The political party as such has its own peculiar soul, independent of the programs and rules which it possesses and the eternal principles with which it is imbued.
Corso di Scociologia Politica (1927)
THE PRESIDENTIAL CONTITUENCY is not able to threaten the republican system by itself. It is too unorganized and socially distant from the contact points of the political process. It is often controlled by politicians in the districts who are not themselves oriented towards the presidency. It swells with guests of popular emotion, but it subsides with prosperity and apathy.
The presidential Constituency develops to a peak when a massive crisis occurs. War and economic distress have been the only provocative crises of the past; civil conflict over race relations is not to be dismissed, however, as a possibility in the future. All three kinds of events have left their mark upon American government in the form of an enhanced presidential position, and a tradition of personal executive power. At the same time, a steady growth of the executive establishment under the traditional interpretation of the presidential powers and the old military concept of administrative management would in time produce the same effect, presidential dictatorship.
A third and final possibility is the triumph of presidential party politics. If the presidency and its constituency get the reforms necessary to unify and nationalize the party system in America, Congress will be controlled, the executive establishment tied in tightly to the presidency, and the decline of the republican system precipitated.
There would be an end of everything, were the same man or the same body. . . to exercise those three powers-of enacting laws, that of executing the public restrictions, and of trying the causes of individuals.
Montesquieu, Spirit of the Laws (1748)
American history shows that the political party has been from the beginning intended by its organizers either to control the selection of the President or to control the country by means of the presidency. State and congressional leaders have been prominent in efforts to organize the parties to control the President. Their efforts through the years have been marked with a few successes, but generally they have fought principally a rearguard action to prevent the President's party from controlling them.
The height of power of the House of Representatives probably was reached during the first generation of the nineteenth century, when the House was compact, in full exercise of its power, and in charge of the nomination of the President in its caucuses. If this practice had continued, the particular American legislative system probably would not have developed; rather, a parliamentary system would have arisen; the Senate would have been put down; the House would have first controlled the President and then, since the executive establishment would have grown and foreign imbroglios would have occurred, the President would have turned about and controlled the House through seizure of the party apparatus, as has happened in England.
Indeed, here is the place to suggest that from a republican viewpoint, structural connections between Congress and the presidency are usually to be avoided. The inherent potential power of the presidency constantly threatens to convert a cooperative relation into a dependent one. A second example, this one hypothetical, can be advanced. Suppose, as some ardent republicans desire, a third party is formed in the United States that is able to obtain for its presidential candidate enough electoral votes to prevent one of the two other candidates from getting the majority required for election. The election would be thrown into the House of Representatives, where, each state voting as a unit, the President is chosen from the two leading candidates.
If this happened even once in this generation, and the House did not cast its vote for the most popular candidate, it is likely that a constitutional amendment to permit the "people" to elect the President directly would be passed. Such an amendment would enhance the power of the Executive Force. Supposing the improbable, that the House of Representatives would find a way of pleasing the country while retaining its power to choose the President, the ultimate result might be another form of parliamentary government. As in England, where Parliament once chose the Prime Minister and now the Prime Minister chooses the Parliamentary leaders and calls the tune for the whole body, the House in its new connection with the presidency might seem first to increase its power but would then lose the gain, and more.
None of this has happened in America. Here the political parties have been kept in a decentralized condition. The national party does not control the state parties. The parties are also unintegrated; the party of Congress is not the same thing as the presidential party, and indeed, the party of congress consists of several parties, not one alone. Finally the parties in the districts are on the average adjutant rather than commanding; most congressmen use the party label for what it is worth and nothing more; most party organizations give the congressmen what they can afford, which consists usually of crumbs from the state and local table, and do not ask much in return from him.
This troika of traits gives the American party its peculiar pace and gait. The party, whether Republican or Democratic is adjutant, decentralized and unintegrated. Yet, from the beginning of parties in America, particularly from the beginnings of the mass party of Jefferson, a dissatisfaction with that state of affairs has existed. From the time of Woodrow Wilson's appearance upon the political stage and the subsequent adoration of these political writings (technically the best since Calhoun though lacking the imagination and basic truths of Henry Adams), the dissatisfaction became a creed.
