Guest Column: Don’t blame political parties for today’s gridlock

By George Greene
Guest Columnist

George Greene
George Greene

The Dec. 27 editorial on partisan gridlock offers many common sense suggestions but it is a curious notion that political parties are the problem.
The Founders did hope political parties would not form, but before Washington was even sworn in, the Federalist and Republican parties (including those same founders) were taking shape. Both left enduring improvements on our system of government.
It is only natural to gather into groups to advocate. I don’t believe an America without parties will ever be achieved — or should. Opposing views make it possible to consider more angles on issues and guard against tunnel vision.
FDR had this to say:
“It was the purpose of Jefferson to teach the country that…to build a great Nation the interests of all groups in every part must be considered, and that only in a large, national unity could real security be found…
“When people carelessly or snobbishly deride political parties, they overlook the fact that the party system of Government is one of the greatest methods of unification and of teaching people to think in common terms of our civilization.”
Humans seek to make sense of the world and look for basic principles to explain it. Not surprisingly, people differ as to what those principles are. The left is collaborative and nurturing — “all for one, one for all.” The right focuses on competition and individual responsibility —“every man for himself.” There is an element of truth in both views and great danger whenever one dominates.
The editors do get it spot on with the suggestion of independent redistricting panels. Partisan gerrymandering after the 2010 census now ensures a solid GOP majority in the U.S. House for the rest of this decade, even though in 2012 Democratic candidates received the majority of votes (49 percent to 48 percent). Given current districts, Democrats actually need a difficult 7.5 percent advantage to overcome the gerrymandering.
The suggestion on campaign funding is most sensible. Contributions should be permitted only from living, breathing individual citizens. There should be full disclosure; if you want free speech, be adult enough to own it.
Voters should also have more choice in candidates. The suggestion of open primaries, though, comes from what I believe is a misunderstanding of the process. Caucuses and primaries are not general elections. The parties do choose their candidates but this does not exclude anyone else from running. (In fact Mark Dayton was not the DFL endorsed candidate, but was elected governor). Open primaries would encourage partisans to crossover and support the least qualified candidate of the other party. And contrary to charges that ranked choice voting promotes extremism, voters rank candidates in order of how well the candidates match their own views, irrespective of party.
In the end though, it’s an excuse to blame the parties and primary system for unappealing candidates. The Founders believed educated and involved citizens were the crucial element making the new American system work, because the people are the government! Yet for many today, citizen involvement seldom goes beyond voting (some don’t even vote!). If voters feel that they are given bad choices it is because they are not personally searching for, getting to know and actively supporting candidates that match their worldview.
To put it in perspective, in the west metro there are only a few hundred people involved in either major party between elections — out of a million people. There are only 10 or so paid employees — statewide — in either party. The numbers are certainly much smaller for the Independence and Green parties.
Is it any wonder, fellow citizens, that if you leave the decisions to someone else, you might not get the candidates you want?

George Greene is director of and a small business owner. He is a resident of Brooklyn Park.