by Jeremy Young | 7/10/2008 08:29:00 PM
I got an e-mail today asking me to link to Leonard J. Rosenfeld's online manifesto A Modest Proposal for Nonpartisan Partisans. (Rosenfeld's associated website is here.) So I'm doing it. But I can't recommend the plan.

Every so often someone comes along with a plan to do away with partisanship and replace it with nonpartisanship. I myself wrote one once. But anyone who wants to hobble partisanship needs to understand that it's called "partisanship" for a reason. Partisanship originates and is fed by political parties; the only way to destroy partisanship is to destroy the political parties.

Given that fact, Rosenfeld's plan to promote nonpartisanship by encouraging people to run as "nonpartisans" in major party primaries is a dead letter. Anything that does not result in major-party candidates losing office and being replaced by candidates who hold no party label will not help the cause of nonpartisanship. And while the five historical "mavericks" Rosenfeld writes about may indeed have had a beneficial impact on America (though why anyone would want to pattern themselves off the grandstanding Fiorello La Guardia, who once impeached an innocent judge in order to burnish his campaign credentials, is beyond me), they weren't nonpartisans and shouldn't be treated as such.

If you want to end partisanship in this country, break the party system. Return our government to the form Washington and Madison hoped it would possess: officeholders elected according to personal credentials, proposing bills on their merits, and voting their consciences. I'm fine with that; in fact, there isn't much I wouldn't do to make it happen. But it's not a "modest proposal," nor does it involve calling people "nonpartisans" who run under a party banner. To presume that such stopgap solutions will achieve any kind of meaningful goal is merely to dupe ourselves.



Links to this post:

Create a Link


Blogger Jeremy Young on 7/18/2008 3:17 PM:

Here's Mr. Rosenfeld's response to my post, via e-mail:

Thank you for commenting on A MODEST PROPOSAL for Nonpartisan Partisans (AMP).

However, if you believe that my proposal is "a plan to do away with partisanship. . .to end partisanship in the country, break the party sustem", you mistake my purpose. My purpose is indeed "modest";

"The proposal is modest because it only seeks a few good souls to take up the challenge. Just a few such nonpartisans can be an enormous force for good in the Congressional culture. It is quality and character, not numbers, that are wanted....By the same token, a small number of even a few nonpartisan Senators and Representatives will pose no significant threat to the bi-partisan politics of Congress or the nation". (p 53)

"Can anyone doubt that the presence of even a few nonpartisans in Congress can only work for betterment?" (p 40)

The section Government 101 in Part II is a defense of the two-party system and the presidential electoral system which sustains it. Given "the reality that America's politics is two-party politics" I deplore "the dubious role of a third party". (p 65)

AMP stresses the crucial role of the independent voter to the success of a nonpartisan's run in a major party primary, and urges nonpartisan candidates for Congress to galvanize supportive independents to register in the major party whose primary they are contesting, "to become oxymoron nonpartisan Republicans and oxymoron nonpartisan Democrats". (p48)

The recent presidential major party campaigns gave a hint that many independent voters are beginning to relish their power at the primary level and even registered in major parties in closed primary states. Of
course, getting supportive independents to primary polls is vastly easier in states with open primaries, a point which I failed to stress in AMP. "Turning political independents into 'party nonpartisans' could
revolutionize American politics" (p 48)

AMP expects a successful nonpartisan who manages to make it to Congress to caucus with fellow party members, awkward as that may sometimes be (vide Joe Lieberman, the self-styled Independent Democrat), and to accept committee assignments from party leadership. Nevertheless, AMP expects the successful nonpartisan to "bring into the midst of that partisan culture their independent minds, not beholden to a party organization and thus free of party discipline. Free, also, of moral - or immoral - obligation to large contributors to their party coffers. They will be unconstrained by the power of party leaders to reward compliance or punish rebellion". (p 54)

My Part I mavericks, by definition, were all philosophical nonpartisasns: each one jumped from party-to-party or party-to-independence, as conscience prompted them. As for grandstanding LaGuardia, I think that his almost single-handedly defeating Hoover's proposed national sales tax in 1932 in the House entitled him to inclusion with the mavericks (despite his '[c]oming close to demagoguery with his 'Soak the rich' mantra [p 22]) (in mitigation: Hoover had given the rich a tax cut to stimulate the depressed economy) Then, too, LaGuardia was Norris's man in the House.

I maintain that AMP's proposal isn't such a bad idea after all. It certainly is no threat to partisanship.

Leonard J. Rosenfeld


Blogger Mentarch on 7/19/2008 7:46 PM:

Of course, the obvious solution is to ... create a "nonpartisan" political party with its clearly defined platform.

Which also means that adherents to such a party would by definition become ... partisans of this party, of its political platform and values.



Blogger Jeremy Young on 7/19/2008 8:46 PM:

Actually, not necessarily. A party could be set up on purely ballot-status principles -- willing to nominate anyone who couldn't get ballot status on another party line. The Personal Choice Party of Utah is at least nominally organized along these lines, though it does have somewhat of a Libertarian philosophical bent.

I actually think a national party of this sort might be the most effective weapon we have against the party system.