It is bad to be oppressed by a minority, but it is worse to be oppressed by a majority. For there is a reserve of latent power in the masses which, if it is called into play, the minority can seldom resist. But from the absolute will of an entire people there is no appeal, no redemption, no refuge but treason. The humblest and most numerous class of the Athenians united the legislative, the judicial, and, in part, the executive power.
The dogmas of the creed can be simply recited. That they are dogmas, not neutral fact-statements, needs to be emphasized. Under Wilson's inspired leadership, the dogmas were couched in ethical language with which everyone might agree; the underlying philosophy of a controversial nature, and disruptive of one great belief system and the basic institutions of American life-the republican, was concealed beneath the terms "responsibility," "the public interest" and "efficiency." In one form or another, these dogmas have sparked the movement of the Executive Force in this century. Their highest expression is to be found in the 1950 report of the Committee on Political Parties of the American Political Science Association, published by the Association (though with informal rather than formal sanction), and entitled Toward a More Responsible Two-party System.
This widely cited report asks for a party system that is "democratic, responsible, and effective." To this end it makes a set of recommendations for National Party Councils, one for each of two parties; the Party Council will be composed of approximately equal numbers of what we would call here Executive and Republican elements, that is, presidents and presidential nominees, cabinet members, national committeemen, state committeemen, congressional leaders, governors, and others. Its 600 to 700 members would bind up the party leadership. It would carry on the ideological work of the party and present its programs and revisions thereof. The National Convention would be reformed to be under the spell of this group but at the same time under considerable influences from the electorate, through an elaborate scheme of grass roots party-program groups from the active citizenry.
Of this set of proposals, we can say the following. No practical method is suggested for accomplishing the goal, save by persuasion, which the report admits from time to time is singularly ineffective on these matters. The language and spirit of the proposal is skillful in giving it to be understood that the new party councils will be well-balanced between the executive and republican forces. Therefore, the argument would run, fear of the executive is out of place. And no doubt there were members of the committee drafting the report, who, at least at that time, accepted this and perhaps even insisted on the seeming balance. But we must insist first of all that the scheme, despite its distinguished auspices, is cockeyed rationalism. It is cut out of whole cloth. It has no means of coming into being or persisting in being. Its only possibility of coming into being would be the prior victory of the presidential party. This would set up some such council to help run the whole party.
More of the underlying meanings will be conveyed in a moment, but the set of intraparty arrangements recommended in the Report must be mentioned. First, of course, the national councils are seen as a method of disciplining the party and imposing a program. Then in a addition, staff and headquarters are to be made permanent and enlarged, on the national level, and the interpretation of the party platform is put in charge of the national Party Council (working of course with the help of permanent staff). The programs are to be binding and the National Convention is to be reformed in this respect as well as others. As was said of the councils, these recommended "reforms" also lack sociological substructure. They are pipe dreams, with an underlying executive force ideology, uneasily contained by members of the committee who had fears of the presidency.
The pretense of standing for a balance of executive and republican forces is abandoned in the section on the party organization in Congress that follows. There, in the eagerness to strengthen and integrate party leadership in the House and Senate, the whole structure of the legislature is laid open to domination by the presidential party. "It is necessary that there be broad consultation throughout the national leadership of a party before a party leader is elected in either house." (This would consist of the Speaker of the House, the House Majority Leader, and the Senate Majority Leader.) As for the committee chairmen, they should not be elected on seniority principles but first of all upon their devotion to the party program. Committee membership assignments should be dominated by a partisan and programmatic considerations. The legislative program should be placed under majority party control. The Senate should adopt the rule of closure by majority rule, ending the filibuster.
Two clear possibilities exist in these recommendations. One is that the present kind of congressional leadership will continue to run the Congress but more strictly than ever, in the name of Party. Such cannot be the scholars' desire because it is precisely their grievance. But the only other possibility is that the leadership of Congress will be exercising someone else's will. Whose could that be? Of this there can be no doubt: it would be the President's.
Moving into the constituencies, the Report states that greater popular participation in politics will foster "responsibility as well as democratic control in the conduct of party affairs and the pursuit of party policies." Party membership will become more attractive to people if they are given a chance to participate in the making of party policy, it declares. These passages are marked by almost incredible naivete regarding who is active in politics and for what reasons. All the recommendations in the section depend upon the advent of new attitudes. But nothing is or was in sight to make the new attitudes come forth. Pious and wishful thinking, of the kind that John Dewey used to denounce, courses merrily through the pages. It is not unexpected then that a direct national presidential primary is recommended for the future and until that great day arrives, a National Convention based upon direct vote of the party rank and file is urged.
