What is the purpose of an organized political party in the second decade of the 21st century? It’s simply not what it was in the 20th, nor was was envisioned by the state legislation enacted mostly at the turn of the 20th century.
At one time there was a need for two committee people in each precinct to work outside the polls on primary and election day and keep their neighbors informed and help them with problems. Now, people work the social networks: Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, You Tube and build audiences of activists that candidates can pitch their message to and recruit.
Once party committees and clubhouses provided social services to the new voters, found jobs for the workers and helped cut the red tape with government agencies. Now those tasks are handled by elected officials with district offices and paid staff and by government social service agencies.
Once the only way to seek public office, elected or appointed, was to work your way up the political ladder held by the party. Parties determined their nominees and you couldn’t get elected without that nomination. Today money can buy instant grass roots canvassing operations and any other facet of campaigns. As fpr appointed offices we have instituted civil service merit hiring (some of course influenced by elected officials).
Today the party structure seems to spend all its’ time replenishing itself, filling party positions and endorsing candidates (who then have to face primary elections – and in some states even the party chair or leader positions are determined by a primary.)
If political parties are not going to nominate candidates; not adopt party platforms and fight for those positions; not organize or motivate the grass roots, but rather concede that function to social networks; our political parties become nothing more than labels.
A group of moderate centrists (a double label) have organized a NO LABELS campaign to push an end to partisan divisiness in our politics.They might as well be pushing to return to the era of no parties Then they could at least claim George Washington as a supporter.
During the 1960’s academics (they were the media talking heads before we had the 24-7 cable news media) called for a realignment of the parties. It took place through the 1970’s and the Democrats became left of center and the Republicans right. But the parties continued to adopt generalistic platforms so all candidates could proclaim their allegiance and all voters find something they liked. Party platforms like national conventions became irrelevant.
Big Tents may sound nice and conventional wisdom may argue that candidates win when they appeal to the 15% undecided; but, let’s face it voters don’t understand or study issues -- they evaluate people. This year everyone brought up Carville’s old mantra “It’s the economy, Stupid.” I always wondered if the Stupid in that exclamatory slogan was the electorate or the candidate. The voters have no idea how to improve the economy nor do they relate to statistics they way they do to baseball stats. They want to know that the candidates feel their pain and they want to see their elected officials do something.
NYC Mayor Bloomberg and his allies may succeed in making labels, e.g. liberal, conservative, moderate, leftist, right-winger, extremist meaningless -some would argue and I would agree that most of these labels already are.
Just as the wish of academics that our parties should become realigned, and not be catch-all groups but be either liberal or conservative, became reality; this pronounced desire for NO LABELS may also be successful – or more likely we will reduce our politics to two labels: Democrat and Republican because in fact that’s what our parties are now –merely LABELS.