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