That practically nothing of this all has come about does not deprive the report of importance. In the first place, the report exhibits what hundreds of thousands of students have been taught in the last generation in American high schools and colleges. It shows furthermore why political invention has been at a low ebb in America and Congress has had no help in digging itself out of its morass; after all, the Report came near to being the gospel of a whole profession. Other approaches, except some beginnings of logical-empirical analysis, were not developed. The gap between the views and needs of the Republican Force in America and the intelligentsia of the country grew to abysmal proportions.
Most important of all is the actual ideology embodied in the report. Though not so extreme as it might have been if certain members of the Committee had not insisted upon the ultimate danger of the executive, it remains nevertheless a moderately accurate portrayal of the Executive Force formula in regard to the place and role of political parties. Its meanings become plain out of its language: "The crux of public affairs lies in the necessity for more effective formulation of general policies and programs and for better integration of all of the far-flung activities of modern government . . . . It is in terms of party programs that political leaders can attempt to consolidate public attitudes toward the work plans of government. . . . An effective party system requires, first, that parties are able to bring forth programs to which they commit themselves and, second, that the parties possess sufficient internal cohesion to carry out these programs. . . . The opposition most conducive to responsible government is an organized party opposition. . . . The phenomenal growth of interest organizations. . . makes necessary a reinforced party system that can cope with the multiplied organized pressure. . . . .A basis for party cohesion in Congress will be established as soon as the parties interest themselves sufficiently in their congressional candidates to set up strong and active campaign organization in the constituencies. . . . Party responsibility means the responsibility of both parties to the general public, as enforced in election. . . . (Among the basic problems of the existing system are that) the national and state party organizations are largely independent of one another. . . . there is at present no central figure or organ which could claim authority to take up party problems, policies and strategy. . . . No understandings or rules or criteria exist with respect to membership in a party. . . . (Considering new world conditions, industrialism, wider governmental participation in the economy) party organization designed to deal with the increasing volume of national issues must give wider range to the national party leadership."
As kindly as possible, the Committee explains that considerable opposition can be expected from local interest, congressmen from non-competitive districts (the leaders, that is ) and from state and local party leaders. But, on the other hand "greater program responsibility at the level of the political parties is likely to appeal to administrators and the career officialdom . . ." and the President who "could then expect more widespread and more consistent support from the congressional leaders of his party."
There can be little doubt that the effect of the Report, were its recommendations to be adopted, would start a decline in the republican system. Once a centralized national party is created under leadership of a group that purports to speak in the name of the people and is led by the President or presidential nominee, and once the state-local elements are weakened and the congressional elements of the party are brought into the single unified structure through a reorganization of Congress, the Executive Force will be victorious. From then on, the congressional party would be administered from the central party headquarters under orders from the White House.
Yet all of the reorganization of the American party systems is justified in the name of a "program" whose mysterious nature was left for the readers to define. It is implied that this program is by and for the "people." But the "people" is an entity at least as mysterious as the "program." The interest of the Committee in the people is touching, but suspect. It is a way of closing the magic circle so that the witching rites may begin inside.
We have already looked into the nature of the constituencies of Congress, and have learned something of popular participation and information about public affairs. The Committee apparently did not have available to it much knowledge of the people if it expected that there would be a considerable public ready to back their program. They divide the public into three groups. First, the apathetic public, whom they care for not at all; then there are the party regulars who they believe will support any move to help carry out the view of the party majority; finally, we have, active and independent voter. The last, they feel, can possibly swing elections for candidates promising a responsible party system.
Actually the second group, they should know, is made up mostly of the congressional constituency and has little interest in the so-called majority view. These are the people who would have preferred for the most part Taft to Eisenhower, and Kennedy to Stevenson. Some of them would, however, prefer a national centralized party and would be numbered in the presidential constituency. The third group is small by comparison and they swing from one party to another not, as the Committee asserts, because of issues and program but because of images, personages, and feelings provoked by critical events affecting their impressions of the "ins" and "outs," such as wars and economic conditions.
