We just finished our Primary last week. Lots of candidates running for local, state and federal offices, on any number of issues and slogans, all promising this or that, highlighting this or that issue. Most boasted of support and endorsements from some group, union, business faction or other. Most lost. And tellingly, most voters never turned up at the polls. The entire state of Mississippi, I understand, experienced less than a 20% voter turnout.
What does this say about our system of selecting those who govern us? Maybe a number of things, but certainly suggests low expectation apathy among many, if not most. Even in better attended General Elections where it’s usually a choice between ideology or personality, in voting districts that have been highly “sifted” to favor one party /ideology or the other, voter turnout is usually not impressive.
This is politics for the Parties, not for the people, hence not really about governing for the country. It’s about ruling by the party. Power is the purpose of their politics. Ideology-too often in the extreme-is the fuel that moves the parties and their benefactors to seek power. Is this bad? Yes, insofar as it enables parties to rule without governing for at least most of the people all of the time.
Recent past political experience has led to a severe drop in public support of both major ideological parties, Republicans or Democrats. A plurality of voters, be they conservatives or liberals, opt to register as political Independents. In the end, many may vote for Democrats or Republicans, said to represent either a liberal or a conservative political philosophy which such voters may endorse. But it’s a reluctant vote, at best; a least-worst option; support without enthusiasm. However, the parties, protest as they might, care little about this.
How do we get, or get back to if we ever experienced it, parties that govern broadly, not simply rule over all while governing mostly for some of the people most of the time? Given our electoral political domination, it’s a challenge. But, if we really believe in the idea of progress, it’s a must. The sheer number of political Independents today suggests a base for a third party to challenge the existing domination. A party less motivated and animated by ideology and more by classical utilitarian principles and the concept of a rightful balance in society. These two principles do not dismiss or minimize the significance of ideology, but they do challenge it and attempt to override it when it becomes an impediment to governing for all of the people at least most of the time.
Today’s Parties don’t seem up to this challenge. They’ve lost the trust of much of the electorate. A huge problem is conflicting ideologies between and even within the Parties. Only when this has been resolved, or by-passed, will we see a government able to govern, not just rule.