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The Role of Parties in the U.S. Political System

June 12, 2012

One of the most serious obstacles in the way of the further development and realization of democracy in the U.S. – of a government genuinely of the people, by the people and for the people – is the system of privilege which is manifest in the political monopoly exercised by the Democratic and Republican parties.

This political monopoly is reinforced by the current system of elections and, in fact, sanctioned by law. On a national basis, the

Democratic and Republican parties are not only guaranteed a place on election ballots, but they are the only political entities which are. In other words, current law denies the people the right to nominate and select candidates and reserves it as a privilege for the two big political parties. Furthermore these two parties receive large financial subsidies from the government. Even the primaries – through which the big parties select their candidates – are organized by the state itself, further entrenching the legal monopoly of the Democrats and Republicans. The Democrats and Republicans also enjoy de facto control over the election boards which organize and monitor the elections. In short, these two political parties – which represent only special and private interests, not the society as a whole – function, in law and in fact, as part of the governmental apparatus.

Such a system of privilege, by denying the electorate the right to nominate and select candidates, effectively undermines the right to

vote itself. One must insist on the fact that a "choice" between two candidates handpicked by the Democrats and Republicans does not constitute a choice at all. In many cities and states there is, in reality, only a one-party system (e.g. the Democratic Party machine has held undivided sway over large areas of the South for more than 100 years). The so-called "mandate of the people" which the system of representative democracy claims for the elected officials really boils down to the "mandate of the Party" which, through the privilege of nomination, exercises absolute control over who gets elected to government.

In addition to disenfranchising the people, by denying them the right to select candidates and run for office, current electoral law places many obstacles in the way of third parties and independent candidates, thus further undermining the right of the people to politically organize themselves. In order to qualify for ballot status, a third party or independent candidate must satisfy a maze of electoral requirements (requirements which are not imposed on the two big parties), many of which are openly prejudicial to new parties. Third parties are denied financial assistance as well as state support for their selection procedures. Congress has also passed laws suspending the equal time and fairness requirements for FCC broadcasts so as to exclude third party and independent candidates from election forums, debates, etc.

In addition, the system of elections itself – including the huge number of offices to be filled and the system of straight line or ticket voting, the large constituency for Congressional seats, and the single-ballot, winner-take-all method of election, all work against the rise of new parties and independent candidates and fortify the monopoly of the two big parties.

In sum, today the Republican and Democratic parties have grown into two gargantuan political machines, exercising a virtual monopoly over the political life of the country. The Party system, by concentrating the power to select candidates as well as the organization of pre-election debate and discussion, in the hands of an elite, professional stratum effectively excludes the masses of people from political power. The Parties function as gate-keepers of the political power – gate-keepers with the power to determine who would be allowed into government and to exclude the masses of people from governance. The real "mandate" which a candidate and eventual office-holder receives is the mandate of the Party which nominated him/her and the big monied interests which stand behind the two parties.

In effect, the feudal system, which guaranteed political privileges for the land-owning class, has been replaced by a new system of political privilege that keeps the power in the hands of the two big political parties and the big business interests that back them up. Instead of the political equality of all citizens and a government of the people, we have a system of party privilege and party government.