The Purpose of Political Parties
On Sep. 25, the Washington Post ran “The Democratic Party’s nomination process isn’t democratic enough” by Ronald A. Klain. Mr. Klain has an impressive list of jobs and accomplishments. Kevin Spacey portrayed Klain in the HBO film Recount (2008), which dramatized the Bush-Gore 2000 election battle in Florida. Klain was also a senior advisor to Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign.
The focus of Klain’s article is reforms that he thinks will make the Democrats’ presidential nomination process “more democratic.” But shouldn’t the paramount concern and purpose of a political party be to find the best nominee, not the process by which the nominee is chosen? Klain does not believe his party’s nomination process is “rigged,” but writes:
… you have to acknowledge that the complexity of the process fuels criticism that it was constructed by insiders, to advantage insiders. Moreover, the current nominating process -- built over decades in successive waves of reform, counter-reform and re-reform -- is so jerry-rigged as to be incomprehensible to all but the most savvy observers.
Mr. Klain wants future Democrat nominees to be “democratically chosen by the broadest possible cross section of voters.” That means abolishing caucuses and using only primary elections. Klain offers up the numbers to demonstrate why primaries are more democratic than caucuses. He also believes Democrat primaries should be open to independents, although not to members of other parties.
Klain is running into a wall: the states. The states conduct elections and enact laws regarding primaries and caucuses. And those laws differ significantly from state to state. So it seems that Klain is doing nothing less than advocating an amendment to the Constitution to take away such prerogatives and responsibilities from “the several States,” at least for the selection of the convention delegates.
My solution to the problem of the primary-caucus system is simpler than Klain’s, and it is this: Convention delegates should be chosen by a party’s state committees only, and those delegates should vote for whomever they want as their nominee, regardless of the results of the primaries and caucuses. Any state law that would dictate to a party how their convention delegates must be chosen or how their delegates must vote in their conventions should simply be ignored.
You’ll notice that unlike Klain I’m not advocating for the abolition of anything. It’s better to just ignore unenforceable laws that should never have been enacted in the first place. Parties should not be quasi-governmental.
Some might think that I’m proposing that nominating conventions be “open.” But a more apt word would be “closed,” as they’d be closed to everyone except party insiders. But none of those insiders would be elected officials. Elected officials should never be allowed to work in a party’s organization. Having Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL) as the head of the Democratic National Committee would never be allowed in a decent party system, and not because she is crooked or incompetent, but simply because she’s an elected official.
In choosing a party’s presidential nominee, why does Mr. Klain fixate so intently on democracy? We get enough democracy in general elections. Democracy has given the world, including America, some real stinkers. The voters aren’t always right. Of course, the voters aren’t always given good choices, thanks to the “process” Klain wants to only tweak.
In 2016, voters on each side gave us nominees that were unacceptable, if not loathed, by the other side. Many Americans believe that the Democrats’ nominee, the woman Mr. Klain advised, is an irredeemably corrupt, unregenerate liar who should be going through the judicial system rather than an endless round of talk-show appearances. Yet, she’s the one whom the primary voters chose. The primary-caucus system has been coming up with very divisive nominees, so why keep that system?
The very system that sewed it up for Hillary, the ultimate insider, also made it possible for her to be challenged by an outsider, Bernie Sanders. Hillary is now blaming that challenge for her defeat in the general election. On the Republican side, the same system gave us the ultimate outsider in the person of Donald Trump, a complete political neophyte. That same system forced GOP voters to split up their votes among 17 candidates. Ironically, the system set up to serve insiders allows invasions by outsiders. If a non-Democrat like socialist Bernie Sanders can run in Democrat primaries, then what prevents a non-Democrat like neo-Nazi Christopher Cantwell or the race monger Louis Farrakhan from doing so?
The success of Trump should be sending a loud message to the parties that careerist professional politicians are losing favor with the folks. There is any number of people who have never held elective political office who could perform the job of president. The parties might start looking to them.
With my reform, would Democrat delegates have nominated Clinton? Wouldn’t they have drafted and nominated someone who wasn’t despised by half the country? Surely the Democrats’ bench isn’t so narrow that they must choose between the Dragon Lady and a socialist outsider.
Ron Klain thinks the “Democratic nominating process is a 1977 AMC Gremlin [when it] should be a 2017 Tesla.” And he thinks that the process can become a Tesla only when more people chime in by voting in primaries. That means that nominating conventions would remain mere rubberstamps of the primaries. I have another idea: Nominating conventions should be such that anyone, including the very best person, can be drafted.
Parties should be autonomous, self-determinative, and private. If you don’t like the nominees that come out of their conventions, then form your own damned party. Hell, I might even vote for your party’s guy… or gal.
Jon N. Hall of Ultracon Opinion is a programmer/analyst from Kansas City.