Senator Jacob Javits on the Nature of Our Political Parties II

The change to Liberal and Conservative Parties…The idea assumes that there are individual interests with the United States that are large enough to form a majority all by themselves.  The truth to the contrary is that in comparison to the total voting population each individual interest in the nation is a minority interest.   It can only hope to become a part of the majority interest by entering into coalition of some sort with other minority interests.  And the very concept of a coalition  implies that the elements in it will compromise their maximum rival demands on each other in order to agree on the demands they have in common.  To the extent that they are successful in effecting such compromise, the majority they form cannot in the nature of things stand purely for one thing and purely against another.

LEONARD-TODAY THE NRA, THE MILITARY, TOBACCO INTERESTS, AND CHRISTIAN RIGHT FORM A COALITION SUPPORTING EACH OTHER INTERESTS MAINLY IN THE REPUBLICANS.  DEMOCRATS HAVE MINORITIES, MOST OF THE LABOR INTERESTS, AND EDUCATORS.  THESE GROUPS COULD SHIFT AS ISSUES CHANGE.

In the second place, the idea assumes that there is an orthodox liberal and conservative position that embraces every single case and controversy before the nation, and that in every such case and controversy the same men can always be to vote the same catechism in the same way.  Nothing, in fact, could be  more remote from the central reality and the genius of American politics. In all its experiences to date save one, our political system has shunned the doctrinaire and ideological approach to public affairs.  It has excepted the fact that life is larger than logic, and that the main function of politics is to serve the practical needs of life as those needs present themselves in different forms and in different settings. It has accepted the further fact that the major political parties, while giving full rein to their differences, must do so within the for corners of four grounds rules.

(1) When a party forms a government, it shall govern by consent instead of coercion;

(2) It shall itself consent to surrender the government to the direction of a rival party if elected;

(3) When the exchange takes place it shall be in a peaceful, indeed cooperative way, and;

(4) the changes in existing relations and proportions in the whole community shall be of a moderate rather than a drastic sort.

The one time these four ground rules were broken-the one time when American politics ideological and hence rigid and categorical was in the decade of the 1850’s and the consequence was the Civil War.   At all other times to date, American politics, by a kind of bipartisan secret wisdom, have  taken care to avoid a proliferation of the one-interest, extremist dogma haunted fractionalized  parties like those which paralyzed and later led to the death of Germany’s Weimar Republic and France’s Third Republic.  American politics has cast up two major political parties which do in fact differ from each other in general temperament, outlook, and in the order of priorities.  But they also have allowed for a variety of internal opinions, often sharply conflicting with in each party.

LEONARD-TODAY WE CANNOT EVEN ON A DEFINITION OF CONSERVATIVE AND LIBERAL.  IT WOULD BE BETTER IF BOTH PARTIES HAVE MORE OVERLAP.

In a nation as diverse as the United States-a nation that is continental in scope, and federal in organization-there could be no national parties if party members wherever  they were located were expected to think alike on all issues all the time. There could only be precinct parties, ward parties. county parties, and at the most upstate and downstate parties. But there could not be so much as a state party or or even a regional party. Why? Because the rule of uniformity would lead to an endless series of purges of  all those who, as various cases and controversies were cast up, failed to conform to what some self appointed high priest  of liberal orthodoxy or conservative orthodoxy said was the orthodox position to take.

Even if by some miracle it was possible to form on a national basis a pure liberal or pure conservative party, the natural tendency of the arrangement would be to shatter the ground rule…Sydney Hyman said the following in his  book The American President.   Parties based on ideology would expose each party to the peril of annihilation any time it committed its united strength on a crucial public issue, and the commitment was based on a very wrong guess.  With the destruction of the party that guessed wrong, there would be no force to hold the remaining party in check.  From a two part government, the United States would become a one party government, and by the logic of monopolies, the one in time could become the state.  Secondly, as each party dropped the dissenters who wanted to check the majority, each, now free of all internal restraints, might fly to an extreme positions carrying millions of Americans with them.  With parties in this polarized position, coercion might replace consent, if points of difference appeared impossible to reconcile. From the same cause, a party might refuse to surrender the government to a rival through fear of what it might do.  Even if the exchange of power took place peacefully,  the alterations in existing relations and proportions in the community could be drastic.  For there would be brought into the seat of government a body of people, interests, and opinions never before represented and totally out of sympathy with what they had displaced.  Once they gained control of the apparatus of government, and used it as the  executive agent of their will, they could wrench the whole social order out of socket.

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