Elect the Person, Not the Party

Mitt Romney sought on Friday to expunge the lingering skepticism and unease that conservative activists have raised about his presidential candidacy, pledging in a speech that he would not betray their trust or abandon their principles if he challenged President Obama as the Republican nominee.”

And if he were elected? Is Romney still expected to “not betray [Republican’s] trust or abandon their principles? Or is he allowed to do as our politicians are meant to: represent the American people?

I know we elect people on the basis of what they think or believe (or we’re supposed to, though I know I’ve read studies about decisions being made on other things) and that electing a candidate is generally considered to be the public agreeing with or accepting the candidate’s ideals. Nevertheless, isn’t it a little disturbing how obsessed everyone is with political parties? How obsessed people are with “remaining true to [insert political party name here] values”?

The two-party system is useful because it prevents a one party system. It is also useful to help people elect candidates because it can summarize for voters what candidates stand for, or at least indicate which way, conservative or liberal, they lean. But George Washington warned us about political parties, and he was right to do so. (Full text of Washington’s Farewell Address can be found here and here.) Parties in the United States seem to no longer be about helping to inform the public or preventing a one-party domination. Instead the two major parties have become rival teams in the game of politics.

The political process no longer seems to be about which candidate would do the best job in office (whatever office that may be). The process is now about who will win. Who will win the nomination. Which party will win the election. Which party will have the greater impact on policy and by so doing, win.

Wake up, dear country of mine. This is not about the contest. It’s not a game we’re playing and it doesn’t matter who “wins.” We are supposed to be electing officials on the basis of how well they will represent us and how hard they will work to do what is best for our country. And the officials we are electing are not supposed to be so concerned with doing what their affiliated party says. We are not electing a party to run the government, we are electing individuals. I want to elect individuals on the basis of how well I think they will do their jobs.

I am sick of watching politicians fight over the affections and obsessions of the American people. I am tired of listening to rhetoric and empty promises. I don’t want the politicians to promise me that they will do this or that while in office, unless those promises are about doing their best to listen to their entire constituencies and carrying out their posts with honor. Unless they promise to use their intelligence and the assets of the United States in the best manner they know how in order to govern the country to the best of their ability, I do not want a promise.

Political parties should have far less control. Their platforms should be shorter; they should be weaker. We should not be so blinded by party affiliation that we cannot vote for those best equipped to run our country. Party platforms should not be so detailed that every candidate affiliated with a given party is just one in a herd of clones (a herd of Dollys, if you will). A platform should be a broad outline, and a party affiliation should do little more than indicate (broadly) where candidates stand on fiscal and social issues.

The United States has a fantastic constitution and a fantastic system of government, but it’s not immune to destruction. The country, if it is in decline, isn’t in decline because of deteriorating culture or because politicians can’t agree. It’s in decline because politicians are no longer allowed to be individuals simply affiliated with a party. We’ve begun to elect the parties instead of the people. If the United States is to prosper, we need to elect people and not allow either the Democratic or Republican (or any other) party to rule the country. We need to remember how to think critically and independently, and we need to vote and participate in government on the basis of those thought processes.

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