The Concept of Political Parties Continues to Befuddle the Average Voter


The shrill cries of the perpetually aggrieved supporters of Bernie Sanders can be heard in every corner of the internet these days, shouting to anyone who will listen about how their candidate did not receive a fair shake throughout the Democratic Primary process. My answer to them is this: so what? For many of you, this wasn’t even your party to begin with, as evidenced by the multitude of Bernie supporters turned away at the polls for not having registered as a Democrat in time for their state’s primary. Shocking! The party of inclusion and tolerance doesn’t always allow open primaries in every state! Gasp! But what most Bernie fans don’t seem to understand is that this is perfectly within their rights. In fact, that’s not quite the right phrasing, since just about anything that pertains to the process of selecting a nominee falls entirely within their discretion as the party that is actually doing the nominating. I know, it seems counterintuitive, right? But what these people are failing to grasp is that the two political parties are bound by no rules but their own.

Political Parties are not government institutions. They are not officially sanctioned in any way, nor do they fulfill any constitutionally recognized function. In fact, the founders warned against the sort of faction building that we see today and periodically throughout our nation's history. But that is neither here nor there. The primary function of political parties is to build a coalition of voters who tend to value a common set of policy preferences through which the party can act as a conduit for those ideas. It’s a simple strength in numbers scheme. That’s why you tend to see the two major parties constantly tinkering with their platforms in order to increase the size of their following whilst simultaneously trying not to stray too far away from their core principals as they desperately seek to avoid the appearance of selling out. It’s an exhaustively precarious balancing act indeed. Just ask the Republican party, who sold out many decades ago when they decided to court racist southern democrats in an attempt to expand their party base, the result of which is just now manifesting itself spectacularly in the form of their most recent presumptive nominee. How does the saying go? You reap what you sow; or something like that.

Anywho, given that political parties are nothing more than human associations that determine their own rules and ultimately anoint a select few candidates with their coveted seal of approval in the form of an endorsement as a nominee for office, it is difficult to comprehend voter frustrations with the whole process. Mr. Sanders has spent a lifetime cultivating his image as a political outsider, similar to, but distinctly different from progressive democrats. Did they just expect the Democratic Party to roll out the welcome mat when he decided to announce his candidacy? It’s not like Bernie and his acolytes didn’t know exactly what they were getting themselves into when they attempted to secure the Democratic nomination. After all, if they wanted to, either party’s leadership could change the rules tomorrow in order to nominate Justin Bieber, if they so desired. Sure there’d be hell to pay in the press, but nothing much stands in their way legally speaking. With that kind of latitude, anything is possible, including strategic attempts to stymie a political coup in the form of a rogue outsider. The Republican Party Leadership should probably be taking notes.

In a lot of ways, a political party is its own sovereign entity, beholden only to its members by virtue of its mission to unite as many people as possible behind a common vision of governance. At an institutional level, they are duty bound to uphold a core set of values decided upon by the party membership, but they are under no obligation to provide a free and fair process of selecting candidates for nomination. Furthermore, any aspects pertaining to party platform, message, processes and procedures fall squarely under the purview of the party’s leadership. That’s the bad news. The good news is that the two major parties are only as powerful as we, the electorate, allow them to be. If we weren’t so dogmatically tied to picking the red team or the blue team, the political realm would be opened up to a myriad of options more befitting of our increasingly diverse political views. However, until we can cast off our antiquated ideological shackles, we will forever be subject to the whims of entrenched party interests.