In a recent LA Times Opinion section, Jonah Goldberg wrote an interesting piece about the decline of political power for the Democratic and Republican Parties. Mr. Goldberg points to the open primary system that, while allowing for greater public input, began a process of diluting “boss” control. I agree with his assessment but not entirely with his thoughts on the cause. I think the decline can be interpreted through the lens of a changing technological and cultural landscape – one with which entrepreneurs and creative leaders are quite familiar.
Consumers of all things today have a capability and a growing expectation to get the information they want and to make the exact “buying” decisions they desire. I don’t see why the process of selecting a Presidential candidate, or party affiliation, should be much different than, say, choosing an online movie. And I don’t see why money, the life’s blood of politics as it in all business, won’t quickly follow. What Mr. Goldberg diagnoses as the negative impact of a decision by the two parties I see as the inevitable result of a new social-economic dynamic.
I think we can all agree that the restrictiveness of the two parties “menus” of candidates can seem somewhat arbitrary from the point of view of many consumers. It also seems increasingly clear that the choices presented are frequently ineffective at meeting demand. The fact that both the Democratic and Republican parties are now hosting powerful “outsider” campaigns supports this. Although most political commentators attribute the political invasions of Sanders and Trump and others to a growing anger in the electorate, I think the occurrence may have been inevitable. And I think this may be only the beginning.
Just as the three major television networks once controlled our home entertainment choices, so have the two major parties controlled our political choices. Both institutions provided a valuable service. They made all of the initial selections for us to consider and built accessible platforms to deliver their service. But TV has fractured into countless choices. Why? Because the process for producing and distributing entertainment has become easier and cheaper. I maintain that the two political parties show signs of being vulnerable to the same thing.
Up to now, the government has, essentially, supported and protected the status of the two party system. But unless stronger regulations are placed on our ability to create and access political parties, there’s no obvious reason why the two parties should maintain their duopololy in the long term. I believe we are headed toward a fracturing of the Democratic and Republican parties – like so many websites on the internet. Yes, we will have the Amazons and Ebays, but there will be more viable and impactful smaller players. Perhaps we may end up heading toward something closer to what was envisioned by some of our early founders, like George Washington, who distrusted political parties as a dangerous parallel institution.
I do not believe, however, that this outcome necessarily ensures an improvement in our political process. And, if it comes to pass, I don’t think it will alter people’s attitudes toward politics in general. It may end up increasing frustrations. But, if the political invasions continue, they will eventually fracture into third, fourth and fifth parties of consequence. That will certainly lead to the emergence of a different kind of political process for the country. Hopefully, it will also deliver a service that better meets people’s expectations.