“Baneful Effects of Party” and California’s Proposition 14

“Baneful Effects of Party” and California’s Proposition 14

I recently received a note in the mail from Richard Winger, publisher of http://www.ballot-access.org/ and the nation’s premier third party ballot access expert, asking if I advocate making all elections non-partisan. Richard is a long-standing member of the Libertarian Party, and someone I consider a friend and colleague. We have been in the trenches together for many years combating unfair and undemocratic ballot access laws for independent and third party candidates around the country.
Richard said in his note that my blog (The Hankster)’s imprimatur quote from George Washington’s farewell address, warning against the “baneful effects of party,” makes it seem that I think all elections should be nonpartisan.  He included an excerpt from Nancy L. Rosenblum’s On the Side of the Angels: An Appreciation of Parties and Partisanship with an underlined passage:
“Party turned out to be significant: Lincoln’s leadership was enhanced by political partisanship, and the Republican Party gave the North advantages in waging war….”
I’m guessing that Richard thinks the issue of how to view parties an abstract one, something that resides in his world of absolutes.
Some context is in order here, in 2010, some 150 years after the civil war. The fact is that Richard and I are on opposite sides of the California open primary ballot initiative Proposition 14. Prop 14, a popular referendum that will be on the ballot in Tuesday’s June 8 primary, would create a top-two open primary for statewide elections. I’m in favor of Prop 14 because it would give voting rights (i.e. full citizenship) to California’s 3.5 million registered independents, who are currently excluded from the first round of voting unless the parties invite them to participate. For me, the issue is historical and tactical. The disenfranchisement of independent voters is a civil rights issue and one that must be addressed here and now as the damage the parties and partisanship are causing to our government and to our country is alarming.
Richard does not support Prop 14 because he puts party ahead of voters’ rights. And I think there is a relationship between this and his “absolutist” view on the “party” question. After all, each party, and in particular the smaller, more ideologically cohesive minor parties, is convinced that its world view, its stand on the issues is the correct one.
The Geo. Washington quote has become quite popular these days because there is a growing anti-party movement in America that is independent not only of the two major parties, but independent of partisan politics and structures altogether.  Our founding fathers — rich, white and slave-owning as some of them were —  conceptualized a unique form of modern democracy. And perhaps even more importantly, they lead the people — rich and poor, men and women, frontiersmen and townsmen, farmers and merchants, to make a revolution.  My positions stem from my activity and are closer to both of these traditional American values. Expansion of democracy and revolution.
Was the Republican Party an obstacle to the expansion of democracy in the 1850s? No, it was a new party that rose quickly to national visibility because of the historic political crisis centering around the issue of slavery. I believe what we are witnessing today in the independent anti-party movement might well be nothing less than a second American revolution, one that is being organized from the bottom up and one that is inclusionary of everyone. History (not the parties!) will tell.
Cross-posted at The Hankster
  • http://stubbornfacts.us Simon

    Richard said in his note that my blog (The Hankster)’s imprimatur quote from George Washington’s farewell address, warning against the “baneful effects of party,” makes it seem that I think all elections should be nonpartisan.

    That’s a misuse of the word imprimatur. And I tend to think that you overread Washington’s warning (he warned, after all, not of parties, nor even the effects of parties, but the baneful effects of parties), and that his warnings reflect assumptions that have been falsified by two centuries of experience. Nevertheless, while you presumably disagree, one must wonder about your consistency: If you are going to cite Washington’s farewell address as axiomatic, as you prepared to carry that to its logical conclusion and call for the immediate withdrawal of the United States from all international agreements and organizations, including the UN and NATO? That, after all, is the upshot of another remark in Washington’s farewell affress: Why, wondered he, should we “interweav[e] our destiny with that of any part of Europe, [and] entangle our peace and prosperity in the toils of European ambition, rivalship, interest, humor or caprice?” Thus, he counseled:

    It is our true policy to steer clear of permanent alliances with any portion of the foreign world; so far, I mean, as we are now at liberty to do it; for let me not be understood as capable of patronizing infidelity to existing engagements. I hold the maxim no less applicable to public than to private affairs, that honesty is always the best policy. I repeat it, therefore, let those engagements be observed in their genuine sense. But, in my opinion, it is unnecessary and would be unwise to extend them.

    Taking care always to keep ourselves by suitable establishments on a respectable defensive posture, we may safely trust to temporary alliances for extraordinary emergencies.

    Cherrypicking is disreputable. Are you to be an isolationist, Nancy, or will you concede that simply regurgitating an out-of-context quote from Washington is not a freestanding argument?

