Monday, February 17, 2003

Party Politics and Campaign Finance Reform

One of the alleged effects of campaign finance reform is the weakening of the two major parties. (opponents of CFR also allege that special interest groups will gain more clout, but given most major sig's opposition to McCain-Feingold that doesn't seem quite right) So, I say hooray for unintended consequences because there is nothing more hindering to our democracy than the two major parties and their lock on power.

Case in point. Tonight on CSPAN I was watching several of the Democratic presidential hopefuls speak to an Iowa labor conference. I really ought to substitute the phrase suck up for speak. And this happens every presidential cycle and on both sides of the aisle. The Democrats are forced to play to the left wing of their base, consisting of labor unions, environmentalists, and sundry other liberal groups. Meanwhile, GOP candidates are forced to kowtow to the Religious Right, the pro-lifers and the homophobes.

In reality, the vast majority of Americans do not belong to either the Right or the Left. They are moderates who want their government to be responsive and efficient. But the dance that the parties' bases force on candidates leave most Americans confused and dismayed. It becomes a battle of who can move themselves back to the the center the quickest without alienating their base in the party. This is phenomenally bad for America and for democracy.

Parties exercise far too much control over who will appear on the ballot. And that holds true not just for Presidential elections, but down to state legislative races. Especially important, I think, is the effect defanging parties could have on the US Senate and Congress. In the Senate, there are 20 members of the moderate New Democrat Coalition and 8 or 9 moderate Republicans. In other words almost one-third of the US Senate are self-described moderates. With such an evenly divided chamber, these 28 or 29 people, if acting in concert, could drive the Senate's agenda. Yet, the power wielded by the parties make such a situation unlikely except in very rare cases.

Over in the House, there are 54 GOP members of the moderate Main Street Partnership and 74 members of the DLC. While this is not as high of a percentage of members as in the Senate, it is a significant block of members who could have enormous clout in a similarly closely divided chamber.

Now, in a post McCain-Feingold world, one in which the parties have lost their power, there is a huge potential for a moderation of American politics. Gone would be the days of the pre-primary Left and Right dance, party bosses, and unresponsive politicians. It would bring the 50% of Americans who don't vote back into the fold. If this were to occur we will look back at McCain-Feingold as a wondrous day for American democracy.


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