The Committee's continuous references to the people cannot but be regarded by the unprejudiced reader as the evocation of a myth to support what will transpire behind the altars. There, benefiting from the presumed changes in rules within the parties and Congress, a national presidential party will develop and sell a program to a constituency that will be all the larger because of the presumed decline of the republican constituency. The "people" who will bring this about will be devotees of the presidency while the rest of the people will hear about it in time and respond to it in the only way they can, by accepting it as their own creation and joining in the new practices.
The program itself, to which end the political party has been transformed, will not of course be any more a popular program than any issues are today, except as politicians make it so by a command of the foci of news and gossip. It will be a presidential program, and it will inevitably involve further increases in the centralization aid bureaucratization of the state, all of course under the name of liberty, welfare and rationality. The Committee Report indeed lapses at one point into the view that the clear programming which they recommend "will not cause the parties to differ more fundamentally or more sharply than they have in the past." Thus we should have two parties advocating the same or similar programs. What is the gain here then? If the parties are alike, will not the reasons for one winning over another almost surely be the same kind of reasons one finds today-the affairs of a Bobby Baker or of a Sherman Adams or of a religious slight or of a general's personality or of lost jobs? Will not the whole political process foster the same kind of issues that it does now? By contrast now the congressman can introduce more of his own product and, in supporting another product, cross party lines, which he does freely.
Where would the gain be in the presumed program? The big difference, the "gain," in program as in structure, would be that the individual congressman, regardless of part-because both parties will be doing the same thing-will be forced to support a different kind of program, a program of centralization, bureaucracy, socialization, and personal restriction. Truly the two parties will be alike, just as the Committee declared. But they will be changed, and the difference will spell the abandonment of republican principles.
Here be four hefty nags
with a flutter and flap of falcon flags
and an unendable hullabaloo,
every state government fallen thru,
nobody left wearing black hair,
jinx on the remnants everywhere,
howling and mourning and every grief
and the kingdom rotten to its last leaf.
Earl of Jui (d.827 B.C.)
Congress, states one prominent advocate of a "responsible" party system, operates, along with the whole national government, under a four-party system. Professor James Macgregor Burns, sees operating Capitol Hill a Presidential republican Party, a Congressional Republican Party, a Presidential Democratic Party, and a Congressional Democratic Party. [The Deadlock of Democracy (Englewood: Prentice Hall, 1963).] We agree. The word party does not, however, carry formal correctness. "Faction" is the superior term. For what is dealt with is a group of party leaders that operates regularly in freedom of other groups, though often cooperatively and sometimes in conflict.
There is some question as to whether the party affiliation is at all superior to the factional one. A number of Republicans and Democrats of "conservative" persuasion constitute the congressional party. A somewhat larger number of Senators and Representatives form the presidential party. How do these terms correspond to our own? Are the presidential party members part of the Executive Force and the congressional part of the Republican Force?
In a broad sense, they are. They may be so not because of political beliefs, nor even out of sympathy for their faction. Many members will find at any given moment reasons for being on one or another side that do not relate directly to the larger struggle. Some are so out of opposition to an incumbent President, of their own or another party label. Others may fall into their group because of some heated issue such as racial integration.
Furthermore, Congress has numerous independent members to whom party lines and branch lines are equally unimportant. The weakness, decentralization, and unintegrated character of the American party is evident in a great many cases at the constituency level. Since the member is often elected without the aid of a strong party organization after his election in many cases he can be independent of party, whether the presidential or the congressional. The constituency does not limit him greatly. He may follow patterns of public opinion or his own constituents, especially the nuclear constituency, without penalty, and only needs to defer to the congressional or presidential leadership in exceptional cases. Actually the congressional party leadership almost never attempts to undermine a member in his own constituency. The presidential party may. The latter does so through the presidential constituency.
When an attack on his position in his district appears to be shaping up, the Congressman watches carefully for indications of trouble in local party. Since he himself is the voice, along with his colleagues of the House and Senate whose districts may overlap with his, of the congressional party, the presidential constituency and the local party, state and locality oriented, are the only elements remaining that can compete with him for identification with the party label and through that with the votes of the purely party-oriented constituency.
