candidate is a bad idea; in their words, pure "Fuhgeddaboudit," which is a technical term for bull shit. But in sharing their wisdom, they completely disregard the contrary advice of our Founders.

As I show in Chapter Two of my recent book, Internet Voting Now!, among the most important original objectives of the Framers, or authors, of the US Constitution, was to fashion a government that could not be taken over by political parties. Generally, our nation's Founding Fathers abhorred political parties. They regularly referred to parties as "factions." They knew from their own experience that political parties put the party's self-interests, such as winning elections and obtaining privileged legislation, before the best interests of the people as a whole. Wary of such organizations, they sought to establish a system of government that would always strive to act in the best interests of the whole country.

John Marshall, who some say is the greatest Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, wrote, in a letter to his brother, that party politics are "despicable in the extreme... Nothing, I believe, more debases or pollutes the human mind than faction."

Another independent thinker, Thomas Jefferson, had a deep contempt for political parties. A friend once asked Jefferson if he considered himself a member of any political party. Jefferson replied, that "[I have] never submitted the whole system of my opinions to the creed of any party of men whatever, in religion, in philosophy, in politics, or in anything else, where I was capable of thinking for myself. Such an addiction is the last degradation of a free and moral agent. If I could not go to heaven but with a party, I would not go there at all."

With amazing prescience John Adams wrote, "There is nothing which I dread so much as a division of the republic into two great parties … This … is to be dreaded as the greatest political evil under our Constitution."

Hamilton was contemptuous of parties, in part, and like Jefferson, because they could corrode an individual's sense of civic morality. Hamilton wrote that a "spirit of faction" can drive individuals to do together that "for which they would blush in a private capacity."

Lets not forget the warning of our first president, who said in his Farewell speech that political parties could "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…"

As a nation we goofed. We have lost the way our Founders set for us. But instead of one faction dominating the whole, we have a two-party system, which is a malignant parasite on the body politic. Now, as Americans Elect comes along with a slim hope of breaking the grip that parasite has on the presidential election process, these two highly eurdite professors of political science come along with their "collective wisdom."

But instead of being wise, they ask the most pathetic question conceivable in light of our Constitution's original intentions; that is, "Even if an independent did prevail, how would he or she govern?"

The answer is that he or she would govern as the Constitution intended – without the interference of factions! Party loving political scientists have lost the capacity to see that the two-party system smears over the separation of powers originally intended by the Constitution's Framers. They take the smear – Party Government – as the summum bonum of American politics. But just those few quotes from the Founders should be enough to show how wrong they are. The highest good for American politics is not party government, it is Constitutional government, with a separation of powers rather than a smearing together of powers by private self-serving groups.

While Americans Elect is not free of flaws, at least they are making an effort to break off the co-dependent relationship between the American people and the two-party system. We Independents should reject the advice of party lovers, and give our full support to AE.

William J. Kelleher, Ph.D.
Face Book:
Twitter: wjkno1
Internet Voting Explained on

Marshall,, page 410
Hamilton, Fed 15,


richardwinger said...

It's good to see some agreement that new parties are good for the U.S. And one way to rebut Professors Ornstein and Mann is to point out that the six Governors in the last 40 years who were elected even though they weren't Democratic or Republican nominees all got along well with their state legislatures, and got things done.

William J. Kelleher, Ph.D. said...

Right on, bro!

If independent/third party governors can govern along with their legislatures, then surely an independent/third party president can govern w/ his/her legislature.

Hey, that's the way the Constitution meant it to be!


Eli Poupko said...

Just to be clear, instead of a politics of parties, are you advocating a politics of people, where individuals compete on their own merits (like on reality shows)?

Nancy Hanks said...

Eli -- interesting question! Politics of the people. What does that require?

richardwinger said...

Politics of the people requires that people are permitted to come together in organizations. Unless an individual is very wealthy, or has big and favorable name recognition, that individual can't accomplish nearly as much as individuals working together in an organization can. That's why the founding fathers put the freedom of like-minded people to assemble into the First Amendment, along with free speech, freedom of religion, and freedom of the press.

Congratulations to Nancy for having the prestigious election law blog link to this post. That is a first, I think.

Nancy Hanks said...

Richard, this article and links were posted by Hankster contributor Bill Kelleher, so congratulations go to him. - NH

William J. Kelleher, Ph.D. said...

Hi Eli! I agree w/ Nancy - interesting question!

