Posted under Politics
In the 150th anniversary of the War Between the States, the Union Army of the Cumberland and the Battle of Chattanooga in 1863 provides a good example of what may be the future of political organizing in the country in the future.
It was during the battle that the Army of the Cumberland, without any orders or commands or led by generals or colonels, stormed up Missionary Ridge and drove the Confederates into headlong retreat. Everyone joined in the fighting: cooks, porters, clerks, and drummer boys, anyone who could carry a rifle or a flag. As described by Ulysses S. Grant “When those fellows get started all hell can’t stop them.” Indeed, what happened at Missionary Ridge was known as a “soldier’s battle”, a battle fought without officers.
In a way, I’m sure that’s the way the grassroots members of the Ron Paul campaign feel right now. Their officers may well be looking for a way out of the fight, looking to cut their deals with the winning side but the soldiers are engaging battle after battle, in state convention after state convention, are winning the delegates the official campaign say they want but perhaps don’t want for fear of continuously making the Romney campaign look like the hollow shell that it is.
Meanwhile, those in the grassroots who have taken over state Republican Party are finding themselves being deprived of funds and staffers and watching the national GOP set up “shadow” state parties to direct funds to. Some party loyalty. And they accuse the Paulites of being disruptive.
So be it. Let those who wish to cut their deals do so. Let those who wish to plot and disrupt do the same. Let Romney and Obama beat each other silly on the campaign trail. Those who created Ron Paul’s campaign from nothing five years ago will carry on. It was never the man himself or his family or whatever they worked so hard for but the ideas he brought forth. And they will do so with the opportunity to perhaps create a new kind of political structure within the broad outlines two-party system but in an entirely different political culture.
Truth be told, the Paul movement is already a political party. So are the Tea Partiers. A party within a party so to speak. The two major party system endures because the Republican and Democratic standards are two powerful brands, cultural totems, easy for persons to indentify without actually being a member (which really there are few of) or do anything for a simple shortcut for persons examining a ballot.
Campaigns now can pretty much operate on their own without party backing. The Supreme Court’s Citizen’s United basically allow a single wealthy man to fund a campaign, or the most expensive part of it, which are TV and radio ads. It’s this fact which allowed the Presidential campaigns of Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum to last as long as they did without serous hope of victory. Rich men like Sheldon Adelson and Foster Freiss helped them keep their armies in the field.
But more than just rich men burning up their money in politics as though they would burn cigars, campaigns can be funded by outside groups spending their own money like the Club for Growth or can raise money on their own as the Paulites have shown with money bombs.
Of course what this money mostly goes for is media and that has become so decentralized over the years that it dovetails nicely with decentralization of our politics. While it is true that most Americans still get their news, entertainment and information from the network channels and local affiliates, it is also true that most of those Americans are also well over 45 years old. As one generation passes into the next, it will be easier to reach them through non-traditional media which is not as expensive as TV or radio ads for example. And as the Ron Paul campaign has shown, the technology is available for citizen’s groups to put together their own low cost media campaigns on their own.
What all this says is that the relevancies of political parties themselves are coming more and more into question. One may believe them necessary for organizational purposes to win an election but belying this fact is the organizational disarray and financial mismanagement of the Republican National Committee under former chairman Michael Steel from 2009-2010 hardly prevented the party from a smashing mid-term elections in 2010.
The Founding Fathers never anticipated the founding of political parties because they had no experience with them. The old British Whig/Tory split was more a clash of ever-shifting Parliamentary factions than it was a contest between two organized political entities. Such factions did exist in the U.S. of course, before the signing of the Constitution until the end of Washington’s term as President. But what made the difference between the U.S. and Great Britain was organization, the ability to get out the vote rather than to leave it by chance. Thus, the original political machine, Tammany Hall in New York City, became one of the organizational taproots of the Democratic Party because it found way to win votes for its candidates. And as government grew and had things to give away such as offices and projects, parties became more organized to give such things away for votes.
But parties can corrupt not just organizationally but ideologically as well. U.S. political parties, unlike Socialist counterparts in Europe, were never meant to be ideological entities forcing everyone into line for the ideology. They were simply groupings of different factions and regions under one umbrella. This of course began to change in the late 1960s because parties could no longer deliver tangible things like jobs or wealth to get votes so they needed to offer stands and positions to better attract what were becoming single-issue voters.
Now what we are seeing is such grassroots organizations and coalitions scooping up all those single-issue voters and winning elections without parties. But what they still need from those parties is legitimacy, ballot access and the advantages in electoral law the major parties still offer. Thus, despite the Republican strenuous efforts for a faux, North Korea style unity, what they and Democrats too (regardless whether Obama wins or loses) need to realize is the parties are now standards for the factions who wish to claim them for the candidates they support. They would be better off acknowledging it than wasting their time and money trying to preserve a dying power in a changed landscape.