In the northeastern cities especially, where the President has strong support, conflicts between party constituencies and congressional constituencies have occasionally taken place, usually as a result of a "deal" between the party and presidential agents. Ordinarily, only in highly politically organized areas, amounting perhaps to 15% of all congressional districts, are congressmen subject to continuous party supervision. Only in a few states is there both a heavy concentration of population and a political machine that together result in a Senator who is highly responsive to the official party line. More districts of the House of Representatives would be of this character, since sections of states may be more easily and tightly organized than whole states. However, at the same time, the political party organizations of the old type, the machines, have been becoming scarcer. Independent congressmen are today discoverable in cities where once the local organization of the party insisted upon party loyalty from all candidates and officeholders. The conclusion from this should be that the congressman is becoming freer of party control. And so he is, in the narrower sense.
But in the broader sense of the presidential versus the congressional party, rather than the Democratic Versus Republican Party, he has been subjected to new pressures to surrender his partnership position in the governmental process for an employee's role in the service of the executive branch. Not the least of the factors behind this development, and typifying the pressures bearing in that direction, was the decision of the Supreme Court of the United States in the case of Wesberry vs. Sanders, handed down in February 1964. Brushing aside claims that it must avoid trespass upon the scope of policy allowed an equal branch of government, the court held that the First Article of the Constitution implied that congressional districts within the states must be roughly equal in population. Apart from the dubious historical support for its reading of the Constitution, the Court followed a path that it has been taking in numerous cases in recent years, first deciding cases on increasingly novel constitutional principles, and secondly favoring directly or indirectly the executive branch its decisions.
In the case of Baker Vs. Carr in 1962, the Supreme Court declared that the equal protection of laws guaranteed in the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution might prevent a state from creating districts in its own legislatures that were greatly unequal in population and referred a Tennessee case back to lower courts for disposition. Shortly thereafter it could be said that half of the States of the Union had undergone some form of reapportionment influenced in some manner by the Court's opinion.
Since the legislatures are one of the staunchest pillars of federalism, are an independent political branch of government, and have never before been the target of such broad action, The Baker Vs. Carr case excited much comment and controversy. One of the consequences of the case receiving the least attention, however, was the effect that the decision might well have upon the great long-term struggle between the executive and republican forces in America.
The reorganization of the basis of the state legislatures began to introduce a heavy flow of new legislators from new districts in the cities and suburbs of the nation. The new district lines also had a part to play in the political party machinery of the states, since nominations of candidates, elections of party officials, and other matters of importance to political parties follow district lines. The areas newly granted additional seats in the state legislatures were likely to have several characteristics: they would produce pro-presidential representatives and officials; they would by the same token reinforce the governor's party in the state legislature and government; they would add to the demand for stronger centralized state parties, and on the national level to the cry for stronger national parties.
A similar chain of consequences would flow from the Wesberry case. Not only Georgia, the case in point, but all except 17 states in the Union were put on notice that they were harboring an unconstitutional inequality in their congressional apportionment by having one or more districts whose population was considerably, say 15% or more, greater than the average, and whose population was presumed to be suffering therefrom and entitled to relief in the federal courts.
The response to the Supreme Court decision began almost immediately. Within several years, reapportionment alone, apart from other social change, will probably alter the basic social characteristics of at least fifty districts. On one side, some rural or urban-rural districts will be merged into districts of larger population, and on the other side a number of new suburban districts and other metropolitan districts will have been created.
The results for the political parties will be that more districts will be closely contested. Most of the merged districts will have been safe districts; most of new districts will be cut into areas where party competition is heavy and a candidate once elected is not likely to last long in office. A turnover is to be expected in a higher proportion of congressional seats. Supposing a seat to be competitive when won by 53% or less of the vote cast, there were, in 1963, forty-nine competitive seats in the House. Instead of numbering one-tenth of the total, as at present, the competitive seats will number perhaps a quarter.
The consequence of this may be foreseen. In Congress the members most in need of political party guidance and of presidential help are the freshman members and those from close districts. In the past and at present they are the most restless under the slow and conservative methods of the congressional leadership. The Congressional Quarterly's presidential support index may be used for illustration; this index shows how each congressman's voting compared with the known preferences of the President on 186 roll call votes in 1963. Ten out of thirteen Democratic freshmen members of the House competitive districts voted consistently higher than the average presidential support index of the House Democratic leadership. Nine gave the President more support than did all House Democrats on the average. Is this because they are freshmen or because they come from competitive districts? Both causes are working, if the separate figures are indicative. Thirty-one out of thirty-eight Democratic freshmen voted above their leaders' average; Democrats from competitive districts exceeded their leaders' average of presidential support votes in twenty-one out of twenty-four cases.