The new Prop 14 ballot access laws in California enable individuals to get on the ballot w/o needing either the permission or the backing of a political party. CA no longer gives special recognition or special privileges to political parties. This frees individual Independents and third party candidates to try their luck at getting elected. All one has to do is meet the signature requirements for the office, and pay a filing fee. Then its individual initiative all the way, in the district in which one is running.

Of course, folks will exercise their 1st Amnd right to freedom of association, like Richard says. Candidates w/ energetic organizations will likely faire better than lone wolves. In fact, superrich candidates like Fiorena and Whitman really don’t have an advantage because of their own money. The American voter tends to resent rich guys trying to buy their way into office.

The thing I celebrate, as an Independent, is that no political parties control ballot access. The government requirements for getting on the ballot are strictly nonpartisan. Having Open Primaries means that individuals w/ ad hoc organizations have a fighting chance against the established parties.

Now, "persons" are free to compete for office w/o being fettered by formerly dominant political parties. Its a Libertarian’s dream come true (although some of them haven't awoken to this new reality, yet). I think every state ought to have laws like this.

Question for Richard: how many states have ballot access laws that are as nonpartisan as CA’s?


richardwinger said...

I am disappointed in Bill's last comment. He says something that is not true. He says under the old California law, a person needed permission from a party to run for office. This is factually wrong. In 1980 a Ku Klux Klan leader, Tom Metzger, ran for the Democratic nomination in the 43rd US House district, and got the Democratic nomination. Does anyone really believe that the Democratic Party gave permission to Metzger to run? Parties in California under the old law had no say whatsoever over who could run in their primaries.

William J. Kelleher, Ph.D. said...

Hi Richard!

We all make general statements to which there are exceptions. CA has over 50 House districts, 80 Assembly seats, 40 Senate districts, and a bunch of other elected offices. Thanks for providing that factual exception to my general statement. However, I think your last sentence is also an instance of an overly general statement: “Parties in California under the old law had no say whatsoever over who could run in their primaries.”

Under the old law, no Democrats, Independents, or third party members could get their name on a Republican primary ballot. The party used state law to give itself control over ballot access. No Green, as such, could get on a Democratic party primary ballot, etc. Under the new law CA has but one ballot, open to all.

Besides the old formal, legally sanctioned, control over ballot access, party elites had, and have, numerous informal controls. They have a lot of influence over fund raising, campaign expertise, and party activists. While many CA elections had party members on the ballot who were there against the will of party elites, generally speaking, the elites had a great deal of influence, if not absolute control, over whose name appeared on the party's primary ballot. Also, CA had a system of officially recognized political parties. Members of these parties got special advantages over Independents or third parties w/o official recognition; like fewer signatures required and a lower registration fee.

Thus, under the old law, individual persons were put at a disadvantage, while some select groups received special treatment from the state government. Prop 14 has liberated the individual person, in large part, by ending the practice of giving special treatment to officially recognized political parties.

In my mind, that is a huge change in the law, which many political activists and observers still haven’t fully integrated into their understanding of CA politics, including some party loving political scientists.

CA's new "person centered" ballot access laws are a true Liberation!Laws like this are worth fighting for in every state.

richardwinger said...

We had the kind of primary ballot you like in 1998 and 2000, in the blanket primary years. Politics continued as normal. California had the kind of primary ballot you like for all special elections 1967 through 2010. The same kinds of people got elected. And we have had 4 special elections in 2011 under the top-two system, and the same kind of people got elected. The only thing that changed in 2011 was a complete absence of minor party and independent candidates in the second round.

William J. Kelleher, Ph.D. said...

W/o getting into our old debate over causation/correlation, I think there is reason for optimism. Damon Eris reports, “California's Independent strongholds and the political calculus of the top-two open primary,” that “Democratic and Republican parties are considering holding caucuses or conventions prior to any such primary elections, to nominate the candidate who would be the "official" representative of the party at those elections and hopefully avoid splitting their party's vote.”

But I think that using a pre-primary caucus or convention could have the opposite consequences for party elites and stalwarts. Members who don’t like the official representative will have time to organize behind an alternative. This could lead to a fragmenting of the two major parties. I think that would be good for CA politics. The more groups there are competing in elections, the less likely there will be one-party domination in the legislature. Moderation, and government from the center could come out of this fragmentation and competition.

William J. Kelleher, Ph.D.
Twitter: wjkno1

richardwinger said...

Your speculation is unfounded. Washington has used top-two for 2008 and 2010, and Louisiana has used it for all state elections 1975 to the present, and for congressional elections 1978-2006. None of the things you expect have happened there. And you don't say anything about why what you say will happen didn't happen in California in 1998 and 2000. Nor do you say anything about the California special elections 1967 to the present.