Saturday, November 27, 2010

Reading List

As I mentioned in the last post, "Roosevelt's Purge" is on a list of books I'm reading to prepare myself for completing my Project.  This reading list will be comprised of books that deal with the evolution of political parties in American history, and probably in other countries, as well.  It will include biographies and memoirs of past and current presidents, as well as other prominent politicians and statesmen in our past and present; studies on the history of political parties themselves; The Federalist Papers; The Anti-federalist Papers; A People's History of the United States; A Patriot's History of the United States; and others.

When it comes to this reading list, I'm interested only in learning about how the parties, and the two-party system in particular, came to be, and how to lessen their influence in national politics.  I was impressed when I read an article the other day (I can't remember where, at this point) that pointed out the Tea Party has grown to be as popular as either of the two major "official" parties in America.  That's hardly relevant to what I'm trying to achieve, though.  While the Tea Party has taken great strides in realigning the Republican Party, whether they intended to or not, it still doesn't change the fact that we have a political duopoly in this country.  The Project is to change the system so that candidates across, from the lowliest local officer to the President of the United States, can run independent of any political party and still have an honest chance to become elected.

The reading list isn't to help me better understand any party's ideology, or even which party is "preferable" to the others; it's to help me better understand how the current system came to be so that I can suggest an actual alternative to the system.  If you have any suggestions on books or articles that could help, then please suggest them in the comment section below.

That's how FDR did it

I've been compiling a reading list of books that address the evolution of political parties in American history for the Project.  My most recent find is a book by Susan Dunn called "Roosevelt's Purge", about Franklin Delano Roosevelt's efforts to influence Democratic primary elections so he would have more allies (read:  liberals) in Congress, particularly the Senate.  I've only read two chapters so far, and I've already seen parallels between President Roosevelt and ... the Tea Party.

First, let me say that I think Ms. Dunn may have discovered the first ever recorded negative comparison of an American politician to Adolf Hitler.  After losing a vote that was particularly important to him, and the support of several conservative Democratic senators, FDR announced that he would, as leader of the Democratic Party, be directly taking part in Democratic primaries and nominating events (though he asserted his involvement had nothing to do with revenge or retaliation).  He faced an immediate backlash from the press, who labeled his efforts an ideological "purge" of the party.  The Chicago Tribune went so far as to write that this would leave the party with nothing but "Hitler yes-men and Stalin Communists". (It should be noted that this was before the Holocaust and World War II.  Still, it's quite a reaction to a theretofore popular president from the normally admiring press.)

Ms. Dunn writes of the former president in glowing terms, characterizing his efforts as a way to appeal directly to the voters, whom he believed supported his agenda, to elect representatives who would also support it.  Still, it's clear there was more than a desire to push an agenda, however well-meaning the agenda itself may have been.  She even writes about one of the president's allies who suggested the aforementioned vote should be used as a "litmus test" of loyalty when deciding whom he should support in the primaries.  Terms like litmus test, party loyalty, and ideological purity are used by the media today as they were used back in FDR's day:  as a negative color of the actions of a leader or group inside a political party.

Whereas in the late '30's, they were applied by the press to President Roosevelt, they are applied today to the Tea Party; and it's not inaccurate.  Both sought/seek to create a clear choice for voters, to force them to look beyond labels such as "Democrat" and "Republican", and examine the ideology of the candidates themselves.  Though the motives of both FDR and the Tea Party can be questioned, it cannot be denied they both have the right idea.  Terms like "Blue Dog Democrat" and "RINO (Republican In Name Only)" didn't exist in Roosevelt's day, but he'd have certainly recognized the meaning behind the terms, and would probably have encouraged their use.

The more books I read on the history of politics in America, the more I'm impressed by how much it resembles our current situation.  Every presidential biography I've read so far gives examples (sometimes blindingly obvious ones) of party divisions, nomination fights, and the emergences of groups like the Tea Party, even if they had no official name.  I was never a very attentive student of history in school, and had a vague impression that the old saying didn't hold true; that we are not, in fact, repeating history over and over again.

On the other hand, if the champion of liberalism in the first half of the 20th century can be compared to an insurgent force for conservatism in the early 21st, then maybe history is repeating itself.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Help support a Free Exchange of Ideas

I hope you've enjoyed reading my posts and found them to be insightful and informative, as well as entertaining.  While I'm working on the Project, I'd appreciate any support you can give me.  Please visit my online store at Zazzle and purchase anything you find interesting.  The gear may seem to be election-themed, but the sentiments are important year-round. Thank you in advance for all your support.


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Thursday, November 4, 2010

Goodbye (for now)

Well, the 2010 elections are over, and the speculation has already begun on a host of issues.  Will the Republicans legislate responsibly, or "drive the car back into the ditch"?  Will President Obama tack to the center, as President Clinton did after the '94 elections?  Will the Tea Party's influence increase or decrease in the wake of mixed electoral results?  And how will all of this affect the prospects of those who may or may not run for Congress and the presidency in 2012?

Frankly, I won't be talking about any of that.  I had my favorites Tuesday night, as did everyone, and I have my hopes (and fears) for the future; but as much as this blog has been about freely discussing ideas and issues, someone else will have to take care of that for the next year or so.  My time will be spent on two things:  one, my new website Fourth-day Universe, and two, my non-fiction book project on changing the nominating processes currently used in America.

Now more than ever, I think, we should be aware of the problems inherent in our current nominating systems.  If the most recent elections have shown us anything, then it's the pitfalls associated with the primary system.  Sitting senators, such as Bob Bennet in Utah and Lisa Murkowski in Alaska, who have demonstrated they are still popular with large portions of their constituents, were excluded from the official ballots in their states because of the current systems.  Official candidates like Alvin Greene in South Carolina and Dan Maes in Colorado proved to be damaging to their respective parties' prospects of winning elections, forcing third-party candidates to join the race and offer credible alternatives to the voters.  And candidates like Christine O'Donnell, who is a personal favorite of mine for many reasons, received virtually no support from their own parties because of divisive primary battles.

It's time to take the future of our elected leadership out of the hands of political parties, especially the national ones.  The current nominating systems do not sufficiently provide for all American voters a wide enough range of candidates.  Voter apathy is fueled mainly by the perception that elections are merely opportunities to vote for the "lesser of evils".  We need a better system, and we need it as soon as possible.  The next election, after all, is for the presidency.

This blog won't be entirely inactive.  I'll still offer my view on the most major events, such as the State of the Union Address and major legislative, executive, and judicial actions; and, of course, I'll provide updates on my project.  In the meantime, keep the free exchange of ideas open.