    I’m in favor of Prop 14 because it would give voting rights (i.e. full citizenship) to California’s 3.5 million registered independents … The disenfranchisement of independent voters is a civil rights issue and one that must be addressed here and now as the damage the parties and partisanship are causing to our government and to our country is alarming.

    Vapid nonsense–and gratuitously insulting to those historical struggles fought to attain voting rights for real. The claim that independents are disenfranched by closed primaries (or that any person has any right whatsoever to participate in the selection of nominees for parties to which they don’t belong) is specious nonsense.

    Expansion of democracy and revolution.

    Two things that are fool’s errands, one harmful to any polity and the other to ours. What we need is consolidation of elected authority and closed primaries. Your worldview is novel and wrong, and your misidentification of those errors with American history is frankly offensive.

  • http://westanddivided.blogspot.com/ mw

    FWIW – you convinced me on this one. I voted for Prop 14 today. Quite honestly, it makes me nervous, But it’ll shake things up, and that is a good thing.

    As for the rest of my Cal vote – since we are still living under the boot heel of Single Party Democratic Rule, I remain a Republican and voted in the Republican primary. I voted for Chicks in Charge in California – Meg Whitman and Carly Fiorina. Neither are professional pols, and perfectly capable of making major mistakes in the pressure cooker of a major campaign (Remember Carly saying neither Obama nor McCain were qualified to be a CEO of a Fortune 500 company? It’s true, but you don’t say thing like that in a campaign). Regardless, they are both smart, mean, good businesswomen, technically savvy, and tough as nails. Exactly what we need in this state.

    With any luck, in the fall we’ll finally be rid of Boxer – who is an embarrassment to all of California, the Reps will take one or both houses, and I can re-register Democratic and get behind the re-election of Barack Obama in 2012 to maintain divided government. He’ll need all the help he can get.

  • http://stubbornfacts.us Simon

    Well, MW, as you erred, so erred California, it appears. You should have listened to the better angels that “ma[de] you nervous”: this was a foolish mistake and you endorsed it. Henceforth until the state drowns—either figuratively or literally—you have ensured that each november you will choose between two inept Democrats instead of a Democrat and a Republican. Well done. I’m sure that will help matters greatly to narrow the choice to dumb and dumberer instead of better or worse. Rarely has the golden state been revealed as more self-evidently pyrite.

  • http://grassrootsindependent.blogspot.com/ Nancy Hanks

    mw – hats off to you and all the California voters who stood up to the party bosses yesterday!! congrats on the win(s) – NH

  • http://westanddivided.blogspot.com/ mw

    While certainly true that there will be Congressional Districts where the general election will pit Democrat against Democrat (8th District SF), or Republican against Republican (Orange County?), it will still represent a greater choice in those districts than voters are offered now. Take for example my home district – the 8th District in San Francisco: The Republican nominee automatically getting a privileged position in the general election in this district is a joke. There is zero likelihood of a Republican defeating Nancy Pelosi (or any Democrat). OTOH, a prop 14 style primary will produce a second choice to Pelosi that has some built in popular support. Fiscally conservative Dems, independents, Republicnas, libertarians and moderates could wind up with a viable and preferable alternative to Pelosi – even if a Democrat. Of course, it could also wind up with the only legitimate challenge to Pelosi in this District coming from the left, and the general pitting Pelosi against Sheehan. Oh wait – that is exactly what happened in this district in 2008 – under the existing system.

    You, like many, are too quick and too certain with your predictions how the California electorate will vote under this system. For example, with an incompetent, unpopular and arrogant incumbent like Boxer – anything could happen in the primary. If we were using the prop 14 methodology, it is entirely possible that Boxer would already be a lame duck. She would likely have had a serious Democratic competitor, and one could easily envision Fiorina and Campbell being the top two vote getters in the primary.

    I’m glad it passed. It is worth a shot.

  • Solomon Kleinsmith

    Excellent Simon… You are SO right that people cherry pick from figures like Washington. And I agree with you on Prop 14. I don’t see it being as beneficial as CAIVN thinks it is going to be, and it is sure to damage indies relationships with minor parties that we have so much common cause with.

    Although I would say its perfectly fine to like some of what a historical figure said, and not other things. I’m a big fan of Teddy Roosevelt, but he was a bit of a racist. This being true doesn’t change the fact that he was a profoundly amazing, inspiring and forward looking president and human being. I’m sure I’d find more to disagree with him on if I looked closer at what he did when he was the governor of NY, VP, then President.

  • http://www.takealemon.com FuzzyFace

    While I think that this change is a good one, I’d have to call it hysteria to claim that independents not being allowed to vote in party primaries is a civil rights issue. After all, they have chosen not to vote in a primary, and are certainly allowed to register with a party if that is important to them.