Using the same presidential support index on 52 roll calls in 1964, we discover that twelve out of fourteen Democratic freshmen members of the House competitive districts voted more favorably to the President than the House Democratic leadership. Eleven exceeded the average of House Democrats. Thirty-three of thirty-eight first-term Democrats voted above their leaders' average support of the President and twenty-three of twenty-eight Democrats from competitive districts did likewise. The situation changed little from President Kennedy to President Johnson, one notes.
All of this occurs despite the large pressures on freshmen and those electorally threatened to abide by their congressional leaderships for the sake of their careers within Congress and help towards re-election that can be provided by their leaders. Hence it is not unreasonable to believe that the future will bring many more congressmen who are oriented towards the President.
The Speaker and other congressional leaders are not immune to the trend. They already show signs of having to adapt themselves to presidential policies, partly owing to pressures from the congressional rank and file. The Majority Leader is constrained to follow the President in fundamental issues; thus Barkley resigned as Majority Leader when he felt that he lacked the confidence of Franklin D. Roosevelt on an important question before the government. Similarly Knowland, when Republican Majority Leader of the Senate in the Eisenhower administration, asserted that he would have to resign his post too if he could not go along with the President in espousing an issue in the Senate that the President believed in firmly and un-equivocally.
The increase in the number of competitively positioned congressmen will bring more pressures upon the leadership. For the party holding the White House the pressure will enhance the President's power and leadership. For the party in the opposition, the tendency will be to seek popular congressional leaders; these leaders in turn will probably have greater incentive to make a national party record, but a popular record as opposition leaders, not an "obstructionist" record.
Seniority will not count so much in the selection of party leaders as it does now. More and more the committee chairmen will have to come from districts that share the perspectives of the presidential parties. This has already been seen to be the case whenever members from large city centers achieve seniority. Now these same men will be advanced in seniority as the rural members are weeded out, and also the new members will come from the suburbs, which are oriented towards the Executive rather than the Republican Force. The suburban population looks naturally to Washington rather than to the state capital, and to the executive rather than to the legislature. The papers that the suburbanite reads, the offices he works in, the colleges he comes from-all place emphasis upon the executive and the national in his mind.
Nor can an appraisal of the future of the party system as it will affect Congress be complete without taking the matter of racial voting into account. The Negro vote in the North is heavily Democratic and relatively unchangeable in that regard. Even in the South it will probably end up Democratic. In both cases, it must be appreciated that the degree Democratic may range from 60% to 95%, so that the Negro vote is important to both parties in the presidential races. Yet the areas of heavy Negro residence are bound to send a bloc of Negro members to each Congress. Because of the orientation of their electorate, which is strongly presidential, and their natural tendency to pull the President to the liberal side of racial issues, this bloc, which will increase in size, can be counted on to reinforce the Executive.
It seems almost superfluous to add that the issues of welfare, business regulation, home rule, and party politics will find the Negro leadership solidly behind executive solutions. The fact that Negroes as individuals may be at bottom individualistic and anti-bureaucratic means little in the face of the large and uncomprehended forces that move towards collectivism.
By "non-rational" rather than "rational" reasons, then, the desire for a centralized programmatic party system may be finally satisfied. Quite without the rationality that they may display, the scholars' wishes for the party system may come about. The transformation would occur through the inherent and acquired weaknesses of Congress, and by way of events whose consequences are scarcely foreseen by those who initiated them. By this fact, too, it is unlikely that the resulting system will behave rationally. There will be a straight loss of power from republican institutions to the executive without any increase in intelligence of the politicians-congressmen or others; nor will the new system bring more rational planning and programming of politics.
The question of what is a responsible party system will remain quite unanswered even when the fondest dreams of the advocates of the presidential party are realized. Unless that is, the crazy logic is accepted that whatever the party may produce goes to prove it is a responsible party, the only requirement being that the members of the party are to be controlled and disciplined in a centralized and integrated way, from the top down.
