There is nothing which I dread so much as a division of the republic into two great parties, each arranged under its leader, and concerting measures in opposition to each other. This, in my humble apprehension, is to be dreaded as the greatest political evil under our Constitution.
~ John Adams, Letter to Jonathan Jackson (October 2, 1780).
Sadly, that train has already left the station. Clearly, what Adams dreaded over two centuries ago came to pass long ago, and survives to this day.
So, what can we do? We’re not likely to get the toothpaste back into the tube, so we’re probably stuck with political parties.
Emergence of a viable third party with significant influence isn’t likely to change that significantly in and of itself. I suspect it would most likely transform a two sided battle into a three sided battle. While this might change the dynamic to some degree, it is not likely to affect the impact of poor governance within political parties.
The reader might well at this point wonder “why does it matter if political parties are operated in an honest manner?”
I find two principles that argue strongly for honest and open governance in our political parties.
First and foremost, I see no organizations or groups that equal political parties in influence over who winds up on the ballot and who gets elected. Certainly, donations from corporations, trade groups, and wealthy individuals have an effect, but those donations are likely to be funneled through or influenced by a political party.
If political parties are not run in an open and honest manner, how can they possibly be expected to promote the best candidates for office? If the guiding principle is cronyism and quest for power and personal influence rather than open and honest governance, we are more likely to get cronies and power seekers rather than genuine public servants.
Political parties also tend to excel at organizing people, which is certainly a significant factor in their effectiveness at getting candidates on the ballot and getting them elected. This is also a factor arguing for open and honest governance. Much of the work of political parties is accomplished through the investment of time, treasure, and perspiration by volunteers. If those volunteers do not have a reasonable expectation that their investment is managed honestly, we can count on them to stop making such investments.
Certainly, things that are done with volunteers can be done with money, but are they done as effectively? Can paid callers in a phone bank match the impact of a volunteer knocking on doors? If someone is paid to knock on doors, are they likely to be as effective as the volunteer acting out of passion for the cause rather than the need for a paycheck? Furthermore, accomplishing things with money rather than volunteers only serves to reinforce a perception, whether or not is accurate, that a certain party operates by and for wealthy people, with no care or thought for working citizens.
No political party can be maximally successful without open and honest governance that truly respects the investment made by it’s volunteers.