The common man has neither the distinction of property nor that of expertness or any of the distinctions on the ground of which a person belongs to the upper class; he will be crushed unless the constitution of society attaches some power to the only distinction that he certainly possesses, viz., that of having numbers on his side.
Yves Simon, Philosophy of Democratic Government (1951)
It would be better from the republican position, given all of the foregoing, to resist all movements to make the party "responsible." This does not deprive the party of its utility. The political party in America performs several functions that are not only compatible with the Republican Force but also useful to the democratic political process.
One function of the party is to present candidates. It digs them up when they are hard to find, and sorts them out when they are too numerous.
It fosters mobility and contributes to free enterprise and freedoms of other types in American life. It gives the poor and the less privileged a means of rising rapidly in material and other goods of life.
It greases the skids of American political practices. It promotes cooperative behavior in some respects while diminishing its possibilities in others.
It is a convenient handle for manipulating procedures and rules in Congress and other areas of politics; without party, opposition would have to be sporadically organized and would be less controlled, regularized, routinized, and predictable. Party is a tramp steamer into which practically any kind of cargo can be tossed that cannot be carried by regular vessels. Professor Schattschneider has lately written:
The parties organize the electorate by reducing their alternative to the extreme limit of simplification. This is the great act of organization. Since there are only two parties and both of them are very old, the veterans of a century of conflict, it is not difficult for people to find their places in the system. [ E. E. Schattschneider, The Semi-Sovereign People (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1961), p. 59.]
Moreover the party, artificially-but no less usefully for that reason-promotes controversy and discussion of public affairs. That the sides are impossibly drawn for the purposes of debate means that the effects of argument are more conducive to self-expression and self-instruction than to legislative action.
In the Congress itself, party is a handy instrument, for the above reasons to be sure, but also for justifying unintelligent voting, much of which has to occur. It is more satisfying, both to the congressman and to his constituents, for him to be able to say that he voted a certain way because that was the Republican way or the Democratic way.
And as it is a cloak for ignorance, it is also a cloak for wishes going against his constituency on occasion. Just as independence from the party can be claimed conveniently on occasion, when party loyalty and discipline are not necessary or called for on a roll call, so also dependence upon the party and party pressures can be claimed for other votes that are independently favored by the congressman, but not by his constituency.
When one considers the great danger that the political party will be the means by which the government is converted from a republic into an executive bureaucracy, it is tempting to seek a way out of party politics entirely. If the party were kept as it has been in the past, the problem would not be acute. But, as has been made clear, with a rationale of responsible and efficient government supplied by intellectuals on the one hand, and shifts in the nature of the constituencies on the other hand, a growing centralization, bureaucratization, strengthening, and integrating of the party is perceptible.
In any event, under the conditions of universal suffrage and a democratized society, the political party appears to be indispensable. So long as half the people do not know the rudiments of government but yet vote, they require a myth by which they can vote confidently and with a sense of achievement. This the party label provides. It is a flag to which the voters can give loose and relatively meaningless allegiance. Without the party label on the ballot, half the electorate would act like wild cargo crashing from one side of the ship to the other.
I cannot go along with the idea of the rationality of the electorate that others say seems to be developed in V. O. Key's The Responsible Electorate. [see review by Angus Campbell in the American Political Science Review, LX (December 1966), 1007-1008]. (Cambridge : Harvard University Press,1966). It is typical of our science, and not alone our science, to be optimistic about democracy's weakest points. Like the parents of a retarded child, we go about forecasting all sorts of prodigies from him in comparison with his normal brothers. It makes for good character, but bad science. At my last conversation with V. O. Key, he was offering up in a faintly fuzzied way that he was "finding something in the rationality of the voters." I was not sanguine. We would have to have better polls, and philosophers to analyze them, in order to position ourselves for such discoveries.
A consistent theory of the place of party in the republic is needed to counter the executive theory which is all too well contrived. It would have to define a limited role for the party much like that held by parties in the past in America. It would give up the search for party responsibility and the idea that such responsibility would bring rationality in government. Party is not now, if it has ever been, the best or the most rational means of bringing together will and intelligence. If congressmen seek those twin virtues through the party system, they will end up automatons carrying out the will and intelligence of the presidency and executive establishment.